I have been casting an eye on recent consumer electronics history today looking at how a few key brands managed to bounce back from seemingly hopeless situations and wondering how this might relate to Nokia and the launch of its make or break Lumia Windows 8 phones.
What is rather obvious is that the phones that really changed mobile history and reignited brands were special in that they broke new ground in terms of design and usability, but not especially features.
Think about it. Had the original iPhone in 2007 not had that touch screen it would have been a huge embarrassment. It didn’t even have 3G connectivity or a video camera. It was like a handset from half a decade before.
And then there’s the Motorola Razr V3, the massive selling handset from the middle of the last decade. When it launched critics moaned about its rubbish selection of features (VGA camera, no video, just 5MB of storage) yet people didn’t care, Its was that ultra skinny frame and cool laser etched keypad that captured their imagination.
And how about Samsung’s recent success with the S3 and the Galaxy Note? I think that both handsets have a good line up of facilities, but certainly with the Note, and the same is true to a lesser extent with the S3, what excited punters was the size of the screen – that mini tablet feel which made ebooks books readable and web pages render more easily.
There are other examples too namely early Blackberry models (and at a pinch the Hiptop) which revolutionised messaging by offering a workable keyboard on a handset.
Apple completely gets this which is why it bought Siri in 2010 and spent a year developing it into an alternative way of interacting with a phone. I am sure that it is working on other ways in which users interact with the handset in a bid to keep its iPhone range fresh. I might be wrong, but I guess that the iPhone 6 will see some huge new breakthrough rather than the more incremental enhancements of the 4 and, probably, the 5.
The Lumia 920 looks like a great phone. But once again the focus is not especially on design or usability but features, and while being able to control the handset with your gloves on, wirelessly charge it, and let it tell you which is the best picture you have just taken are great these are not going to excite anyone apart from hardcore geeks.
So what is the future? Gesture controlled operating systems? Twin screens? Or maybe a revolutionary battery system that can run for a week? Only time will tell. But I bet the next must-have phone will be characterised not by what’s under the hood, but by an amazing design.