When is a phone not a phone? When it’s only a phone.

room44 Ltd

30th August 2018

The Light Phone was announced after a Kickstarter campaign in 2015. It’s a concept that makes perfect sense in today’s market and taps into a current vibe. It’s a simple solution to a strongly signalled unmet need, and App developers will hate it.

Standing up in front of an audience and predicting the demise of the smartphone is a bit like predicting the end of the petrol-driven car: signalled, signposted, obvious, yet unwelcome to most people hearing it for the first time. Unwelcome, because change of this kind demands that those of us in business begin to think about what we need to do in response to that development. Early signals that the customer we serve has a new option are not helpful to a budget that was set in the past.

Change is expensive and change is disruptive. Not necessarily to the betterment of the consumer experience, but to us. Business budgets are built with the assumption that we are broadly in control and that we’ve anticipated the market dynamics that we’ll operate within.

It seems to me that the smartphone is an old technology waiting to be superseded. The signs are that it simply can’t survive the changes in technology that are visible to even the casual observer.

Without going into the detail, in this post (Google calls time on smartphones) from March 2017, I suggested that smartphones were already looking down the barrel of a gun. Google and Levi collaborated to release a Levi Jacket that sees mobile phone technology woven into its fabric.

The response to my blog was notable, insofar as a lot of the comment was received from App developers. People and companies that make Apps today are completely invested in the smartphone screen. If you don’t interact with your touch screen, they haven’t got a market. You can see the problem. The signals are there, but some people just can’t afford to see them.

Here are the objectives that Google and Levi released when they announced Project Jacquard in 2016/17. From the Project Jacquard website:

Connected clothes offer new possibilities for interacting with services, devices, and environments. These interactions can be reconfigured at any time. Jacquard is a blank canvas for the fashion industry. Designers can use it as they would any fabric, adding new layers of functionality to their designs, without having to learn about electronics. Developers will be able to connect existing apps and services to Jacquard-enabled clothes, and create new features specifically for the platform. We are also developing custom connectors, electronic components, communication protocols, and an ecosystem of simple applications and cloud services.

At the same time as I wrote the Google calls time on smartphones blog, I had a conversation with a fashion photographer who questioned why anyone would buy a new camera when smartphones make such a great job of photography. My response was that single-use, dedicated, high quality products still have a market and, generally, can do a better job than most users realise. In the case of cameras, specialists value the quality that a good lens and a large sensor can deliver.

And then came this: the Light Phone was announced after a Kickstarter campaign in 2015 and adds fuel to the fire. It’s a concept that makes perfect sense in today’s market and taps into a current vibe:

  • Please release me from my smartphone
  • Help me connect with my surroundings
  • Put some space between me and everything else in my life
  • Encourage me to talk to people
  • Unplug me, but keep me in touch

It’s a simple solution to a strongly signalled unmet need, and App developers will hate it.

Seeing it differently. Future-proofing. It’s what we do.

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