Dreaming of an ideal phone
Friday, August 13, 2010 11:38:50 PM
I have an incredibly horrible outdated phone. A HTC Touch Diamond to be precise. There is more or less nothing to like about it; especially that I have to pull out the battery to switch off the alarm when it goes off. I’m in the market for a new one, but it is difficult to know what to get. The iPhone 4 looks very nice, but is not much use for me when the manufacturer restrictions mean I can't install my company’s flagship mobile browser. The logical next choice is Android. The platform is more open and its popularity with developers in the US mean that there are plenty of apps for it. Unfortunately there are no Android phones with as nice industrial design (in my opinion) as the iPhone 4, the top of the range HTCs are getting a little long in the tooth now, and the latest Motorola Droids are not out in Europe as far as I can tell.I guess there will be a device (probably from HTC or Samsung) which will match then beat the iPhone’s DPI in the near future, especially as they left the iPhone 3GS’ display looking ancient for quite a while by the time the iPhone 4 came out. That has not come yet though.
Looking at so many phones has made me think what would be my ideal phone, especially if money was no object (which sadly it is). Speaking of money being no object, Engadget had a post today on the 1 million dollar phone. The design is as vulgar as the price tag. Not only that, but like other super-premium priced mobiles, it packs everything around what is basically a low-end heap of junk feature phone. You’d think if people were willing to pay tens, or hundreds of thousands of dollars, they'd at least want a phone that wasn't outdated 4 years before they bought it.
But this did phone did get me thinking. The value is all in the materials like a piece of jewellery, but being a piece of electronics it will be totally obsolete at some stage, and it seems a waste to throw away hundreds of thousands of dollars of black diamonds away. Why not instead invent a phone which was designed to be long lasting and factory upgradable. Just like how you send in your watch to be serviced or how high end Leica M-System cameras can be sent back the factory for upgrades, imagine if we could do this with phones?
I’d love to be able to buy a phone which has a simple design aesthetic, such as Dieter Rams’ work for Braun or Kenya Hara’s work. A cross between Scandinavian minimalism, the Japanese Wabi-sabi and Wabi-cha design aesthetics, and German engineering. Materials are the key here, along with clean lines which don't date quickly with passing fads. I think Apple are still one of the very few hardware companies that understand how important good materials are. OFten companies ruin promising designs with cheap looking plastic. Use materials which are long lasting and natural where possible. Metals, wood veneers, leather or ceramics could look great if done well, with restraint. The trick to my ideal phone would be the internals. Pay a bit of a premium for the externals for something durable and long lasting with a high quality feel, and include components inside that can be upgraded in life-cycles rather than the full phone being thrown away. We’re at the stage now where the screen is more or less the size of the face of the phone and it is just the pixel density going up in a similar form factor, unless you want a bigger phone. We’re also at the stage where phones are not getting too much thinner. There is only so thin a phone can get before it becomes uncomfortable to hold. Obviously there is still a lot of room for slider phones to get thinner as th keyboards still add a lt of heft. If you could just send the phone back when you decide to upgrade, and get say a faster processor, more memory (probably combined with a new circuit board for those upgrades) a higher res screen and an improved camera sensor, have the case polished and cleaned and the warranty extended by a year, that would be fantastic. Less waste and packaging too, especially if there was some way to repurpose the replaced parts. You'd only have to replace the whole phone when you are sick of the design or the form factor becomes out of date. There could perhaps even be ways to adapt the form factor of the case if well designed. The issue would be labour costs with upgrading (so probably would have to have a decent premium) and it may have to be more bulky if parts were replaceable rather than soldered onto the motherboard or such. It would also perhaps be hell for developers too if any component could be upgraded at any time.
If something like this could work then you could keep a phone for years, just like a good watch, and be very personaliseable to the needs of the user. I know I'd buy one if I could afford one and had great industrial design. As long as it doesn't use Windows Monbile 6.2…