Sony Ericsson and Japanese operator NTT DoCoMo have been working together to create an experimental handset which combines radio, TV and telephony in a single device. The Radiden builds on Sony Ericsson’s dual-front concept, which has already been successfully applied in the camera phone market, by placing the radio functionality of the device on the back cover. This provides the handset with two distinct usage modes.
The challenge of combining different activities in a single device is one of the most frequently and hotly debated within the industry. Numerous solutions have been proposed, ranging from personal area networks (PANs) which allow the user to carry a number of specialised and interconnected devices, to multi-function devices such as the Nokia 9000 series.
It will be a key topic for discussion at the PMN Mobile User Experience conference next week. The session entitled: “Innovations in software interfaces and industrial design,” will examine this issue in detail, with contributions from Kristoffer Aberg (Senior Interaction Designer at Sony Ericsson), Gus Desbarats (Chairman of product design company Alloy), Sofia Svanteson (Head of Mobile Concepts at interface designer Ocean Observations), Matt Millar (CTO at interface specialise Mobile Innovations), Peter Molin (Vice President at platform provider UIQ) and Jacques LaPointe (Director of Product Management at input solutions company Zi Corp).
Audio functions such as radio and MP3 playback represent a relatively straightforward design challenge. They interact with the same part of the body as traditional voice telephony, i.e. the ear. However, TV is a very different activity and primarily a visual experience for the eye – Sony Ericsson have side-stepped this issue in the Radiden, as it can only pick-up audio signals from TV stations and is not capable of displaying pictures.
This design evolution of handsets to cater with equal efficiency to both the ear and the ear is one of the macro challenges facing product designers.
The Radiden closely resembles a Sony Ericsson K750i in visual appearance. It has all the hallmarks of the company’s focus on quality materials and sleek design. Without testing the handset in person it is impossible to appraise its overall usability and it seems unlikely to make it out of the domestic Japanese market any time soon.
However, it is clear from the visuals available on the web that the radio ‘face’ of the device has been inspired by Sony’s extremely useable and well-loved pocket radios. It has an easy-to-read digital tuner display and preset buttons for quickly selecting new stations.
The question is whether this works seamlessly with the rest of the handset’s capabilities. Sony Ericsson has already demonstrated a benchmark for integrating audio into a device with the W800i ‘Walkman’ phone, so I would expect it to be quite impressive.
The real challenge is integrating a visual TV component and Sony Ericsson have not even attempted it with this model. Analogue TV tuners have been available on mobile phones for some time in Japan, but there has always been the sense that the traditional clamshell telephony design is not best suited to displaying TV images.
This debate is gathering speed. Companies throughout the industry are already investing substantial sums in mobile TV (see today’s article on DiBcom) and there is an expectation that it will be a significant revenue generator in the future. The discussion still seems to be bogged down in questions of standardisation. Of course, such conversations are an essential part of the commercial process, but the real barrier to consumer acceptance may well be a more fundamental question of design suitability.