Nokia (NYSE: NOK ) has jumped on the 3-D printing bandwagon. In a bid to win over the maker subculture of do-it-yourselfers, the company has released all the details necessary for a user to 3-D print their very own custom shell for the Lumia 820 smartphone. For investors, this announcement will not be immediately game-changing, but over the long term, the implications could have profound effects on both the smartphone and 3-D printing industries. This may be the first of many announcements from smartphone manufacturers to create increased loyalty to their brand, which would put Nokia in the advantageous first-mover position. Not to mention, it's likely another positive development for the consumer-oriented side of the 3-D printing industry.
This is the first step in creating a future of smartphones that are "wildly" more modular and customizable than available today. John Kneeland, a Nokia community and developer marketing manager, believes there's a business opportunity for Nokia to sell 3-D development kits -- 3DK for short -- to entrepreneurs who can build phones that are custom tailored to the needs of a local community. He provides an example of a waterproof, glow-in-the-dark phone equipped with both a bottle opener and a solar charger, a concept maybe suited for a beach community, or campers.
Winners and losers
3D Systems (NYSE: DDD ) could benefit from a consumer-driven response for customizable smartphone shells though its Cube line of 3-D printers. These printers start at $1,299 and go all the way up to $3,999 for the serious enthusiast, giving users the capacity to print objects as large as a basketball in as many as three colors. If Nokia's announcement is the beginning of a new trend, Statasys' (NASDAQ: SSYS ) Mojo professional desktop printer could become in demand for businesses looking to capitalize on this movement. The Mojo printer costs $9,900, but can be leased for a more palatable $185 a month. The potential drawback of the Mojo is its lack of color; it only prints in white, but the objects it produces can later be painted or plated with other colors and materials.
Print market share?
With a move like this, Nokia is positioning itself on the bleeding edge of 3-D printing technology revolution, which over the long term could have a meaningful impact for investors. An endorsement by the 3-D printing maker community could drive loyalist market share significantly higher for its products. Nokia is thinking outside of the box, which is great thing for shareholders, especially when you consider that Nokia lost its place as one of the top five smartphone manufacturers in Q3. If Nokia continues in this direction, Nokia's future prospects may offer a lot of promise.
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