Motorola exec sees phones getting personal
Thanks to the wonders of materials science, your future mobile phone may change its color depending on the time of day or what you're wearing.
It's almost certain to change its touch-screen face, presenting you with the familiar look of a music or video player, a camera, or even a plain old phone pad as the need arises.
How a person interacts with his or her phone, and how personal that experience is, are among the key factors Jim Wicks sees driving the design of the devices going ahead.
One reason is that mobile phones have become, in essence, a part of our person, said Wicks, creator of Motorola's MOTORAZR V3 and MOTORAZR2 phones, during a speech Monday at the University of Illinois.
"They will leave their house without their money, because you can borrow some money," Wicks joked. "But they will not leave their mobile phone.
"This is the thing you carry with you all the time," he said.
Wicks spoke at the UI in connection with Designmatters, a campuswide lecture series organized by the School of Art and Design and sponsored by the provost's office and the colleges of Engineering and Fine and Applied Arts.
The series explores the interdisciplinary mixing of design, engineering, technology and business to create innovative products and services.
Wicks, Motorola's corporate vice president and director of consumer experience design and a UI industrial design graduate, said color and design are already the two biggest items most people consider when buying a phone, given that the devices are generally similar in functionality. The fashion-model sleek – some might even say sexy–MOTORAZR series sold more than 24 million units around the world last year.
When Wicks, who formerly worked for Sony, talks about "convergence" in mobile phones, he isn't necessarily talking about the devices taking on more general-purpose computer-like and multimedia functions, although he obviously sees that happening.
He also sees convergence as meaning the successful marriage of the phone as an object of self-expression and the phone as an object with a utilitarian purpose – or, more accurately, purposes – in our lives.
Size also matters: "Everything in the world is getting smaller, except for people's expectations about the experience," Wicks said.
That demand for small packages able to do things like play videos and post to Web logs presents some challenges for designers and engineers alike, he said.
But it also presents "huge" opportunities that can help differentiate a product from its competitors.
He advocated a decidedly interdisciplinary approach to creating new products, right down to the inclusion of the company supply folks who will need to come up with the materials to build that hot new design and get it out the door in enough numbers to meet demand.
Good design in the case of mobile phones, and a lot of other things, also means thinking globally now, Wicks said.
He started his talk by showing a video clip of an advertisement for a Motorola music phone geared to the Indian market and using India's biggest "Bollywood" film industry star as the humorous pitchman.
China adds 30 million mobile phone customers a year, Wicks said, and 51 percent of all 10-year-olds in Great Britain have their own mobiles.
It's no longer smart to fixate on North America in the design process, he said.