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Secrets of good phones

Those little things you like - or dislike - about your mobile phone may seem trivial to you. But, writes Giles Wilson, thousands of jobs can hang on them.
To you it might just be a tiny thing your phone does - perhaps it tells you the name of the person who has sent you a text message rather than just their number.

It might seem nothing; a mere gimmick. But on trivia like this hang thousands of jobs and millions of pounds.

Why, for instance, should it be that while Motorola lays off 3,000 Scottish workers, and Ericsson cuts 1,200 jobs in Nottingham and Scunthorpe, Nokia announces a 6% rise in first quarter profits?

One simple reason, says Simon Rockman of What Mobile?, is if you have a Nokia phone, you are likely to use it more than if you have another brand of handset. Why should that be?


"One feature which makes a lot of difference is having a good phone book," he says. "For instance, I have a phone in my hand at the moment. Now, if I wanted to look up the number of the guy who rang me at lunchtime, and this handset has a good phone book, I'll find his number easily, and ring him.

"If it doesn't have a good phone book, then I'm more likely to look up his number in my real phone book and call him on the landline. It might only be a 10p call but it's the difference between the money going to Orange, in this case, and BT."

Another enormously important factor is the ease of text messaging, he says.


I have a friend who's very techie," he adds. "He used to have a Motorola phone and he told me never to text message him, because he didn't like the phone and couldn't be bothered to use it. But then he changed it to a Sony phone and suddenly I've started getting text messages from him again."

They know what you're doing

From such small acorns do profitable mobile networks grow.

"The networks are looking at how much revenue they are making from each handset," says Rockman. "They will know that they make more money from a Nokia phone than from another model. It may be a very small amount per user, but you are dealing with very large numbers of people."


For instance, say a particular feature on a phone leads a customer to make just an extra 10 calls a year. It might only add up to £5 over 12 months.

"To a customer that's not really very much difference, but to a network which might have 10m subscribers, if each one spends £5 more, that's £50m a year."

If a phone earned an extra £50 a year, the network would probably be prepared to subsidise the phone more - making it cheaper in the shop.

But now the obvious

People might not like to admit it, but for many, buying a mobile phone is a continuation of the same game they started when they first bought a cool new pair of drainpipes, jeans or combat trousers: fashion.


So, for the huge teen market, the more ringtones and coloured fascias, the better.

But it goes deeper than that. People like to have cool phones. And for that, says Steve Hughes, of industrial design company PSD Associates, who worked on the design of the Mitsubishi Trium phone, design is the key.

It's the job of handset designers to find a way of blending the hardware (ie the phone itself) with the software (what it can be made to do).

"When you have something that works in unison, you have achieved good design," he says.

Simon Rockman puts it simpler that that. "This is jewellery," he says. "What a phone looks like really matters. I heard two girls on the bus, one of them fancied a boy she knew, and said: 'The first time I saw him he had a T28 and now he's got an 8850.'


She didn't have to specify that it was Ericsson and Nokia she was talking about. It would be like me talking about a friend who used to have a 911 and now has a 360. The inference is there without having to say he's gone from a Porsche to a Ferrari."

He said he had asked his fashion designer wife which colours had been predicted to be fashionable towards the end of this year. She told him it would be a mix of gold and silver.

"These are exactly the colours Ericsson has decided for a range of phones to be released at the end of this year. The company has obviously been to the same kind of fashion houses and come up with the same kind of conclusions.

"It's not some cynical mobile phone marketing ploy, that's just how fashion works."

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