Imagine being able to build your own fully functional mobile phone, make it uniquely yours with customized apps, all while learning the basics of programming languages and electronics. Imagine actually having fun with that process, and doing it for less than a hundred bucks. That’s the promise of MAKERphone, the second project from Croatian startup CircuitMess.
20-year-old CircuitMess founder Albert Gajšak has been very busy since CES 2018. Back in January I was interviewing him about MAKERbuino, a unique handheld console for makers of all ages that tapped retro gaming appeal and fused it with a DIY attitude. In the span of only a few months, MAKERBuino grew from an unknown hobby project in Eastern Europe to a successful, globally available product thanks to partnerships with Amazon and 20+ other distributors around the world.
I distinctly remember the end of our chat, though, when he pulled out a rudimentary looking phone using some repurposed Nokia components. He then proceeded to make an actual phone call with it, explaining that his ambition was to make this one of the company’s next adventures.
MAKERphone with a variety of potential casesCIRCUITMESS
Today Gajšak and CircuitMess are launching that adventure with the MAKERphone on Kickstarter, an affordable DIY device meant to be as educational as it is fun to assemble and tinker with.
In a promotional video for the Kickstarter campaign, Gajšak explains that creators can make phone calls with MAKERphone, text friends, create and share games with the community, code a custom media player that only plays cat videos, “and even play Nickelback!” (He’s kidding, no one wants to play Nickelback, but you can play local music files with MAKERphone).
“But the main point is that it comes in a box full of electronic components,” he exclaims. “Kind of like IKEA furniture, just a bit more fun! With MAKERphone we’re trying to show people that every machine you see was designed by a human being no different nor smarter than themselves.”
MAKERphone components — all you need is some passion for building and a soldering iron.CIRCUITMESS
At $99 you shouldn’t expect anything resembling a modern flagship smartphone, but what MAKERphone does contain seems impressive for the price. WiFi, Bluetooth, a dual core microprocessor, GSM module, color LCD screen and programmable RGB LEDs stand out. Of course it can keep time, wake you up with an alarm, and rocks a headphone jack for listening to media.
Its most compelling feature looks to be what happens after the phone is assembled, and it’s a testament to the fact that CircuitMess is invested in more than just spinning a profit from selling devices. MAKERphone supports Python, one of the most popular programming languages out there. It also embraces Arduino, a language rooted in C/C++ embraced by makers everywhere.
The CircuitMess teamCIRCUITMESS
Parents will be interested to know that Scratch is also supported. Scratch is gaining a lot of traction in schools for its easy drag-and-drop approach to programming, enabling kids as young as 5 to get started.
“MAKERphone will take you from learning how to wield a soldering iron through assembling your very own fully functional mobile phone all the way to coding your very own app or game for your very own DIY mobile phone,” Gajšak says. To that end, the company has segmented the entire process into a series of digestible steps and has created a wealth of guides and tutorials.
Beyond building, MAKERphone users have access to extensive programming guides and tutorials.CIRCUITMESS
Frankly, there’s a lot more to digest about MAKERphone, its ecosystem and its features. You can check it all out at the Kickstarter page. Gajšak and CircuitMess just launched the campaign today, and it reached its funding goal within 8 hours.
I might need to pick one up, too. After decades of using a phone someone else has built, how cathartic and rewarding it must be to build one yourself, truly personalize it, and understand how the components all come together.
Oh, and for fun, here’s one of the prototypes DIY phones Gajšak showed me back in January 2018. Now that’s progress!
A working, prototype DIY phoneA WORKING, PROTOTYPE DIY PHONE
Since 2005 I’ve been entrenched in the video game and consumer tech industries, and fascinated with the rapid evolution of the technology surrounding them. In addition to Forbes, I’ve contributed to gaming and technology features on PCWorld and Computer Shopper, and spent…