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The Runcible Is a Smartphone That Looks Like a Pocket Watch, Milady

Daniel Howley
Technology Editor
Yahoo Tech

BARCELONA, Spain –– Perhaps you aren’t impressed by the cavalcade of rectangular smartphones available to you. Might we suggest the Runcible (see above)?

Created by the startup Monohm, the Runcible is a circular smartphone that’s made to provide you with notifications, updates, and phone calls only when you want to receive them.

The Runcible never rings or beeps when you receive a notification. Instead, it remains quiet, only alerting you to a new message or update when you check the phone on your own.

Monohm co-founder and CEO Aubrey Anderson explained that the Runcible is made to hark back to a time before every man, woman, and child was obsessively responding to smartphone notifications.

“Connectivity is awesome, and we can’t go back, but [the Runcible] is about constraining that connectivity to give you part of your life back,” Anderson said.

“It’s designed to manage your digital life instead of your digital life managing you.”

Everything about the Runcible’s style is meant to evoke a simpler world. Its name, in fact, is a nonsense word first used in Edward Lear’s 1871 poem “The Owl and the Pussycat.” (We checked, and Lear never once used the term “iPhone” in his verse.)

The handset’s rear panel is made of real wood and sits pleasantly in the palm of your hand. Anderson said it’s supposed to feel as smooth as a worry stone when you run your fingers over it.

But at its core, the Runcible is a smartphone, and as such, it will offer all of the functionality you’d expect of a high-end device when it comes to market. That includes a screen with a higher resolution than the iPhone’s Retina display’s, not to mention 4G LTE connectivity, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and NFC.

The Runcible runs on Mozilla’s Firefox OS, which means it doesn’t have access to Google’s Play Store or Apple’s App Store but instead relies on Web-based apps.

Anderson said he doesn’t even want the Runcible to run entire apps. Instead of the full Facebook or Twitter app versions, he wants the phone to simply see your basic notifications. Doing so, he believes, will make people put the handset back in their pockets faster, letting them get back to the real world.

According to Anderson, the Runcible’s rear camera will be one of its most important features. Monohm, he said, is currently in discussions with a major camera developer — he couldn’t name names — and hopes the handset will have a camera on par with the iPhone’s.

One of the more interesting things about the Runcible is how accessible it will be for do-it-yourselfers. Anderson explained that the entire handset will be easily repairable and even upgradable at home.

He said that Monohm wants owners to be able to create their own add-ons for the Runcible. One example he gave was an owner creating a lid for the phone that, when opened, could serve as a screen with a camera that would let the owner make video calls.

The Runcible is still in development, but Anderson said he hopes to have the handset available in Japan this year. Monohm, he explained, is still working on plans for a global launch.

Pricing for the Runcible isn’t yet finalized, but Anderson said it will likely be in the ballpark of an unlocked iPhone (upwards of $800).

Still, if you’re the type of person who wants a smartphone but yearns for simpler times, the Runcible may be worth checking out.

Email Daniel at dhowley@yahoo-inc.com; follow him on Twitter at @DanielHowley or on Google+ here.