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Building A Cell Phone From Scratch

Monday, September 24, 2007

Bill Gates and Steve Jobs got their start as members of the Home Brew Computer Club in Palo Alto. Carrying on the tradition is the Home Brew Mobile Phone Club in Menlo Park.

It looks a little like an iPhone but it's a MyPhone, a do-it-yourself, my size, my color, my special features mobile device.

It's a product of the Home Brew Mobile Phone Club, In the tradition of the legendary Home Brew Computer Club, members have day jobs, but volunteer skills in software, hardware and design. A company called Gumstix donates circuitry. But why?

Matt Hamrick, Co-Founder of the club answers, "I'm still waiting for Motorola or Palm or someone to build the exact phone that I want, that has all of the features that I want. And a lot of people here found themselves in that same situation."

They aren't alone. So-called open-source projects like this are springing up around the world. The most successful so far is the Neo 1973, designed to be plugged into a computer and completely customized with a new tool called OpenMoko.

Let's say you wanted to change the way the touch screen operates. Fine. Let's say you wanted to program the GPS in the phone. Fine. And what if you wanted an accelerometer, a kind of motion detector? That's also fine. The point of the open source phone movement is, if you can imagine it, you should be able to program it.

"In fact, we shouldn't even limit it to programmers. We have people who have joined the projects who are, for instance, musicians or graphic designers. And they're helping with things like icons and ring tones. So what we would like to see is the completely innovative, creative, fantastical (almost) applications that we just can't even imagine now.

And that is the benefit to the consumers," said Michael Shiloh from OpenMoko Project.

Any consumer product is many months away. But a developer version can be purchased online, and anyone can download the OpenMoko software absolutely free. Even the Home Brew Club is turning to OpenMoko to turn their Frankenphone into Cinderella.

OpenMoko is the name of both the organization of volunteers behind a do- it-yourself phone kit and of the free software that makes it work. The starter phone kit (the NEO 1973) will cost $300-400.

More about building phones:

  • OpenMoko:Go here to learn how to join the project and contribute.
  • Homebrew Mobile Phone Club: Matt Hamrick and Craig Hughes are co-founders. The Club meets monthly at, and uses the tools at Silcon Valley's TechShop

    Tech Shop.
    Bay Area unveiling of OpenMoko .


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