Bang & Olufsen Serenata
Announced recently as part of an ongoing collaboration between Samsung and the cutting edge Danish designer, the Serenata challenges several handset design conventions. The controls are located above rather than below the screen and it takes the unusual step of combining touch sensitivity and a rotary navigation wheel. It also features a high quality speaker, developed by Band & Olufsen’s engineers, capable of delivering genuinely impressive sound from such a small package.
The Serenata is intended as a premium product and will have a correspondingly high price tag. However, it has a number of design features which highlight the growing trend, particularly among younger customers, for mobile device usage to extend beyond the hand.
The Serenata features a flip stand, allowing it to be supported independently in an upright position. This encourages the usage of the handset as a space-filling media device. Conceptually, that’s an incredibly important step forward for handset design: mobile phones are no longer limited to the hand. This trend will be driven by premium music devices at first, but we expect to see it expand across handset pricepoints and encompassing new functionality, such as video, photo viewing and alarm clocks.
So much has been written about the hype and industry politics of the iPhone that it is easy to forget what the average customer sees: a handset that looks like no other, with an immersive screen that draws the user in and compels them to touch. Apple’s designers broke every convention in the handset rule book to create the iPhone. The latest radio standards were eschewed in favour of longer battery life, hardware controls were abandoned and the content itself became the interface.
The influence of the iPhone can already be seen in the growing number of touchscreen handsets reaching the market and Nokia’s decision to introduce touchscreen functionality into the next generation of Series 60. Apple’s business model of pre-integrating its music service, selling the handset at an unsubsidised price and taking a share of revenues is also forcing the mobile industry to rethink its traditional approach.
However, it is the on-screen visual experience of the iPhone that will be its longest lasting legacy. Apple’s investment in high powered graphics processing capability and additional memory enables it to perform interface transitions and on-the-fly content manipulation that brings the users closer to their media collection.
At our MEX conference in May 2007, the Nokia N95 was described as the ‘most advanced 90cc of product ever created’. The sheer quantity of technology Nokia has managed to squeeze into its flagship handset is really quite remarkable. Even ten years ago the specifications would have seemed like the work of science fiction: a 5 megapixel camera, integrated GPS, music hardware controls, full screen video, TV out, HSDPA connectivity and integrated Wi-Fi.
That Nokia has achieved this within such a slim form factor and at a mainstream pricepoint is an enormous accomplishment. By combining Nokia’s economies of scale and a willingness to make a significant bet on the value of such advanced R&D, the Finnish manufactured has raised the functionality benchmark for everyone in the mobile industry. There are better looking and more useable handsets out there, but none offer such a range of features and such versatility at this price.
Nokia’s open platforms approach with Series 60 and the Symbian OS will also ensure that the ground breaking achievements of the N95 filter out into the rest of its product portfolio. It has also prompted companies like Samsung to re-evaluate its use of Series 60, recognising that the platform provides a shortcut to developing comparable handsets at relatively low cost. Samsung is now bringing to market a range of N96 competitors built – ironically – around Nokia’s own Series 60, including the i550 and i560.
Our work on the MEX conference, newsletter and consultancy projects brings us into contact with a wide range of product design firms desparate to land a handset manufacturer or operator commission which will allow them to unleash their creativity on a mobile design. Danish branding agency Streative and Swedish designers Syntes-Studio were lucky enough to be handed arguably the most coveted brief of 2007 by Spanished-owned operator O2. Unlike many of these projects, the agencies were given considerable freedom to experiment with ideas.
The result was the Cocoon. Streative and Syntes took full advantage of the unusual latitude of the brief and seized the opportunity to create a genuinely different product, focused on the things that really make customers tick. The Streative blog explains: “When O2 approached us with their marketing requirements to work together to establish a design blueprint and strategy, our key objective was to reduce the relentless ‘churn-and-burn’ gridlock the mobile phone has been facing over the past several years. Our ultimate goal was to design iconoclastic and beautiful phones based on consumer experience instead of stereotypes.”
The Cocoon focuses first and foremost on being a great looking and easy-to-use phone. It also integrates impressively easy-to-use music playback. However, the Cocoon’s biggest differentiator is to make a feature out of one of the least marketed, yet most widely used mobile phone capabilities: the alarm clock. In numerous user surveys, this feature consistently ranks third behind voice and text as the most widely used application on mobile devices, yet most manufacturers include it as an afterthought.
Like the Bang & Olufsen Serenata, the Cocoon is designed to be useful even when outside of the hand and is supplied with a ‘nest’ that doubles as an alarm clock stand and a charger. When docked in the nest, the apparently empty upper face of the Cocoon turns into a brightly lit display to show the current time and a morning wake-up call.
It’s a great example of what can happen when you involve design agencies who spend their time getting inside the lives of users and give them the opportunity to employ this knowledge. If there are any manufacturers or operators out there that want introductions to a wide range of these agencies, just drop us a line and we’ll be happy to pass on some contacts – we want to see more creative projects like the Cocoon. Likewise, we’d be interested to hear from any other agencies who’ve got ambitions in this area and can demonstrate a genuine passion for understanding customers.
Relationships between iconic brands and handset manufacturers are nothing new. Motorola has flirted with Italian design house Pinanfarina, Samsung is currently dancing with Bang and Olufsen and Alcatel and Elle had a thing going a while back. None of these projects, however, have reached the mainstream in the way LG and Prada achieved with the LG Prada KE850.
The KE850 is undoubtedly a visually stunning design. In fact, many find it more beautiful and tactile than the iPhone when the two are compared side-by-side. And unlike so many other fashion phone collaborators, Prada insisted on having much greater scope to influence the design process, including fundamentals such as the interaction process (based around a touchscreen), layout of the menus and some of the most stringent retail marketing rules ever produced for a consumer electronics product (among other things, every dealer was required to apply for permission to sell the product by submitting internal and external store photos).
Where Prada led, others are now following. Ted Baker and Carphone Warehouse are preparing to release two handsets together, one manufactured by Samsung and the other by HTC. The HTC product will be hitting Carphone Warehouse stores in November 2007, along with other fashion-led products from Porsche, Levis and Mandarina Duck.
– Are there any other handsets on the market which are influencing design trends in the industry? Do you agree that these 5 have been the most influential in the last 12 months?
– Will designer brands have a growing role in the handset industry in the future?
– What features will be setting the trends in 2008?
This is your chance to join the MEX debate – post your comments to the blog!