After an intense period of re-focusing its design strategy Sony Ericsson says it is ready to wow North American mobile phone users with its sleek looks.
As 2002 was coming to an end Ericsson president and CEO Kurt Hellström bemoaned his company’s performance in the GSM and CDMA mobile phone
market. Speaking at the 2002 Expo Comm show, Hellström was facing declining market share in that space and blamed it on Ericsson’s lack of design flare. The company which had always been very good at making the mobile handset’s technological components had screwed up when it came to aesthetics, he said.
Hellström had then pinned his hopes on the newly-formed partnership with Sony to help the company come up with a more appealing phone. Sony Ericsson Mobile Communications corporate vice-president of the UK creative design centre Hiroshi Nakaizumi reported this week that after a lot of work and “”a whole lot of screaming,”” the designers are ready to introduce its creations to North America.
The team had been put in a pressure cooker of a situation after the merger, Nakaizumi said. They were given the job of coming up with a new look for the phones and accessories. Everyone knew their job was of the utmost importance — Sony Ericsson even set up the corporate structure in such a way that the designers report directly to the head of the company. It’s a rewarding position to be in, knowing that your work is seen as that important, but it can also be very stressful, Nakaizumi said.
“”On my phone when the boss calls his picture comes on, so that’s even more scary,”” he laughed.
The design teams started from scratch, completely reworking the look of the once boxy phones in order to effectively humanize their look and feel. The work started with the company’s new logo. It’s now a silver marble made up of a joint “”S”” and “”E,”” which wraps around a green-liquid like centre. Tak Kawagoi, the designer responsible for the new logo, said that the point of the makeover was to give a sense of evolution and organic growth.
“”The phones are supposed to fit naturally with the user. We want them to become like an ‘another me,’ to be very personal,”” he said.
The flagship Sony Ericsson mobile phone, the T610, arrives with Bluetooth technology, 65K colour screen, a built-in digital camera and QuickShare image sharing software. The phone’s shell is also made of aluminum, a material which can make a phone look great but can interfere with internal antennas and reception quality.
“”Our competitors have had some trouble figuring out how to use aluminum and not affect the performance of internal antennas,”” said Chris Collins, senior manager of the U.S. Sony Ericsson creative design centre. “”The Ericsson people figured it out, though; the reception on these is fantastic. I don’t know how they figured it out, but they did.””
The company will begin shipping the T610 to Canada in the second quarter of 2003, together with a number of new handsets ranging from the lower end “”gaming”” phones, right up to a business “”smart phone”” unit. It will also introduce a Bluetooth hands-free mp3 player, the HBM-30. The player is meant to eliminate the ever-more familiar fumble for the cell phone, said Sony Ericsson North American marketing representative Nicky Csellak-Claeys.
“”Let’s say you’re listening to music and you’ve got your phone somewhere near you, maybe you’re in your car or maybe you’re jogging and someone calls,”” she explained. “”The phone call will interrupt the music and you can take the call through (the HBM-30).””
While even the new Sony Ericsson products don’t stray too far from the familiar North American mobile phone fare of silver, black, red and blue palettes, the company is already stretching into the whimsical in Japan. One of its Japan-only handsets has exchangeable faceplates, which can be switched to a number of funky colours; psychedelic patterns or even fun-fur. There are plans to introduce those same kind of personalization options to the North American market soon, Nakaizumi said.
Another Japanese handset, of the built-in digital camera family, has a surprise in store for anyone posing for a picture and is reflective of the fun Sony Ericsson is having with design these days, Csellak-Claeys explained. Right before the picture is taken a voice is heard coming out of the phone. “”Say Cheese,”” it asks.