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Hands on with the RePhone, the Modular Wearable Cell Phone


On Tuesday Seeed Studio kicked off a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter for the RePhone. Reminiscent of Project Ara, Google’s much hyped but much delayed effort to build a smart phone you could assemble piece-by-piece, the RePhone is a modular phone built from open source and open hardware components.


While it was on display, before it even launched on Kickstarter, to those attending the Open Hardware Summit a couple of weeks ago, this weekend’s World Maker Faire in New York is the first time it’s been seen in public at a large event.


We managed both to get our hands on the hardware, and to catch up with Eric Pan, founder and CEO of Seeed Studio, and talk about Seeed’s newest and hottest product, and how he sees it being used by Makers.

The RePhone is part of a renaissance in wearables. We’ve been talking about wearable technology for a long time, but designing something people would actually wear day-to-day has proved to be pretty difficult.

However, the arrival of the Pebble smartstrap, and now Seeed’s RePhone kit, shows promise. Either, or maybe both, of these might well be the lever to move the wearables market.

One of the things holding back wearables has been power, but this new generation of electronics uses less power. New wireless technologies — like Bluetooth LE — aren’t the power hogs that older standards were, and the latest generation of small Lithium-ion polymer batteries are now more capable. It’s possible that this time around, those predicting that next year will be the year that wearables break through into the mainstream might well be right.


However the RePhone is not just about the potential for wearables, or even the Internet of Things. Before the arrival of the iPhone, cellphones came in a bewildering number of sizes, shapes, and form factors. After the iPhone, they all looked the same, they all look like black rectangles.


With their Project Ara, Google obviously thought that this was due for a change, and it’s going to be interesting to see if Seeed can beat Google to the punch with the RePhone and introduce diversity back into the cellphone market again.

Personally, I’m really excited to see this get into the hands of Makers and see what people build with it.


Alasdair Allan is a scientist, author, hacker and tinkerer, who is spending a lot of his time thinking about the Internet of Things. In the past he has mesh networked the Moscone Center, caused a U.S. Senate hearing, and contributed to the detection of what was—at the time—the most distant object yet discovered.

View more articles by Alasdair Allan