Real world objects: going the way of the MP3

Last summer, I posted here about the guys at Techcrunch asking their community if they could get together to create a cheap touchscreen web tablet (because there wasn’t anyone else seemingly producing one).

Well, Wired’s Gadget Lab reports that there’s been some leaked photos of some great looking tablets they’ve actually created:


If they manage to bring it to market at the rumoured $200 price, it immediately causes a huge ‘disturbance in the force’ for the gadget industry… imagine what a Sony or an Apple would want to charge you for it.

But it’s not the price that’ll have the biggest effect; it’s what they plan to do with the instructions of how to build one.  Michael Arrington of Techcrunch says he

“…ultimately wants to make the specs available under an open source license so other manufacturers can build on it.”

(read his whole post here)

Which would mean lots of other cottage industry manufacturers could take the basic specs, and build their own versions of it.

All the while, big slow moving manufacturers who’re used to charging rather larger sums for gadgets will be left high and dry, wondering how to keep charging what they want…


Why is this like the affect the MP3 had on the music market?

The internet enabled people to attack the business model for people who dealt in digital information (newspapers, record companies, TV channels…) by sharing information that they previously couldn’t. 

It just so happened that because the whole product was wholly transferrable in a small digital format, people could easily share this online.

Of course, you can’t just email someone a touchscreen tablet.

But if the design of something is available online, you’d at least know how to build it, and you could order all of the parts online too pretty easily. 

And then think ahead; if you had a 3D printer at home, capable of creating the necessary parts for you (this hand below was created using a 3D printer last year)…


…all you’d have to do was find a design online you liked, download it, manufacture it at home, snap it together (like the camera kitfix)…


…and there you have it, instant objects and devices as freely available as MP3s.  All you have to pay for is the minimal production costs.

If this scenario becomes increasingly likely, I guess product designers & manufacturers are going to have to look at the industries that went before them and think ‘how do I stop that happening to me?’


After Sam’s reply below curiousity got the better of me… can you actually print circuit boards and electronics?

Well, I found this site here…


…which highlights all the work people are doing to develop printable chips, transistors, memory, RFID tags and so on.  Read more here.  I was astounded, I had no idea. 

So I guess if you have the right balance of raw materials in your 3D printer, you’ll be able to make anything. 

Just think how expensive they’ll make those refill cartridges…