John’s Phone: does one thing well

There’s a growing buzz in the blogs (e.g. Boing Boing, Trendhunter and PSFK) about the John’s Phone, an ultra-simple no-contract handset that was released by Dutch creative agency John Doe. According to their early press releases, it was originally pitched at young children and the elderly. But instead it has attracted a cult following amongst a trendy youth segment, which John Doe seems to have embraced. It is only capable of voice calls and has no onboard phone book (opting instead for a paper pad and pen attached to its rear!). It’s complete lack of utility means that it has an insane 3-week battery life on standby. Here’s an unboxing video from the marketing consultant Floyd Hayes, who was sick with his iPhone and wanted something different (although I’m fairly sure he kept his iPhone):

This device raises some interesting points:

  • Why has it captured the attention of a younger consumer group, and not the numerous other simple phones from major handset manufacturers or specialist firms such as Emporia, Jitterbug or Doro? Perhaps it is because it takes itself less seriously. Rather than trying to look conventional, it stands out in bright colours and bulky plastic form. It shows that there is a market for kitschy, novelty devices, especially as a second phone. Swapping the SIM card into a John’s Phone uses a convenient side drawer rather than a fiddly metal clip behind the battery as with many mainstream phones.
  • Furthermore, there’s no need to worry about porting your phone book across, because it doesn’t have one! Remember back in the 90s when you used to have to remember 5-10 phone numbers – nowadays we completely rely on our mobile phonebooks. What happens when you lose access to that information?
  • It is also an example of a small company making an impact from outside the mainstream mobile industry. I predict this will be a growing trend as smaller firms can nimbly identify and respond to niche user needs and with access to Eastern manufacturing they can also scale production in response to demand.
  • I like to make comparisons between phones and bikes and to me, the John’s Phone is like a fixie. People are attracted to fixed gear bikes for their simplicity, but also because they stand out and reflect a certain lifestyle. I believe the same can often be true of mobile phones like the John’s Phone that make a statement, whether it was originally intended or not.

What do you think? Get in touch, or come to the MEX event on 30 Nov – 01 Dec 2010 to discuss this further, particularly in reference to Pathway #6 when we look at ways of escaping the slate form factor that seems to be dominating at the moment.


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  1. 1
    Marek Pawlowski

    I wonder what sort of margins they’re making at EUR 89, especially given that it has no screen (typically the most expensive component on a phone). Interesting to see people paying to ‘downgrade’ their mobile user experience because they feel overwhelmed by all of the features on today’s handsets.

  2. 3
    Matt Radford

    I love the idea of this phone. I’ve been thinking of getting a “park phone” for a while, to take out with me when I’m with the kids, so that I don’t succumb to the distraction of using my iPhone. However, the lack of SMS is a problem; not in sending necessarily, as you’ve chosen a reduced functionality device for that very reason, but in that everyone’s phone is *expected* to receive texts.

    A couple of solutions:

    A service that auto-replies with a message along the lines of “I can’t receive texts right now, please call if it’s urgent”, and stores the text for later retrieval.

    Adapt the display on John’s phone to display SMS. I don’t have to be able to reply, but I can then call the person back.

    Or am I missing the point of John’s Phone?

  3. 4
    Marek Pawlowski

    Good suggestion on the automatic texting Matt. It highlights the fact that within any networked products, user experience isn’t just about the product owner, it’s also about everyone who has to connect with them.

    That said, perhaps part of the ‘retro’ appeal of this phone will be telling all your friends: “You can’t text me anymore, I’m too cool for that now.” ūüôā

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