How Many Phones Do You Need?
By Mike Masnick, Tue Nov 23 01:30:00 GMT 2004

Handset makers are once again trying to convince people that one phone isn't enough. Do people view phones as fashion items, or are they happy with taking it one at a time?

A few years ago, as some handset manufacturers began to get worried that the global handset market was stagnating, there was a lot of talk suggesting that people could be convinced that one phone was not enough. The idea was that people could have a work phone and a play phone. Or, in an ideal world, people could have a variety of different phones for different situations. What happened, instead, was that the handset market kept growing as Asian and Latin American markets opened up, while new networks and smarter phones filled with features convinced enough people to upgrade.

However, it appears the industry may be getting a bit nervous again, as stories are appearing about handset makers playing up how phones are fashion items -- and that one phone might not be enough. The problem is that there doesn't seem to be any reason why people would want the additional phones, other than for the fashion aspect of it -- which makes stories like this seem like a blatant pitch for people to shell out extra on a new phone for no good reason.

Mobile phones are still seen as personal items. People identify with their phones and feel closely connected to them. While some early adopters cycle through phones about as often as they take out the trash, most users hang onto phones for a bit. Even if they're not expensive, they're seen as a bigger ticket item. With that in mind, users are going to need to see a very good reason to buy more than one phone. Simply telling them it will look good doesn't sound very convincing. In fact, having multiple phones will be seen as a negative among many. Some will wonder which device to use when. Others will feel they need to carry multiple devices all the time, which does no one any favors. Even worse, the simple act of needing to switch between phones, most likely by transferring the SIM card, may be seen as too much of a pain to be worth it. So between swapping SIM cards and choosing which phone for what occasion, having multiple phones adds a mental transaction cost that many won't want to pay.

One concept to get around the mental transaction cost of moving content or connectivity between phones is the personal mobile gateway -- popularized by IXI, but which hasn't been launched in any meaningful way yet. With the PMG, a user would always carry the main device, which could just sit in a pocket or bag, and then whatever handset they wanted to use would simply communicate with the gateway. However, this doesn't do away with the question of what to carry at what time.

Right now, it appears that the idea of people having multiple phones is a bit half-baked -- which means most consumers will see right through it. Rather than focus on made up reasons why people might want mobile phones, the answer may be for device makers to look at other areas where their technology may be useful -- such as by repurposing phones for other tasks, like home security. Otherwise, there really need to be compelling reasons that don't seem forced or unnatural. These may vary for different people, but simply telling them the phones look cool so they should have more is likely to be a tough sell.