Redesigning Smartphones: Revolutionizing Telcos

In spite of being hugely successful, I believe that smartphones are one of the worst designed devices. Conceptualized as a device that we use to talk, its being used for everything else: from sending and receiving short messages to being used like a computer with a camera. While it has all these different functions, it most definitely isn’t easy to use. Difficult to read in the light, even more difficult to type with, difficult to carry – especially with their current sizes, unhealthy to carry along too nowadays – Chest pocket impacts the heart and trouser pocket the…….), difficult to take good photographs and even more difficult to listen to music without spoiling your ears with the headphones. And for every function that a smartphone suffices, there are similar devices which do it much better and at a lesser cost.

Design principles state that “Form follows Function”. However for the smartphone it seems that the exact opposite is true. A smartphone has a thousand different functions just because the manufacturers were able to provide all of these functions in its easy to lug around form.

The journey of mobile phones has been inextricably linked to the evolution of telcos. Through the years the success and failure of telcos has been attributed to mobile phones. There was a time back in the 90s when phones were given out along with plans. Now with the high cost of devices, it seems as if the plans are provided free along with the phones. The advent of the smartphone and the entire ecosystem around smartphones has made telcos and their networks redundant. All that a user wants is data to consume on their phones which are used more like computers and much lesser like phones anymore. A change in mobile phone design might end up heralding a change in telcos’ waning fortunes.

Google glass was a well intentioned attempt in that direction. A seemingly more successful attempt is being currently made through the Moto mods by Motorola. Moto mods are next generation Motorola phone accessories which transform the Motorola smartphone experience. This evolution is somehow similar to how most large software products started as monoliths and disintegrated into modules and then the modules turned to applications in their own right. A complete disintegration\rethinking of mobile phones and therefore the methodology to connect to the internet could actually herald the next big change in telecom. In fact, I am surprised how cash rich telcos are more interested in buying out companies providing peripheral functions such as content creators\distributors rather than some mobile device manufacturer.

Traditional telecom works with a model wherein the phone is the sole receiver of calls and data and the simcard acts as the authentication mechanism for the network to connect with the device. Now with technologies like blockchain (here and here) or Aadhar (Developer portal and API documentation) we can have user authentication done using PAP, CHAP or EAP and allow every device which can use RADIUS – AAA or Diameter to log on to the network without the explicit requirement of a simcard.

Disassociating the two basic functions of power(battery life) and connectivity(network authentication) of the mobile phone can be a win-win for everyone as the device manufacturers: get to expand their portfolio of products, the telcos: get to sell data and voice to more users and the end customer: gets better benefits and products to connect to the internet as compared to the old school mobile smartphone. The possibilities of such a scenario are endless.

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