Mobile phone is a commodity

Written by Shombit Sengupta | Shombit Sengupta | Updated: Apr 20 2014, 09:15am hrs
The resemblance between staple food and mobile phones that I wrote about last week spells a red danger signal for manufacturers. How long can manufacturers continue the version strategy in the hope of sustaining their business

New model versions every quarter is the name of the game now. Global companies bring out several price categories. Inside each category, theres some tinkering with the software. This becomes the new version with inhuman digits like Nokia Lumia 1320, 1520, 1020 or Samsung Galaxy Note, 2, 3, S, S2, S3, S4, S5. Then theres Apples iPhone, 2g, 3, 3G, 3gs, 4, 4S, 5, 5C, 5S. Such insensitive acts are done robotically to generate revenue without understanding the customers subconscious mind. What is the distinctive change a mobile devices design brings

Sooner than later, the handset is becoming a commodity. The huge number of new handset buyers getting added every day is more intelligent than the buyer of reputed brand mobile phones. The masses either dont have money to waste, or consider it foolish to spend extra on a brands value. The mobile is like commodity rice and bread where no brand has yet established its pull nor tangibly shown any better benefit. Similarly, the large community of unbranded mobile phone buyers finds negligible, untenable distinction between different branded handheld devices in the market. The branded handset buyer will shift to unbranded categories because as theres no functional distinction, why specially choose a brand, why pay more

The mobile phone industry is lagging behind in understanding the parameters of differentiation vs distinction. Everybody knows that digital technology brings costs down. By altering colours and digital icons to prove premiumness and brand distinction, digi-tech mobile phones are struggling. Perhaps theres technological engineering differentiation in the software, but the consumer eye that chooses the instrument, gives that differentiation no credence. Steve Jobs was driving Apple like a fashion designer. After the death of this sultan of design, everybody has realised that the mobile hand device is generic.

Big mobile brands are destroying their brand value by frequent launch of new versions bearing heartless code names that nobody can mentally register. I was using Samsung Note 2 without any problem when suddenly I was provoked to buy Note 3 within six months. According to my requirement, I never did figure out why I needed the new one, it showed no extra purpose. Making such versions, brands are losing consumer mindshare in the products human touch. Here local or pseudo-Chinese handset manufacturers get the opportunity to commoditize the global brands. Actually if we see the frequently changing versions manufacturers make, we can easily detect theres been no radical or disruptive change in user interface in the last 3 years. So as a victim, I consider it all as eyewash to change for the sake of change.

But as a designer sensitive to the human touch, let me take my readers permission to narrate my ideas on the quality customers want:

1. No version model can ever overcome the conclusion Id arrived at that the handset has become akin to staple food, whatever may be its digital mathematics.

2. Its impossible for digi-tech users to emotionally bond with the digital interface. Only when the device is held in the hand can it play a role of sustaining emotional attachment.

3. Its the upper portion of the human body, the head and face, that identify and define emotional cues in different individuals.

4. The recognition of love, affection and sexual inclination starts with the face, thats the real connecter. The rest of the body enables generic enactment from the brains command.

5. Using this analogy, the mobile phone device performs the bodys work, making it like generic staple requirement. Its missing the human face and head that reflect aesthetics, emotion and brain command over the body.

6. The brain or face of mobile phone is devoid of digital dogma that enslaves some digi engineers in the world.

7. The handset is the only object that can become the face. It can be made to have strong human connect. Its the only way you can break its staple character in the generic market.

8. If an automobile body styling has to sustain minimum 5 years in the market, why not a mobile phone device Lasting emotional connect can be created on the mobile device itself. Its not the size or quality of a canvas that defines its distinction and a painters emotional connect with its admirers, but the content of the painting. In the same way, designing a handset requires an involved vision. The design should sustain for 3 to 5 years like a visionary artist whose painting sells beyond a price.

9. Once the user gets used to the physical design of the handset, its digital aspect cannot be the frivolous reason to change the brand or product.

10. The mobile handset manufacturer needs vision thats totally missing today. Like quarterly account handling for shareholders, manufacturers view the short-term, not the long-term. While keeping the same handset, continuous digital interface upgradation has to become the new trend, even as changing the handsets internal circuit panel should be put in practice. Im sure if new digital changes become user advantage centric, people will pay for digi upgradation while keeping the same device for a long time. I believe this is the right direction to change the buying behaviour of mobile phone device.

When Swatch was launched in 1981, the vision was to create a Swiss marquee to go beyond the digital dial wrist watch that was signalling watch market commoditization. This vision led to the incredible sustaining business success of Swatch. Many companies copied Swatch but nobody could create another Swatch-type brand in the vulnerable low cost watch market. Mobile phone companies should hire people who invent the substance that makes addiction happen in cigarette companies. Creating addiction to retain their customers is every cigarette brands challenge.

Mobile device design needs bigger ideation to make it distinguished and prevent its becoming like commodity staple rice. The human hand with 10 fingers has so many sensitive areas to connect to the device. You can't imagine the kind of sustaining emotional connect that can be established before the mobile phone turns into a commodity.

Shombit Sengupta is an international consultant to top management on differentiating business strategy with execution excellence. Reach him at