Monohm unveiled a disk-shaped “Runcible” smartphone running Firefox OS. The camera-equipped device is notable for its chilled-out UI and modular construction.
The Runcible will launch in the second half of the year through Japanese carrier KDDI, which has invested in Berkeley, Calif. startup Monohm, Inc. The company name combines the Japanese word “mono” or “object,” with the “ohm,” the unit for electrical resistance, according to a CNET post, which includes interviews of the co-founders.
Two views of Monohm’s Runcible
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Few hardware details have been revealed for the Runcible, which runs a customized version of Mozilla’s open source Linux- and HTML5-based Firefox OS. (We reached out to Monohm but had not received further details as of this posting.)
The disc-shaped, rounded device fits in the palm of one’s hand (see photo at right), suggesting the round screen is fairly small. Still, this appears to be larger than the round faces on Android Wear based smartwatches like the Motorola Moto 360 or LG G Watch R.
“Clean, quiet, simple”
Unlike most smartwatches, which offer a Bluetooth-enabled window onto your smartphone to keep you continually updated on every tweet and text, the Runcible is billed as the “anti-smartphone.” It doesn’t need to communicate with a smartphone, because it is one, providing WiFi, Bluetooth, and LTE, as well as an HD camera on the back. It also promises never to “beep, alert or otherwise interrupt” you.
Monohm offered no screenshots of the UI, which is described as being simple and clean. For example the navigation UI doesn’t show maps, just an arrow pointing you in the right direction. Notifications are showing by floating red bubbles. The simplicity is also based on the lack of apps and middleware in the Firefox OS interface, says Monohm. This is a smartphone you can meditate with.
More views of the Runcible
The Runcible, which offers four-day battery life, can be strapped to your wrist or arm like a smartwatch or fitness device, or can be worn around the neck. It’s primarily designed to be kept in your pocket, however, where the screen can be protected by an old-fashioned clasp. The UI is partially driven by a rotating bezel.
The Runcible’s smooth shape is intended to be soothing, like worry beads or a magic totem. The design is “modeled on devices that humans have always carried with them: the pocket watch, the compass, the magical stone that fits the palm of our hand,” says the company. The “heirloom”-like device will be available with wood and 3D printed backings, but will cost less than a typical, full-feature smartphone, according to CNET.
Finally, like Project Ara, Runcible is intended to be modular, thereby warding off early obsolescence. “Parts can be removed, repaired, and upgraded, enabling the device to be kept for decades,” says Monohm.
Other new handhelds that are eschewing the smartphone slab form-factor for more rounded, touch-friendly shapes include Eggcyte’s The Egg, although it’s more of a touchscreen enabled web server than a smartphone. Eggcyte canceled its Kickstarter project for its Linux-based, quasi ovoid device, but has returned to try again. The project is doing better this time, but is still $34,000 shy of its $100,000 goal, with 12 days to go before the project closes Mar. 11.
“People need something to let them control their digital lives in clean, quiet, simple ways,” stated Aubrey Anderson, CEO and cofounder of Monohm Inc. “Runcible is the alternative to the increasingly invasive and commodified smartphone whose app-centric approach distracts us from our lives instead of helping us live them.”
The Runcible will be initially available in late 2015, starting in Japan with KDDI customers. You can sign up for pre-order notification at the Monohm website. The Runcible will be on display at Mobile World Congress next week (Mar. 2-5) in Barcelona, at Mozilla’s booth, Hall 3 North, Booth 3C30.
Firefox OS-based Panasonic TVs ship
In other Firefox OS news this week, Panasonic announced that the first of those promised Firefox OS-based smart TVs have arrived. Panasonic has launched a Firefox OS-based lineup of 2015 4K UHD Viera TV models aimed at Europe, including the CR850, CX800, CR730, CX750, CX700, and CX680.
CX800-series 4K UHD TV with Firefox OS
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The Firefox OS interface, which runs on a quad-core system-on-chip, includes a customizable home screen, as well as three default decks: Live TV, Apps, and Devices. A new search tool lets users “easily locate content from a variety of video services, websites, and any external devices you may have connected to your TV,” says Panasonic.