There is a thread buzzing around the ZD site on innovation, look at what’s being said on Raspberry Pi And celebrating the anniversary of the Sinclair QL And then read Mary Branscombe’s post on CES. where she says that the HP Envy is innovative because it has a glass lid. I admit it makes me want one but that’s not innovation that’s minor iteration. I rather fear that the phone industry is going the same way. All phones today either look like an iPhone Or a Blackberry. Design innovation has disappeared, just as first netbooks and then tablets shook the computer industry the phone world is waiting for is a new form factor. The first GSM slider phone that was widely available was the Siemens SL10. Big, fat, ugly with a dreadful keypad and worse four colour display it was still something of a landmark. Phones that do something interesting punch way above their weight in perceived quality. You can have a poor camera and limited features but if it’s made of metal with a good action it’s seen as a posh phone. Consumers for give the faults in something they like. The Nokia 7110 was the first phone with CSD WAP, it had an interesting roller (Navi-Roller) but what made it was the spring opening. Victorian jack-in-the-box technology was the equivalent of scissor doors on a Lamborghini. The design of the future might be the dual hinge. The Motorola MPx and a concept Fujitsu showed last year at MWC both allow a phone to be landscape and portrait. The top and bottom slide of the N95 is interesting. There might be more scope if the 12 key pad slid from the short side and Qwerty slid from the long side. Even bringing back the flip with the Sony Ericsson is interesting. It works well with dual proposition, what if there were multiple levels of flips, one on top of another for camera, MP3 and radio? The rotator has never enjoyed the success of the slider. Perhaps that’s because it’s never been done quite as well. Samsung makes beautiful sliders but phones like the Nokia 7670 are just plain ugly. There is real consumer scope to do the jack-knife well. It could be a pointer in the same way as the SL10 was. In the spirit of remembering the future we should look to the 7110 with it spring. A proper jack-knife, or switchblade that opens at the press of a button. The NewPlan CP21 is a phone aimed at seniors where the screen pops up on a spring and I love it. And then looking to another consumer trend, albeit a very male one: show the workings. The fashion in home-built PCs is glass panels which show cooling fluid running through illuminated tubes inside the computer. Car manufacturers have found that showing the engine through glass panels is something customers love. Porsche even experimented with glass panels on the inside of the doors to show the window winding mechanism, but were never really happy with what the mechanism looked like. And of course fine jewellery wristwatches have shown of their mechanisms for hundreds of years. In predicting the future it’s common to look back to see forward, this is usually done by projecting the change but it can also be done by copying the past. When I say what the mobile phone industry is looking for is something new, perhaps I mean something old.
Simon blogs on phones for seniors at Fuss Free Phones