City of Sound is about cities, design, architecture, music, media, politics and more. Written by Dan Hill since 2001.

A further selection from The Economist’s Technology Quarterly, this time on mobile phone design, featuring comment from various players at Nokia, Sony Ericsson, IDEO and Motorola. The article rounds up various types of handset design, wondering as to the future(s) of the mobi given that they "(aren’t) technical devices any more but part of the end-user’s personality," in the words of Nokia design director Eero Miettinen.

Hiroshi Nakaizumi, head of Sony Ericsson’s design centre, suggests the market of five year’s time will have roughly settled around three different categories: "traditional voice-centric handsets, "Swiss Army knife"-style phones that try to do everything (such as Sony Ericsson’s own P900), and task-specific phones aimed at particular types of users, for whom telephony may be a secondary function."

Interestingly, the article goes on to note there is another possible future for these devices:

"(A)n altogether more radical possibility is that the current "all in one" approach will give way to a more modular design, in which a basic handset is supplemented by add-ons connected via short-range "Bluetooth" wireless links. Owners of Bluetooth-capable phones can already make and receive calls with just a small headset or earpiece, while the handset sits in a nearby pocket, briefcase or handbag. The next step is to extend this approach to other devices. For example, a Bluetooth-equipped camera could send and receive pictures via a nearby handset, and a handheld gaming console could download new games and communicate with other players. The phone would act as a gateway between specialised local devices and the cellular network."

"It is unclear whether or not this modular approach will appeal to consumers. The success of Apple’s iPod, for example, which does one thing (playing music) and does it very well, may mean that task-specific phones will prove more popular than modular ones. And for users who want more functionality, the Swiss Army-knife approach has the advantage that you cannot leave bits of it behind, as you could with a modular phone. That said, the modular approach could make possible all kinds of radical designs, such as sunglasses or jewellery that also function as mobile headsets or display text messages."

The Economist: Shape of phones to come


One response to “The Economist on modularity and specialisation in phone design”

  1. Roger Avatar

    I think the modular approach is being taken by IXI ( with it’s personal gateway concept.


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