It’s hard to remember how we coped before the mobile phone. In the dim and distant past of the early 1990s, being on the move meant being out of touch. Today, as your neighbour on the train starts shouting inanities into his phone, it’s sometimes easy to wish phones didn’t exist.
The chances of that happening are slimmer than the latest models. Mobile phones have become a vital tool for modern living and to combat market saturation manufacturers are calling in design innovations that will make mobile communication ever more ubiquitous.
But the mobile phone itself, in its present shape and form, may well be a dinosaur headed for extinction. Technical innovations in the sector are freeing up designers and it is now possible to prioritise the way users interact with the product rather than simply designing around technical requirements.
‘In the past, design has been technologically-driven and consumers have had to become used to a certain shape. Increasingly, we’re now driven by customers not technical constraints. It’s liberating [from a design point of view], and you will see more products emerge that are driven by user-centred design,’ says Nokia group design director Bill Sermon.
Russell Studio director Dale Russell, who works as a consultant to Samsung Design Europe, takes it one step further. She says technology ‘has become a given’. ‘Understanding the relationship between technology and the person who is using it and offering a choice of aesthetic is the way forward,’ she says.
Nokia’s design team agrees. The company launched its latest phone, the 7600, last month, moving away from a standard format to a larger, squarer, screen-led design with a customisable facia.
The company has identified the transfer of images as a particularly important trend – Sermon calls it ‘texting for the broadband generation’. With phones that incorporate a camera becoming more popular, and perhaps in a move to drive interest in nascent G3 technology, Sermon insists that sending and sharing images is becoming a more personal way to text.
In response, Nokia is also moving outside the traditional phone arena, launching a range of ‘intelligent wearable’ products that it calls Imagewear. The first three items in the range include two jewellery products with screens that allow wearers to upload pictures from their mobile or computer.
‘People use what they wear and carry as a personal statement,’ says Sermon. ‘These products allow people to upload images from phones and send subtle messages to someone else. It’s about extending body image to digital form.’
At this stage the products, which can be worn as necklaces or bracelets, only allow images to be transferred, but it is technologically feasible that voice, video and other enhancements may follow.
‘The future is about fashion-oriented peripherals and enhancements. Wearability has lots of possibilities – jackets, scarves and jewellery,’ claims Nokia Design chief designer and vice-president Frank Nuovo.
‘These products will allow you to document your life in different ways and over time traditional voice [communication] will become multimedia,’ he says.
Russell agrees, but says technology is ‘taking us to new realms that are only just being touched on. Where it merges into the home is particularly interesting,’ she asserts.
Nokia has taken a first step into home-based products with the launch of the Image Frame. Essentially a digital picture frame that sits on your mantlepiece, the product enables you to download pictures from your mobile phone.
It means that if you’re travelling, rather than simply texting your family you’ll be able to send pictures to their Image Frame, ‘connecting your visual world to theirs’, explains Nuovo.
Not convinced that sending pictures is the way to go? Nuovo says that’s fair enough, the future of mobile communication is all about individuality.
‘No one product is pinnacle, we’re not aiming for nirvana,’ says Nuovo. ‘We’re embracing choices and difference.’
Russell is adamant that ‘there isn’t a set genre anymore, we no longer have a true definition [of mobile communication]. There is a merging of fashion and business and of technology and low tech.’
So the next time you’re travelling, listening to other passengers shouting ‘I’m on the train’ down their phones, you might just be able to beat that by offering to show them a video of your favourite pet’s latest achievements. That should keep them quiet.