A 3D Printed iPhone 12? Or Is This Another Way To Do Product Testing?

By on January 2nd, 2020 in Usage

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 3D print of a mock-up of a theoretical iPhone 12 design [Source: Macotakara]
3D print of a mock-up of a theoretical iPhone 12 design [Source: Macotakara]

I’m reading a post about a 3D printed iPhone 12 – mock up. 

The post, appearing on the Japanese tech blog Macotakara, examines an apparently 3D printed mock up of the currently unknown “iPhone 12” model. Apple makes it a habit to announce a new device or two each year, and given that last year’s model was the iPhone 11, it makes sense that this year’s would be iPhone 12. 

However, no one knows what this device will be, aside from those on the inside building the upcoming smartphone. 

3D Printed Prototype Smartphone

What I find interesting here is this prototype device and how it came to be. From Macotakara (via Google Translate):

“From Alibaba Sources, I got a 3D print mock, which is said to be an iPhone 2020 6.5 inch model, and compared it with the current iPhone 11 Pro Max.”

The post then performs a detailed analysis of the prototype’s dimensions, which are apparently of great interest. 

But wait, they say “from Alibaba Sources”. What does that mean? 

Alibaba is the well-known Asian cleaning house for manufacturers to market their products, often in bulk quantities, to those requiring them. It’s a massive operation and you can find practically any industrial or electronic item made on the planet somewhere on their pages, usually at exceptionally good prices. 

It’s not clear, but it might be that Macotakara bought the prototype from a seller on Alibaba? They do not mention from whom this was sourced, but do say that it was 3D printed. 

Alibaba 3D Prints

What’s going on here? Is someone on the inside sneaking out 3D model files? Are they being 3D printed and then sold to the public? On Alibaba? 

There’s no way to know, but I did do a bit of a search on the vast Alibaba and basically got nowhere fast. If such an article is being sold on Alibaba, it isn’t with the obvious keywords, or perhaps has been withdrawn. Or perhaps it was a private one-to-one deal involving Macotakara. Or maybe it’s not real. 

We won’t know until the actual iPhone 12 appears, should Apple even name the product as such. 

My question is, is this a real 3D printing application? Could product prototypes be sold online in 3D printed form? Technically I presume this is possible, so long as you have a valid 3D model file to work with. 

3D Printed Product Testing

Real or not, this does suggest a new 3D printing use case: tactile product testing. 

Imagine a product designer that has come up with several options, but requires feedback from the public on which option is best. One way to do so would be to produce a few prototypes and toss them into human-filled focus groups. 

Another way to do it would be to make the 3D model files available online and ask users to 3D print them. Once 3D printed, users and their comrades could do some “hands on” tactile testing to see how the device might feel if implemented in that particular geometry. 

Such an approach would have the advantage of reaching many, many more people, and people in distant locations, too. However, the cost of this approach would be to expose the possible designs and thus lose the element of surprise when the product is officially announced. 

Via Macotakara (Japanese / 日本語で)

By Kerry Stevenson

Kerry Stevenson, aka "General Fabb" has written over 8,000 stories on 3D printing at Fabbaloo since he launched the venture in 2007, with an intention to promote and grow the incredible technology of 3D printing across the world. So far, it seems to be working!