Both Microsoft and Nokia announced "social" phones designed specifically for optimal performance as social networking tools, according to the GSMA's Mobile Business Briefing this week. These announcements came on the heels of news from Ericsson that data surpassed voice traffic on mobile networks worldwide for the first time in December of 2009. Ericsson also noted that social networking is a significant source of this data traffic with more than 100 million subscribers accessing Facebook via their mobile devices.
The transformation to data-centric mobile networks is introducing a new set of variables into the handset design process. Instead of just including additional features or functionality, designers now are considering the types of services users want to use on their phone. In this new paradigm, designers must determine what combination of features is required and which features and functionalities optimize the device for a specific service. For instance, both the new Microsoft and Nokia devices have high-quality cameras, as sharing pictures is a key component of social networking.
Market segmentation and conjoint analysis are just two of the tools firms may consider to inform the design of service-specific mobile communications devices. Market segmentation will enable the identification of the specific services - and users - that warrant specialized design. Conjoint analysis can be used to measure the relative value of the different features and functionality as well as to determine the trade-offs required for affordability and sleek design. As the industry matures and reaches saturation, users will require more sophisticated devices. Fortunately, designers have a wide range of tools they can draw upon to satisfy these needs.