The Rotary Un-Smartphone
September 19, 2022 2:51 AM   Subscribe

The Rotary Un-Smartphone Justine Haupt, at Open Sky Technology, has released the rotary dial un-smartphone kit. It's a voice only cell phone with a rotary dial, a real physical bell, and an on/off switch that actually disconnects the battery. It's available in the classic handset colors of white, beige, sea-foam green, atomic hotline red or black. If you had described a hand held wireless portable phone to someone in the 1960s, this is what they might have imagined. Here's a video of it in action.

It's the simplest and coolest cellphone available. It eliminates every annoyance by keeping things as simple as possible. No complex user interface to learn, no software updates, no malware, no text messaging and ultimate privacy. The microphone has a mechanical shut off switch, so eavesdropping is impossible. There is an auto-dial feature, so you don't have to use the rotary dial for your most dialed numbers. On top of that, it looks great!
posted by Metacircular (66 comments total) 70 users marked this as a favorite
 
IT'S SO COOL
posted by M. at 3:26 AM on September 19 [6 favorites]


I CONCUR
posted by Meatbomb at 3:43 AM on September 19 [1 favorite]


And mad props to Justine Hautp that is a wonderful art-design-tech-maker beautiful thing she has dreamt and built.
posted by Meatbomb at 3:45 AM on September 19 [2 favorites]


Ok, I totally want this, but will it make it through airport security.
posted by garbhoch at 3:55 AM on September 19 [2 favorites]


Truly excellent.

(the last name's Haupt)
posted by Alex404 at 4:01 AM on September 19 [3 favorites]


Aw, cute. I thought it was going to be an old actual hand piece instead of a brick but still rather cool. She should totally write some more code for the contact info so one could go alphabetically by the dial instead of pages (minor nit).

Kudos.
posted by zengargoyle at 4:09 AM on September 19


Intersection of open source tech, 1960s aesthetic, lack of spyware, things doing what they say on the tin, maximally effective unitasking device?


This is mefi catnip
posted by lalochezia at 4:13 AM on September 19 [31 favorites]


Think of all the grandparents who could use this!
posted by mittens at 4:54 AM on September 19 [9 favorites]


I'd quip "now make me a smart phone without the phone" but those already exist.
posted by seanmpuckett at 5:25 AM on September 19


Previous version of this project- good improvements here.
posted by jenkinsEar at 5:43 AM on September 19 [2 favorites]


From the previously, part of the goal was to have an excuse to not text? In favor of voice calls instead?? This person is not a millennial. (Also I know people who would definitely be interested in this phone, and have forwarded the link!)
posted by eviemath at 5:55 AM on September 19 [2 favorites]


The point isn't even to dial: "The point of the phone isn't to use the rotary dial every time you call someone, which would get tiresome fast."

It's an aesthetic, link steampunk. Dialpunk.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 6:04 AM on September 19 [8 favorites]


I admire the hell out of Justine Haupt for navigating the incredibly complex and intimidating process of bringing a hardware project to market. I've been looking at doing the same, and it's ridiculously labyrinthine. If you ever wonder why we produce so much derivative crap and so little innovation, I really recommend her rant on patents and open source, it's very illuminating.
posted by MrVisible at 6:15 AM on September 19 [3 favorites]


Teenagers are going to inexplicably figure out how to send/receive texts on this, and somehow they will be able to do it efficiently.
posted by mcstayinskool at 6:34 AM on September 19 [15 favorites]


I love it and I want it.
posted by Well I never at 6:38 AM on September 19 [1 favorite]


please make it in seafoam please make it in seafoam please make it in seafoam YESSSSSS
posted by miles per flower at 6:57 AM on September 19 [6 favorites]


As an old, no. NO! No phone. Just text. seanmpuckett, how do I find that intriguing device?
posted by evilDoug at 7:11 AM on September 19 [5 favorites]


This totally belongs in the world of Terry Gilliam's Brazil. Connecting to an exceedingly unreliable network with spotty coverage, ridiculous rates and unhelpful, indifferent customer service.
posted by Hardcore Poser at 7:45 AM on September 19 [6 favorites]


The next iteration should have a dial mechanism in which the spring can be mechanically disengaged, turning it into a free-moving rotary encoder for navigating menus (and, if you're sufficiently masochistic, entering text) whilst keeping it as a working rotary telephone. Perhaps a hidden D-pad-style control under the dial, activated by pressing it in one of the four directions, could also be useful.
posted by acb at 7:55 AM on September 19


I love this and kind of want one but also cannot justify the purchase AT ALL, as I just don't talk to people on the phone very often unless it's my parents.

But come to think of it, I've spent more money on stuff I use even less than that, so why draw the line here I guess. In any case, a super neat project!
posted by chrominance at 7:57 AM on September 19


I am sorely tempted to get one for my professional-curmudgeon f-i-l (who is actually a delightful person mostly doing an act), but $399 USD is a wee bit much for a joke-only-serious. He would be enchanted by this.
posted by bonehead at 7:57 AM on September 19


If there's a market for these, someone in Shenzhen will start knocking out variants for $39. The build quality will be sliightly worse, but the microphone/speaker quality may be slightly better.
posted by acb at 8:01 AM on September 19 [3 favorites]


The 50s successor to steampunk is dieselpunk. This is a dieselpunk artifact maybe?
posted by bonehead at 8:02 AM on September 19


More atomic age, I think.
posted by SPrintF at 8:04 AM on September 19 [1 favorite]


As a dedicated feature phone user, I want something similar but different. I want to be able to text and send and receive photos and call and receive calls, and I'm not concerned with the very fun-looking rotary option.

This phone looks fun but useless for my purposes. I can't afford it anyway.

What I most like about this phone is 1. the simple contacts.txt interface and 2. the actual physical bell.
posted by aniola at 8:04 AM on September 19 [2 favorites]


The 50s successor to steampunk is dieselpunk

Helvetipunk.
posted by acb at 8:07 AM on September 19 [8 favorites]


What I most like about this phone is 1. the simple contacts.txt interface and 2. the actual physical bell.

I liked that there's a transparent window so you can see the bell.

I finally watched her longer video explaining it. I am not hip to all the arduino and other tech stuff, but enjoyed her sort-of-dorky way of explaining it all. I appreciated the gratuitous cat shots at the end (here is the phone on one of my cats. Now on my other cat).

This is very cool design and I definitely want it even though I don't have a use for it. And probably would struggle to build the kit. But if I had the money to buy things just because they're cool and I like them, I'd get one for sure.
posted by Well I never at 8:09 AM on September 19 [3 favorites]


2. the actual physical bell

I once (in the pre-iPhone era) thought that an interesting idea would be a phone (about old Nokia-sized, with a small text screen and 12-button keypad) whose case was made of metal and had enough degrees of freedom to function as a physical bell. When you got a text message, a solenoid would strike the bell, causing it to chime.
posted by acb at 8:11 AM on September 19 [2 favorites]


please make it in seafoam please make it in seafoam please make it in seafoam YESSSSSS

My Grandma is resting in peace knowing it comes in the right color! When "decorator" phones first came out, she made the phone company guy go back to headquarters and get her a seafoam phone instead of one of the colors he had on the truck.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:12 AM on September 19 [3 favorites]


Connecting to an exceedingly unreliable network with spotty coverage, ridiculous rates and unhelpful, indifferent customer service.

Oh, are you with Rogers as well?
posted by ricochet biscuit at 8:43 AM on September 19 [11 favorites]


I don't like the rotary dial. Needs a much bigger gap between the 1 hole and the finger stop. Present design has Cargo Cult Rotary Dial written all over it; I don't believe it could have been designed by somebody who actually appreciates the engineering elegance of those devices.
posted by flabdablet at 8:59 AM on September 19


Also, disappointed not to find it available in footware form factor.
posted by flabdablet at 9:05 AM on September 19


I don't like the rotary dial. Needs a much bigger gap between the 1 hole and the finger stop. Present design has Cargo Cult Rotary Dial written all over it. . .

It's not Cargo Cult, it's the actual solution to the same problem (compact form factor) used at the time. Trimline phones had the rotary dial in the handset and used a moving finger stop to reduce the size of the dial and maintain a hand-held size:
Some telephones include a small dial built into the handset, with a movable finger stop. The user rotates the dial clockwise until the finger stop ceases moving, then releases both. In this design the holes extend around the full circumference of the dial, allowing a reduced diameter. This was introduced by Western Electric on the compact Trimline telephone, the first to locate the dial in the handset. - Wikipedia
If you're going to snark on someone's awesome project and claim it lacks "elegance", maybe check your history.
posted by The Bellman at 9:11 AM on September 19 [19 favorites]


Those are ... well, almost ugly, but also oddly beautiful, and certainly unique. I love the name of the red color!

And holy cow, that woman is a freakin' genius - scrolling around her site and the previously, I am simply stunned at what she can do/create/imagine.
posted by davidmsc at 9:36 AM on September 19 [4 favorites]


This is awesome but also makes me realize I want a fold out shoulder/chin stock so I can walk around with this wedged against my ear with my shoulder and have both hands free.
posted by meinvt at 9:50 AM on September 19 [6 favorites]


"The point of the phone isn't to use the rotary dial every time you call someone, which would get tiresome fast."

I was about to say, does anyone actually get nostalgic about *using* rotary dials? I remember my fingers hurting as a kid whenever I had to use it.
posted by tavella at 10:13 AM on September 19 [3 favorites]


"I don't believe it could have been designed by somebody who actually appreciates the engineering elegance of those devices."

LOL. You're talking about an engineer who, by day, builds cameras and metrology equipment for spacecraft and, with the rest of her time, dedicated several years to engineering a highly opinionated modern rotary phone.

I don't know what your standard is for appreciation is but it seems to be out of calibration.

Also, my Bell System rotary test set has the exact same dial configuration. I guess those engineers were just ignorant about dials, too.
posted by fake at 10:23 AM on September 19 [16 favorites]


Every single one. Amateurs.
posted by flabdablet at 10:31 AM on September 19 [1 favorite]


Now here's my desperate and transparent face-saving attempt to pretend that I knew about this thing all along.
posted by flabdablet at 10:37 AM on September 19 [1 favorite]


Do they have a New Zealand version?
posted by mbo at 11:31 AM on September 19


No wires, less space than a Western Electric Z/590. Lame.
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 11:53 AM on September 19 [5 favorites]


I'm a child of the 70's / 80's. First phone as a child was rotary. Mom was frugal and refused to pay the extra $5 (or whatever) on her phone bill to get push button tone dialing. I remember the frustration of being one digit off when calling a friend and having to do the whole process again.

I greatly admire this device but think I wouldn't find much pleasure in it at all. Childhood annoyances and all that. Still, glad it exists.

I am somewhat intrigued by the idea of bringing back wheel-based interfaces. The original iPod is now old enough to drink and old enough to generate nostalgia. Would like to see a modern one.
posted by Teegeeack AV Club Secretary at 12:17 PM on September 19 [1 favorite]


WELL. It's beautiful and I want one. But, it's no good for the olds, it's exceptionally fiddly (tweezers to switch of the microphone, snapping the covers on and off etc) and I'll believe it integrates well with established networks after there have been at least a year of consumer reports saying so. Also ... do you have to remember the number you want to dial after it comes up on the back panel before you turn the phone over to dial it? I wasn't sure from the video which made me feel a little anxiety on that score. The marvellous thing about smartphones is the way they remember all your numbers for you and then dial them.

I'm in the foam green party but the appreciation I have for this lovely object reminds me of the way I feel about one of my dad's old watches he gave me. It was never more than a sturdy cheap watch dating from the 70s, it has a broad chain link mans watch strap, it still goes after it's been wound up (for a while) and as it's winding down the hands tend to randomly get stuck: but not so much that a good shake won't get them going again. So you could be sure of the time within about two hours either side of what the watch was telling you. Oh and it has a loud tick. I loved that watch, I loved its look and I loved the excuses provided by the inevitable failure of technology, and I loved the way it embodied a demonstration of how confidently relying on technology may not be a wonderful idea all the time. The watch is well made, aesthetically pleasing, robust, very 70s and it spontaneously came to mind as I was watching the linked video above.
posted by glasseyes at 12:22 PM on September 19


The Dial Comes to Town

"They're gonna take out all our phones and put in them kind with dials on 'em!"
posted by The Underpants Monster at 12:24 PM on September 19 [3 favorites]


I love everything about this except why why why couldn't it come in Princess Phone yellow?

What's the modernized version of glamorously dialing this with a pencil, though - using a stylus? Who carries pencils anymore?
posted by Mchelly at 12:34 PM on September 19 [1 favorite]


Think of all the grandparents who could use this!

One would think so. But the fact that it has a "physical disconnect switch for the microphone" just means that the grandparents will complain to the son-in-law that the very simple phone he got them isn't working because no one can hear them. (Ask me how I know.)
posted by jabah at 12:43 PM on September 19 [2 favorites]


Also ... do you have to remember the number you want to dial after it comes up on the back panel before you turn the phone over to dial it?
The contacts on the back panel are numbered 0–9, and you can use that to “speed-dial” any of them. For example, to dial the fifth contact in the list, you hold the hook button and dial “5.” So you do need to remember a single digit, but not a whole ten-digit phone number.
posted by mbrubeck at 12:46 PM on September 19 [1 favorite]


Gorgeous. Did I miss the possibility of using an old-school handset with it? I know, I know . . . I've just never become used to talking into a slab.
Ooh, maybe a bluetooth connected old-school handset!
posted by pt68 at 1:03 PM on September 19 [3 favorites]


I keep an old rotary dial phone around just to occasionally feel the pleasure of the dial. So satisfying.
posted by emjaybee at 1:57 PM on September 19 [2 favorites]


I have an old red wall phone, but pushbutton, because I am a geezer. I remember old rotary phones that had a hard spring, then the softer dial with the clear plastic. Pushbutton was so much better. My Depression-era parents were too cheap frugal to pay extra every month for the joys of a pushbutton phones.
posted by theora55 at 2:10 PM on September 19


But...even before cellphones, when we only had landlines, I didn't like talking on the phone. Nor do I now. For me, texting is a good thing. I guess I'm Team Anti-Retro.
posted by zardoz at 2:15 PM on September 19 [3 favorites]


Did I miss the possibility of using an old-school handset with it? I know, I know . . . I've just never become used to talking into a slab. Ooh, maybe a bluetooth connected old-school handset!
It doesn’t have bluetooth, but it has a 3.5mm TRRS jack, so you could plug in a wired handset like this one.
posted by mbrubeck at 2:16 PM on September 19 [1 favorite]


Interesting but not at all what I seek in a retro cell. I do not want rotary dials or mechanical bells -‌- if that's the requirement just give me a solid Western Electric desk phone, connected to a landline. No, I want something cell-phone sized, but with square corners and wooden trim along the edges. The key feature is the screen: monochrome, orange or better yet green characters on black (and of course only ASCII is handled, no Unicode). And no stubby flip-fone antenna -‌- I need a stainless-steel telescoping whip (which must be deployed when in use) like a walkie-talkie.
posted by Rash at 2:42 PM on September 19 [3 favorites]


Western Electric
A look at the evolution of the Dial Telephone.

O*
Most of the telephones shown here were manufactured by Western Electric for the American Telephone & Telegraph Company and the Bell System.
Copyright © 2004 by William Lee Roberts.

*Audio x Pi
posted by cenoxo at 3:45 PM on September 19 [2 favorites]


I mourn less the aesthetic of using clattery dial phones, with heft in the handle and a solid ding in the bell, than the clearness of sound that came through a copper line. Internet telephony has left everyone's voices washed out and dropping random milliseconds to make the most basic talk unintelligible. We'll never get that clarity to a phone call back, and that makes me sad.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 5:13 PM on September 19 [14 favorites]


I miss answering machines.
posted by aniola at 5:37 PM on September 19 [6 favorites]


Can we also bring back other people's expectation that you might not be reachable by phone at every moment? I'll buy that one.
posted by ctmf at 6:46 PM on September 19 [6 favorites]


A cute concept, with a very impressive execution. Good for her! So much work involved, done excellently.

But if we're making DIY kits, I'd still like something that puts the guts of a flip-phone and a big battery into the shell of an old GPO rotary or Ma Bell touch-tone handset. Takes a SIM card, but a hefty kilo with a brass bell. Satisfying to hang up in frustration.

(But probably useless. Who would pick up, if you voice called someone? Not saying I blame current and future generations; they'll never know the pleasure of a good copper wire and physical switch landline phone call. There should be a telephone version of vinyl & vacuum tube freaks.)
posted by bartleby at 10:07 PM on September 19


Oh, another other 'smart' device rebuilt into an old phone form factor dream item / kit would be taking an Echo or Google Home or whatever the Apple version is called and
1) making the keyword 'Operator' instead of Alexa or Siri or Hey Google
2) rewiring it so that instead of an Always On Corporate Spy Device, the microphone is physically disconnected until you pick up the handset.
"Operator, what is the population of Madagascar?" Operator, call 'Mom'. "Operator, set an alarm for 6am." 'Operator, play Marvin Gaye on the living room speakers' and then you hang up and it can't listen to you.
posted by bartleby at 10:34 PM on September 19 [18 favorites]


This is definitely a much more "practical" version of a rotary cellphone, and Justine Haupt's meticulous determination to make it a reality is awe-inspiring.

However, I would still prefer one of the Portable Rotary Phones that were making the rounds back in 2006-2008. Long discontinued, they used your standard sim card and were sold by Sparkfun for $200.

The idea of pulling out a stock old school rotary phone to take a call at a cafe when the classic ringer goes off still tickles my funnybone.
posted by fairmettle at 12:51 AM on September 20 [5 favorites]


I miss answering machines.

Mainly because you didn’t have to answer. You could listen to the live incoming message, then decide whether to respond. If not, you could later blame the missed call on the infernal machine.
posted by cenoxo at 3:46 AM on September 20 [4 favorites]


If you're missing answering machines, Android's Screen Call is magic

Extra props if this phone can do correct GPO-timed brrring brrring ringing
posted by scruss at 6:12 AM on September 20 [1 favorite]


Not getting one, but this woman's ability to perform her reality into such beauty gives me hope for our wretched touchscreen hellscape.

I miss buttons so much.
posted by eustatic at 7:38 AM on September 20 [7 favorites]


I miss buttons so much.

Me, too. Every touchscreen I've used in the past few years has just absolutely sucked.
posted by drstrangelove at 8:33 AM on September 20 [1 favorite]


I miss physical keyboards. The HTC G1 & G2 were so awesome. Favorite phone I've used. Make more of those please.
posted by VyanSelei at 10:34 AM on September 20


If not, you could later blame the missed call on the infernal machine.

Worst answering machine message we ever got was when Grandpa died.

"Well, your father's dead. I hate these goddamn machines." *click*
posted by The Underpants Monster at 11:42 AM on September 20 [1 favorite]


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