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Friday, May 12, 2006

Fashion phones

I've just spent three days at the World Handset Forum event in Prague. I've got quite a few themes I want to pick up on, including the SIP/IMS topic I raised earlier in the week, and also Mobile TV, around there was much debate.

First off, however, a quick thought on the subject of "Fashion Phones"

Over the last 3 years, there have been various fairly poor attempts at bridging the divide between cellular communications and trendiness. Siemens' Xelibri range had innovative designs, but poor marketing and ill-conceived distribution via places like clothes shops. The diamond-encrusted and hideously-expensive Vertu range of re-badged Nokias seem crass rather than cool. Mildly Ferrari-ised and Aston Martin-ised handsets have failed to accelerate sales. And if rumours are to be believed, we may get some new entrants into the handset space - perhaps brands like Nike or Gucci.

At the conference, I disagreed with a panel of design/useability experts that this approach was going to continue & eventually win out.

I think I've worked out what the problem is. It's the definition of "fashion". A Gucci-phone (or a Vertu) might be a style statement but it's not a fashion.

Think about it. This is what fashion really means:

1. The prevailing style or custom, as in dress or behaviour.
2. Something, such as a garment, that is in the current mode.

The prevailing style of handset at the moment is "thin and/or pink". Those are fashions, not the fact that Prada, Marks & Spencer or Daewoo slaps their own brand and colour scheme on a random phone.

For new handsets to represent a fashion, there have to be lots of interpretations on a central theme by all the main manufacturers, not just one.

"This season, mobile phones will mostly be purple"
"I wouldn't be seen dead with a slider this summer"
"A pop-out TV screen is this year's must-have mobile accessory"

I've got no idea exactly how the clothing industry "decides" what next year's fashion is going to be. I can't believe that they all independently start to make white / black / short / satin / military-style shirts and dresses - there must be some sort of cross-pollination of ideas to find a core theme.

So how about it? If the whole industry decides to go with camouflage-coloured narrow-phones for 2007, maybe market growth & margin might continue to accelerate?

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