Once in a while there comes along a technology that has the potential to utterly transform our lives. The internet did it and so did mobile phones. Now, it looks like 3D printing could join this exclusive list. To find out more about this amazing innovation and how Nokia might use it in the future, we spoke with John Kneeland, a Nokia Community & Developer Marketing Manager based in Silicon Valley.
John, what exactly is the Lumia 820 3D printing community project and what makes it so special?
Nokia’s 3D printing community project is a simple concept with exciting potential. Our Lumia 820 has a removable shell that users can replace with Nokia-made shells in different colors, special ruggedized shells with extra shock and dust protection, and shells that add wireless charging capabilities found in the high-end Lumia 920 to the mid-range 820.
Those are fantastic cases, and a great option for the vast majority of Nokia’s Lumia 820 customers. But in addition to that, we are going to release 3D templates, case specs, recommended materials and best practices—everything someone versed in 3D printing needs to print their own custom Lumia 820 case. We refer to these files and documents collectively as a 3D-printing Development Kit, or 3DK for short. (Editor’s note: They can be found here, here and here.)
In doing this, Nokia has become the first major phone company to begin embracing the 3D printing community and its incredible potential, and continue to be the leading phone company in this exciting field.
I view this as the spiritual successor to the great granddaddy of customizable phones, the Nokia 5110 and its rainbow collection of removable faceplates. To think, it’s been 15 years since the 5110 launched! I still remember using and loving its American cousin, the 5120.
How else is Nokia making use of 3D printing and what opportunities do you specifically see for mobile technology, both now and in the future?
Internally it helps us with rapid prototyping as we, to borrow Stephen Elop’s words, “increase the clock speed of Nokia.” In the future, I envision wildly more modular and customizable phones. Perhaps in addition to our own beautifully-designed phones, we could sell some kind of phone template, and entrepreneurs the world over could build a local business on building phones precisely tailored to the needs of his or her local community. You want a waterproof, glow-in-the-dark phone with a bottle-opener and a solar charger? Someone can build it for you—or you can print it yourself!
Can you tell us what your job involves on a day-to-day basis and how does it fit in with 3D printing?
In the Developer Relations team, we work tirelessly to build an ecosystem around Nokia Lumia. Generally speaking, our team is split into two sections: “depth” (the big brands like Angry Birds, ESPN, Red Bull) and “breadth” (the indies, hobbyists, and perhaps even tomorrow’s big app). I specialize in the “breadth” apps, which is exciting to me because I get to help entrepreneurs bring their great app ideas to life.
But a rich, vibrant ecosystem isn’t just a matter of apps and services; it’s also hardware—physical things that enhance and personalize your experience with your phone. Because hardware has traditionally required mass manufacturing (and the major amount of capital to go with it), building the hardware ecosystem has been strictly a Depth team affair. But now 3D printing means that everyone can start making hardware!
3D printing is one of those cool new technologies that a lot people have heard of but less have actually experienced. How did you feel when you first saw it in action?
When I first saw 3D printing in action, I felt how I imagine people felt when they saw the very first steam engines. The earliest examples of steam engines were incredibly expensive, finicky, and quite limited in what they could actually do—and if products had warranties back then, bolting a steam engine onto something would surely void it! But in those unwieldy contraptions, some saw the potential to change everything.
Every great invention starts out as but a faint shadow of what it will become. Today we can print cases made of only 1 or 2 materials, and the machines are limited in what they can make, but that itself is incredibly exciting—and the future even more so.
The organisers of this year’s 3D Print Show in London claim it is about to change the world, in the same way the internet changed things in the 1990s. Do you believe the hype and if so, why?
My own view is that the hype is justified, and that 3D printing is indeed A Very Big Deal. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to call it the sequel to the Industrial Revolution. However, it’s going to take somewhat longer to arrive than some people anticipate, and that may disappoint people. For now, it’s a bleeding-edge technology for bleeding-edge early adopters—which is exactly where Nokia is aiming its 3D printing community efforts.
If you could use 3D printing to create anything you wanted, what would it be?
A building-sized Angry Birds level!
3D printing is certainly blowing our minds, but what about yours? Is 3D printing really one of these amazing transformative technologies or just a flash in a 3D printed pan? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.
Image credit: Oskay