Pantech, the South Korean handset manufacturer which incorporates Curitel and the recently acquired SK Teletech, has recently unveiled two new handsets which highlight a new emphasis on fashion and design. The manufacturer, relatively unknown outside South Korea, has been attracting attention in recent months since acquiring Teletech, the handset division of leading South Korea operator SK Telecom. Teletech won a contract to build CDMA EV-DO handsets for Nokia shortly before it was bought by Pantech.
Second tier South Korean handset manufacturers have not traditionally been known for their design expertise. While domestic rivals LG and Samsung have invested heavily in design and branding, companies like Pantech have been better known for low cost products.
However, this looks set to change as Pantech launches a new range of products with a strong focus on design and seeks to expand its market presence outside the Far East.
It’s latest handsets include the clamshell PG-1200 and monobloc PG-1400.
Both are extremely lightweight, with the PG-1400 tipping the scales at just 75g. It includes a VGA camera, FM radio, WAP 2.0 browser and MP3 ringtones.
Clearly the feature-set remains relatively low-end, but these handsets represent the first part of Pantech’s push into international markets.
Pantech is not alone in recognising the importance of better design in its products.
According to this report by The Register, Mio (part of Mitac) is preparing to launch a Windows Mobile smartphone device which pays closer attention to design and fashion elements than ever before. The A701 incorporates GPS and a 1.3 megapixel camera, but is dominated by its sleek form factor and stylised design.
Other Far Eastern vendors are seeking insights into cultural and fashion trends outside their domestic markets through direct acquisition. TCL, the Chinese vendor, has recently taken control of Alcatel’s mobile phone division, while BenQ, the Taiwanese vendor, has acquired Siemens Mobile.
Initial results will no doubt be mixed. The same thing happened at Sony Ericsson in the first 12 months following the merger of the Japanese and Swedish organisations, but the eventual synergies have now manifest themselves as some of the most creative and attractive products on the market.
Motorola, Nokia and Sony Ericsson have all taken back market share from Far Eastern vendors in recent months and this progress is in large due to their renewed emphasis on design as a key differentiator. However, there are a number of manufacturers in South Korea, Taiwan and China who are all starting to make strong moves towards enhancing their design and branding. Combined with traditional advantages such as a lower cost base and speed of product development, they could still contend for a place in the ‘top 5’ within the next 3 years.
These themes will be explored in detail during the MEX conference, particularly in the Day One panel session entitled: “Innovations in software interfaces and industrial design.”