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Touch is so 2009

9/8/09

Shoes this season are big and clumpy. And so are phones. It seems that everyone wants to build an iPhone, so whatever the operating system they have a big touch screen and a fast processor. Be it an HTC Hero, Nokia 5800 or Blackberry Storm, every phone is begging to be touched or stroked. The touch screen is the high heel platform of the moment.

And just as the footwear isn't ideal for everyday purposes neither is the two handed phone.
Oh yes, you can do plenty of things with touch screen phones using one hand but it's not easy as it is with something a lot smaller and with real buttons. Reaching across the width of a big phone with your thumb isn't as easy as using a traditional clam, but like all these things   phones move in fashions. A narrower phone with real buttons is much easier if you are holding a bag at a bus stop or standing on a train.

As much as the iPhone hs changed habits it's only done so for the tiny percentage of people who got one and even then not all of them. The vast majority of smartphone owners have never installed an application, much less paid for one. They've got a touch screen because it's the season's thing to have. It’s what the man in the shop told them to get.

What will happen when the users who don't exploit the functionality of the big powerful phones go to their next upgrade? The first thing they will ask for is something with better battery life. The pain of daily charging having taken its toll. The second is something that fits better in their pockets or purse.

The device that needs to be waiting for them is the ballet pump of phones. While Uggs, Crocs and platforms come and go the lightweight ballet pump just sells year in year out. For mobile phones, which need to demonstrate technical progress this year's simple clam needs to be thinner and maybe lighter than last. Not too light or it will feel like a toy. There is a magic figure a little below 100g, but above 60g where the density of the phone implies  quality. A metal finish and snap shut. Think Zippo lighter rather than Cricket.

In the absence of a next fashion there will be a retreat to the staple. A phone that is thinner (you can never be too thin) and cooler. The great thing is that the technology is around to do it. OLED not only looks great, it doesn't need a back light, and can be double sided so a single screen can serve as the CLI when the clam is shut and as the main screen when it's open. That reduces the thickness by two-thirds. OLED is also less power hungry than TFT with a backlight so you can have  smaller batteries.

Budget chipsets are small to save money and every element of phone design from SIM holders to chassis are available with a low fat variety. You won't get a high quality image on the camera but 8gig on a micro SD is now common and as that's 2,000 songs it's plenty.

But what's special about the thin phone, is that like the ballet pump it doesn't have to wait for the current cool trend to die before it can come in. There is plenty of scope for the thin phone to sit in a bag alongside a Storm: one a work phone the other for play.

It wasn’t that long ago that we were asking “clam or slider” and that time will come again. 2010 will be the year of the thin phone.

Cat Keynes publishes her thoughts on the mobile phone industry every Sunday at www.catkeynes.com you can read the column  the previous Friday by subscribing here. Follow me on Twitter here.

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