Bright colors, funky textures and personalization are coming to a smartphone near you as mobile phone makers turn to fashion to buoy sales in a crowded market.
Apple Inc and Google Inc's Motorola are among those trying to score style points as game-changing technological innovation becomes harder to achieve in the maturing business.
Since the first touch-screen iPhone hit the market in 2007, software features have become easier to replicate and improvements in speed, weight, display size and resolution have become routine. The explosion of me-too products is already hurting profit margins and nibbling at Apple and Samsung Electronic Co Ltd's market share. Time to bring out the paintbrush.
Apple has invited reporters to an event on Tuesday where it is expected to introduce new iPhones in a much broader palette of colors, perhaps even gold.
One-time leader Motorola, now owned by Google, is trying to win back consumers with the Moto X, relying partly on customized colors and, soon to come, engravings and unusual casing materials such as wood.
Robert Brunner, founder of design consultancy Ammunition and a former Apple industrial design chief, said personalization is a well-worn tactic employed when a product's uniqueness fades.
"As something becomes embedded in lifestyle and as it starts to become commoditized, people look toward more superficial design things to differentiate or at least reach more people," said Brunner, whose clients have included Amazon.com Inc, Dell Inc and Nike Inc.
"And colors are the classic. If you do it at the right time, it will create a significant increase in sales every time."
Much of the speculation around new iPhones this year has focused on colors and material, in marked contrast to previous years when hopes ran high for a breakthrough feature.
PERSONALIZATION IS KEY
The consumer electronics industry lives and dies by innovation, and resorting to aesthetics is at best a stop-gap measure until frequently talked about new technologies such as fingerprint identification, holographics or flexible displays become reality.
Smartphone shipments grew 52 percent in the second quarter, according to research firm IDC. But the market is getting crowded, with everyone from Alcatel Lucent to China's Huawei producing an abundance of look-alike phones based on Google's Android software.
Consumers face a