Runcible – sensual, mysterious, skeuomorphic


I’ve been completely captivated by this gorgeous video announcing the imminent release of Runcible. But what is it?

The developers call it “a smart pocket watch for the post-smartphone era” but I’d say it’s more than that. This mysterious device calls to our deepest connections with the physical world, a universe of plants, animals, wood, metal, and even our own discarded debris.

From the website:

Runcible is a new category of personal electronic which occupies a space between a traditional mobile phone and a wearable device. Featuring a first-of-its-kind fully round screen and a palm-sized form factor, Runcible is modeled on devices humans have carried around with them and loved for hundreds or thousands of years: the pocket watch, the compact, the compass, the magical stone in your hand.

Runcible is designed to help you create a more civilized relationship with your Digital Life. Runcible will never beep, alert, or otherwise interrupt you. The world-class connectivity we all came to expect in the smartphone era (LTE, WiFi, Bluetooth) is there on Runcible when you need it. For the rest of the time, you can keep your head up, your attention on the real world and real people around you, and maintain your sense of wonder about life. Just as the truth about time is available on a legacy timepiece, Runcible distills your Digital Life for you in clean, quiet, glanceable ways. Beautifully designed and built to last, Runcible is the premier device for the post-smartphone era.

Two models are being released later this year:

Runcible Lovelace

Runcible Babbage $399 USD The Babbage model is designed for the stylish experimenter and for the early adopter alike. This is a full-spec Runcible brain with a durable, organic feeling back made from reclaimed ocean plastic fished out of the Great Pacific Plastic Island.

Runcible Lovelace $499 USD The limited edition Lovelace model is designed for the Aficionado. This is a full-spec Runcible brain with an iconic, unique, solid wood back made from local, sustainably harvested madrone wood in Mendocino County, California.

Both, of course, named after William Babbage and Ada Lovelace, early computer pioneers. You really can’t get more cool. The devices are beautiful and seductive, but it’s not entirely clear yet what they actually do beyond create a vibe that you just want to wallow in. Let’s hope that whatever it is will be as luscious as the video.


Runcible PocketwatchThe term comes from the Greek words ‘skeuos’, meaning a vessel or a tool, and ‘morphe’, meaning shape. Skeuomorphism is less about the function of a tool, than about its appearance, and it has fired hot debate in the world of user interface design. Skeuomorphic design contains elements which simulate the features of earlier iterations of an object but which have become irrelevant to the way it is now used. Steve Jobs played with the idea in some early iPad and iPhone designs – remember the weird Compass and Calendar? They were superseded, but people do like skeuomorphism – does your iPad case feature distressed faux leather, fake vellum or ageing parchment? And what could be more resonant of the past than Runcible’s deeply skeuomorphic pocketwatch, reassuringly pre-loved and stained with history?

More like a lucky stone than a smartphone

It’s not just reminiscent of the technologies of the past, but also of the materiality of the planet itself. “More like a lucky stone than a smartphone”, says the video, reminding me of the Hebridean pebble that writer Roger Deakin used to keep on his home-made desk. It rested in a shaped depression he had hollowed out especially. In ‘Wildwood: a journey through trees’  he describes how he made it:

Building the new desk under the window in the study, looking south across the garden to the moat. Perfectionism kicks in and all the same self-critical criteria that go into a piece of writing. I make a yew bracket to peg to the oak wall post and support the top, a slab of fine-grained Oregon pine, and a careful wooden sub-frame or chassis. I fill some open cracks in the grain with plaster, smooth it down and carefully stain it pale blue using a delicate watercolour brush. I hollow out one of the old bolt-holes in the top to accommodate a smooth, round flattened pebble from the Hebrides, like a tiny curling stone. It is a sort of worry-bead. (p17)

Deakin lived for many years at Walnut Tree Farm, a moated farmhouse that he bought in 1969. He slowly renovated it piece by piece and slept in every part of the property, including its fields. He loved to swim in its weed-filled moat. Deakin was a nature geek and a craftsman. I suspect that the creator of Runcible, Aubrey Anderson, is a kindred spirit of similar sensibility.

Maybe the Runcible will fulfill no further purpose than a decorative pebble on a desk. That remains to be seen. But perhaps it will signal the way to a revolution in technology design. I rather hope so. In the words of the video “The future will be like the past, but cooler”.

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