Those words summed up the sentiment of a conversation I had with Imran Ahmad, creative director of Strawberry Cheesecake.
I visited Imran recently at his Docklands office to discuss some upcoming project work. As is often the case, the conversation moved to handsets. Being designers, Imran and gang are Mac-lovers; and so the Apple-appreciation society was in full swing, given the recent announcement of the iPhone.
Following on from the conversation, I invited Imran to sound off …
“I’ve often complained about the lack of excitement in the phone industry, about the lack of passion from handset manufacturers. We’ve had flip phones, swivel phones, sliding phones, twisty phones, and when they couldn’t think of anything else, they painted them pink! There’s no bloody creativity, and the guys at Motorola especially need some butt-kicking.
“Handset designers are clutching at straws. These manufacturers are not design-led but money-led. And they have still to make the connection between design creativity and innovation and the brand loyalty it generates – which in turn equals money!
“Apple has a track record of understanding this – they invented the mouse, after all, and as they’ve shown over and over again, where they lead, others follow.
“Others will take a normal phone and make it pink, in the hope it will stand out, without any consideration for ergonomics, usability or features. Apple will make sure that everything else is beautifully simple, so that the customer wants it regardless of the colour. Then they’ll make it available in different colours to give a distinct edge to its product.”
Now, I like Apple – and I especially love their website, which for me is the best on the internet, even better than BBC News. And the ads are especially great. I too am excited by the prospect of the iPhone, maybe not to the same extent that Imran and co are, but I do think that something has gone seriously wrong with some of the phones we’ve been making recently.
I really miss my Nokia 5210. It was one of the best phones I’d ever had, and a true Nokia classic. Even when I upgraded, it was my trusted second phone, and it was with great reluctance that I gave it away to my cousin.
For me, I’d only take a Nokia – any other phone was pathetic by comparison, and for a whole generation, especially in London, it had to be Nokia.
Even now, there are people who will only ever want a Nokia handset. But of late, they seem to be getting frustrated – and understandably so. Where is the exciting Nokia handset? Is it the Nseries? Not with the seemingly endless software bugs, which still haven’t been ironed out. Is it the Amour? Not popular enough. Nokia 6233? Too mid-range!
Apart from the business-focused E61, there isn’t a handset which excites the hordes of Nokia fans.
And, to be honest, since the 6680, where is the must-have Nokia phone? Here’s hoping the N95 delivers – Nokia really needs it to.
Motorola had a winner with RAZR. But they’ve failed to understand that with great design, you need great functionality. Beauty without brains feels empty! It doesn’t matter if you paint a phone pink, or teal or lilac or red. You might get a short-term sales boost, but sooner or later the novelty will wear off. Customers aren’t stupid enough to fall for the same trick over and over again.
LG has had excellent designs with their Chocolate and Shine handsets, but the features still fall short. And with Samsung, apart from the D900, there’s too much quantity and not enough quality.
So thank God for Sony Ericsson and HTC. Sony Ericsson’s Walkman range has been a great mixture of form and function, and it has really understood the importance of giving the customer something to aspire to.
And HTC continue to produce ground-breaking handsets which are so desirable that many customers are no longer put off by size issues.
Of course, Apple has thrown down the gauntlet. Despite the cynicism from some quarters, you can be certain that the handset will look great, and when it does come to the UK, the features will be cutting edge.
Quite simply, Apple has issued a statement of intent: “We’re coming to the mobile phone industry to become the manufacturer of preference, that every phone user will aspire to.”
Other manufacturers, especially Nokia and Motorola – you have been warned! n
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