Smart Phones, American Style

A Nokia designer describes how he adapted the company’s latest smart phone to American tastes.


If you like the looks of Nokia‘s sleek new smart phone, you have a soft drink salesman and a manager at an Internet flower delivery firm to thank. Both of them helped shape the look and feel of the E71x, which AT&T plans to launch by July 2009.

Nokia ( NOK news people ) designer Benoit Rouger shadowed the salesman and manager, along with a person who worked in financial services, for a week in fall 2007 to study the American smart phone market. Nokia says the three people, who all live in and around the New York metropolitan area, were chosen by an outside firm for their diverse lifestyles. Rouger, who is normally based in Finland, conducted another round of U.S. research last spring, as Nokia prepared to put the finishing touches on the E71x.

The designer found the salesman’s work habits particularly eye-opening. Confined to a car for the majority of his day, he needed specific features in a smart phone, reports Rouger. Durability was high on the list, along with multi-tasking–the ability to compose an e-mail while talking on the phone, for instance. The salesman’s on-the-go lifestyle also meant he wanted as many hands-free functions as possible, such as the option of listening to his messages being read aloud.

Rouger’s other two subjects had more office-oriented jobs. Rouger says they helped inform the E71x’s materials, keypad, software and color by discussing how they used their phones at work and on their commutes. The E71x is crafted out of stainless steel for strength, boasts shortcut keys for efficient use and comes only in a glossy black designed to look neat and professional.

The research process, which Rouger calls “an immersion,” points up Nokia’s ambitions for the U.S. market. Though it is currently the leader in global handset shipments, Nokia lags Samsung, Motorola ( MOT news people ) and LG in the U.S. Eager to increase its business here, the company has announced three phones on three different carriers within the past month.

Dispatching its designers on “immersion” trips to the U.S. is part of the strategy. “In the past, Nokia would build products for somewhere else in the world, then adapt them for the U.S.,” Mark Louison, Nokia’s president for North America, said in an earlier interview. “Now we’re doing the design and R&D work here … it’s 180 degrees from where Nokia was just a few years ago.” (Though Nokia first issued the E71x last year as a global release, it customized parts of it for AT&T‘s ( T news people ) upcoming launch.)

“We think [the E71x] is going to resonate with customers who value the elegance of its design and the strength of the Nokia brand,” AT&T’s chief marketing officer David Christopher said.

Sourced and published by Henry Sapiecha 15th April 2009

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