Physical enhancements to mobile devices

The design blog Core77 recently featured the Glif, the versatile kickstand and tripod mount for the iPhone 4.  A couple of New York product designers (Tom Gerhardt and Dan Provost) came up with the idea and developed it in their spare time, eventually producing a small number of physical prototypes.  They turned to the crowd-funding service Kickstarter to raise the capital they needed to produce the Glif on a larger scale.  They received a remarkable 70,000 USD in three days and are now well on the way to taking the product to the market.  As the Economist points out, it is astonishing how quickly this process occurred thanks to developments in funding, promotion and rapid manufacture of product concepts.

I would like to make a couple of further observations about the Glif and other utility-enhancing accessories.  The Glif (and many alternative but less refined tripod mounts) is part of a growing volume of evidence that the camera function in mobile devices has reached a point where it seriously competes with compact digital cameras.  Will we start to see mobiles with inbuilt tripod screws?  Will we see more camera-phones with an optical zoom?  Is there a niche consumer group that would be attracted by a specialist photography device rather than a retro-fitted mainstream handset?  Perhaps it could be an optional extra on a generic device: pay an additional sum for a better camera, flash and sensors.  It seems at the moment that specialist innovations are being made by technically minded lead users and are not widely available to regular consumers.  As we can see from the Glif, the barriers are shifting, how long will it be before advanced users can modify the architecture of the handsets themselves?

I will be discussing alternative scenarios such as this when I address Pathway #6 in the MEX event in London on 30 Nov – 01 Dec 2010.  In the mean time I would be very interested in hearing your thoughts about specialised devices and form factors.  If you have had experience in this area then please get in touch in the comments, or by twitter or email.

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