Thursday, July 01, 2010

Rise of Smart phones & Fall of Feature phones. The trend of designing mobile UI for specific user group is slowly diminishing.

With the news of withdrawal of Microsoft kin mobiles(Project Pink), for whatever rumored reasons, I am wondering if there was really a need for different UI for different user segments. As Kin phones were targeted for Teens with low cost and cloud storage and sync, the same can be achieved with just a change of skins to OS based phones. The OS based phones already offer social applications, cloud syncing, multimedia and games. Here i am talking about phones like iPhone & Android. Windows 7 is still not out in the market.

Traditionally all the hardware companies made many mobile phones , each targeted for 'so-called' different user groups - college going, business users, multimedia users, gaming users, etc. And accordingly the price and features are added or removed from each phone to create thousands of models. Non of these phones are perfect for anyone. Forget the UI design.  Do you really need so many variety of phones from same company ? or only one phone for all, like iPhone from Apple. Yes, Apple only has one phone. 

I use iPhone for emails, photos, cloud syncing, etc. all the day.  When i go home, my 3yr daughter uses my iPhone very easily to navigate to games and play games. She even tries to download new games from apps store icon. One day I was very surprised to receive iTunes receipt for new game downloaded(by my daughter). My wife uses my phone for checking her social networking and messengers. So one single phone is satisfying needs for different users. 

I feel that, as the cost of mobile OS goes down along with the cost of hardware(memory, processor), everyone would love to have a OS based phones then these proprietary feature phones made by hardware companies. The advantage of OS phones is that you can add new applications, update the OS with new features and really customize it. Feature phones dont offer any of this. You have to just throw the phone if it becomes outdated. 

If you realize now, the word PDA has lost its value. Few years back Microsoft popularized the term PDA with windows CE phones. They differentiated themself with phones having capability to add memory, document editing and emailing. I wonder why these phones were kept purposely low multimedia standard. They would always have a bad camera and no music player or FM. Blackberry phones followed the same strategy . The reasoning was, business users are machines and they dont have human feeling to take pictures and listen to music. What a shit!. Why would you prevent anyone from doing so. Ya, just to make another category of mobile phones. Sales strategy !. Thanks to new term, Smart Phones, you now have every feature of business phones along with all multimedia. The line between business phone and multimedia phone has vanished. These new category of Smart phones satisfy every category of users. They are OS based. 

Another term that become popular is Apps Store. Ya, with iPhone having more then 100,000 apps in its Apps Store and that too mostly at $0.99, it has really become affordable for everyone. Moreover Apple made it very easy to add applications, whereas Microsoft and Nokia had terrible application download process.  Think of any idea on mobile and you will find an application in app store. The Apps store provides something for every user category. Now, where is the question of designing the whole phone for only one user group. If the OS offers flexibility to customize the layout, style and information on screen, there is no need to design for just specific category of users.  Instead, have a generic OS and allow for applications designed for specific user groups. This enables you to have only one phone and one OS satisfying every user. Slowly the control of mobile UI design is getting transfered from handset manufacturer to Apps developer company. 

With the advent of multi touch screens the phone form factor has also reduced to a mear rectangular block with glass. The industrial design for handset company is minimalistic approach. Similar to OS apps , you can have different mobile covers to customize your mobile look & personality.  Some covers look business class(leathers) and other look funny for teens (yellow covers). The product industrial design is also commoditized. Users can change the design as they want.


Posted via email from Sameer's Scribblings

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