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While the Syrian refugee crisis continued to unfold throughout Europe I was struck by something that I saw being passed around social media. It was a picture of several refugees charging their smartphones, along with the suggestion that somehow because they even had a cell phone they were not truly refugees and didn’t need help. The comments that I saw under these images tended to be–let’s be polite and say unkind. Certainly a fair share of them were clearly racist, but I wonder how many of them were made by people who seem to think that cellular technology is something that is only common in the United States or Europe. But whether the reactions are racist or simply ignorant, reality paints a far different picture.

The UN released a rather telling set of figures that puts into context exactly how common cell phones are. Of the world’s population of seven billion, it is estimated that six billion of them have mobile phones. Now if you compare that with the four and a half billion who have reliable access to toilets, then there are more people on the planet with cellphones than functional plumbing. The idea that only those in the West have cellular technology just couldn’t be any more wrong. And as prices on cellular technology continue to drop, that number simply keeps increasing.

3dp_novabeans_coversA cell phone isn’t just a device to make telephone calls with anymore either; a large percentage of people use phones to access the internet, find directions, shop online and even pay their bills. Cell phones are, at this point, not a luxury of the West, but actually rather ubiquitous to populations all over the planet. In fact, some of the highest concentrations of mobile phones are throughout Southeast Asia, where just in India alone there are nearly a billion people with cell phones. Frankly, I think that a lot of people in the West simply have perceptions of certain parts of the world are woefully out of touch. While many Westerners certainly know that a lot of tech services are outsourced there, India has also quietly been becoming a hotbed of emergent technology, especially 3D printing.

3dp_novabeans_jewelryAs one of the region’s first providers of 3D printing services, products and education materials Novabeans has found themselves expanding rapidly and adding new services and technology at a quicker rate than most Western companies could boast. In the last year alone Novabeans has added 3D printing education workshops, consulting services, jewelry fabrication services and now what could potentially be the largest 3D printed phone cover marketplace on the planet.

It is interesting watching watching countries that the West often ignores use new technology like 3D printing in ways that we can’t seem to figure out yet. 95% of Americans have cell phones, and the phone case market is already pretty massive, so why aren’t 3D printed cell phone covers more popular? We’ve seen a few attempts to start them up, but they’ve never really taken off. Either the selection is limited, the available options are priced way too high or, if even available, the customization features are hard to use and poorly designed. The US just can’t seem to figure out how to make something that should be a no brainer work.

3dp_novabeans_logoAt launch Novabeans is already offering hundreds of case designs for several popular phone models with more to come. They offer a complete range of customization options including multiple colors, materials and even the option to include a name or create a unique case. And when their target market has a billion people with cell phones looking for protective cases, it isn’t hard to imagine what that could evolve into. The marketplace has just launched, so it is possible that Novabeans attempt will be just as fruitless as the attempts made in the West. But so far they’ve done well with the other 3D printing markets that they’ve entered into, so if anyone is situated to make 3D printed cell phone cases profitable it’s Novabeans.

Will you be 3D printing your own smartphone cover?  Let us know in the Novabeans forum thread on 3DPB.com.

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