Mobile phones and most personal electronics devices have been made for durability. My Samsung phone is finished in stainless steel, plastic and glass. It is black and shiny. My iPod Nano is aluminum.
My wallet is made of leather. When I first bought by wallet, it was stiff, and uncomfortable. But at some point in time, it yielded and started to conform to the curve of my posterior. Same thing happened to my watch strap, also made of leather. It is has morphed to the size of my wrist. Shoes, jackets, baseball caps.. I can name numerous examples.
In the flood of hyper-niched marketing world, I am still surprised that very little effort is made in the personal electronics space to take advantage of this property of personal artifacts: that it registers the physical interaction between the artifact and user. Guitar frets have show well-worn usage by its owner. Yet phones resist this natural aging process.
Most aspects of our environment can be better personalized than our electronics. We can choose wallpaper or paint color for our apartments, adorn it with our personality over time. Personalization to mobile users usually means changing the background or ringtone or those little dangley phone accessories that you see all over Korea and Japan. Nothing that registers gradually over time. Why not a mobile phone made with leather or wood. Why not a iPod where a friend can scratch their message into the surface instead of having it laser engraved.
It was refreshing to see a couple of example recently. Here are two concept phone examples, The Chute Smartphone and Bamboo phone, and iWood handcrafted iPhone case by Miniot made from high quality wood (commercially available).
Yet another argument for the use of natural materials in personal electronics is environmental. Massive amounts of mobile phones are consumed each year. The rates of mobile phone penetration is close to saturation in the US, Korea and in most developed countries. It’s rare that we find any recycling of mobile phones. Most people just throw away their phones when it is broken or when they switch carriers. Here’s where the mobile telecom industry can learn from the automotive industry. There is a whole secondary industry build around reclaiming, reusing, and recycling used car parts on one front, on another front there are movements to make more efficient cars. Why are there so few examples of environmental friendliness in the mobile phone industry? I think this is a marketing opportunity that begs to be tapped for both the consumer’s and industry’s benefit.