Posted in good design, things we like by hemmant jha on March 19, 2009

The anti-iPhone.

This is not a rant against the iPhone. The iPhone is a wonderful, lustworthy device that is popular and famous for good reason and I plan to own one someday – if not to use, then to add to our collection of good and significant objects. The iPhone is so much more than a phone that it’s utility as a device for voice communicaion seems almost incidental [more so with every new application added to the app store].

This post is a salutation to the wonderful work that can come out of corporate environments [a rare bird not often seen].

The Motofone F3 was designed specifically for the developing world. As you’re undoubtedly aware, the mobile phone is an indispensable tool in those countries [parts of a country] where no telephone wires have been laid and where 24/7 communication [and water, power] are unheard of. The designers and engineers of Motorola created a phone designed specifically to serve these markets. A team was sent to live / work in India and to create a phone based on very specific user requirements – something perfectly tailored to meet the needs of these markets. In November 2006, Motorola announced the launch of this phone for India.

The F3 is lightweight, with an incredibly efficient and clear E-ink display that can be used wonderfully well in bright sunlight, a simple and flat menu with voice prompts, a two-antenna system for excellent reception in areas with poor coverage. It has very few components. It is also incredibly resistant to dust and abuse, and can be taken apart and repaired if necessary – it is held together with mechanical fasteners, not glue. A charger was available that could be clipped to a bicycle [a little dynamo based device]. To us, this is a very green product. And all this for the princely sum of Rs 1,500 [USD 30].

Within 6 months of appearing in stores, it disappeared. Cellphone stores [they’re more commonplace in India than Starbucks+McDonald’s in the US] couldn’t sell very many and refused to stock them. On my last visit to India, I tried very hard to find one to purchase – I contacted every official Motorola outpost and grey market source, without luck.

As it turned out, Motorola had done a great job of creating a well tailored phone. It was too perfect – it worked perfectly in its intended habitat and was designed to meet the needs of the users. However, it did not meet their aspirations.

A black/white display, no camera, no bollywood tunes – what kind of phone was this? The cheapest Nokia had all of those features – and almost everyone in India has a Nokia. In a direct comparison with a friend’s phone [or a neighbor’s], the F3 lost out everytime. Pretty soon, no one wanted one – all the shopkeepers I went to tried to sell me a Nokia instead.

In the end, I found some on eBay. I use my F3 everyday – it is a simple, excellent phone.

I can only hope that Motorola will not use this apparent failure to cut innovative research based products and projects. I would be happy to create a campaign to resurrect the F3. May I humbly suggest to Motorola Marketing that this might be the perfect green phone to sell at Whole Foods?



5 Responses

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  1. Joshua Wentz said, on March 24, 2009 at 1:38 am

    This is as close to the phone of my dreams as I think I’ll ever get. Simple, light, no frills, and it looks fantastic. I don’t care for my current phone, a Nokia cheapie (only my second since joining the cellular world in 2002.)

    I’d get a new one, but I don’t really want all those extras. I certainly don’t want to pay for a camera I’ll never use!

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