The Monumental Battle: Style vs. Tech
By Carlo Longino, Fri Feb 25 21:00:00 GMT 2005

Reuters says handset manufacturers are choosing either between design or technology in their bid to sell more phones. If only things were that simple.

Sure, phone vendors play to their strengths. Manufacturers like ODMs focus almost exclusively on technology, letting somebody else worry about the packaging, while some lines, like Vertu or the ill-fated Xelibri, forgo the latest technology in favor of looks. But these extreme cases aren't representative of the entire industry, no matter how much Reuters wants that to be the case.

No major manufacturer would say they eschew design for technology's sake -- looks are too important. And technology is far too important to be ignored in favor of fashion. While it's true that differentiation is increasingly cosmetic as technology matures, the line between design and technology is very blurry. And where does that oversimplified argument leave elements like the user interface, which not only combine both, but become increasingly important as a tool of differentiation.

It's something that some Asian manufacturers are picking up on -- a phone's not much use if it looks good and has great features, but isn't intuitive and usable. Conversely, many Western manufacturers have been forced to follow their Asian rivals and accelerate the introduction of new technologies like high-definition screens and multi-megapixel cameras. But it's not a question of either or, it's a question of taking all these seemingly disparate elements and successfully combining them.

Usability -- on a broad level -- will be the biggest determinant of success, and it's something that combines design and technology. A device has to be highly physically usable, its software has to be easy to use, and its techy features must support well-designed, compelling, usable services. It's the convergence that's the hard part, and that's where the real battle is.