Cell Phone Makers Find Success With Ultra-Slim Clamshell Design

Motorola, Nokia and other handset developers are generating plenty of kudos for the designs of sleek, new clamshell mobile phones, but there is less innovation, and more marketing flash, there than meets the eye, experts tell TechNewsWorld.

A new report by the Boston-based research consultancy Strategy Analytics examined the secrets of the Motorola RazrV3, and other “ultra-slim” phones. Experts set about comparing the thickness of the majority of ultra-slim clamshell phones, as well as the success of the Razr and the growing trend by other vendors to introduce similar devices.

The thinnest of the lot is NEC’s e949/L1, which was introduced in December 2005 and has a thickness of just 11.9mm. The modular approach taken by NEC has enabled the company to make the thinnest clamshell phone yet to incorporate a camera.

Thin Is In

“The Razr certainly has the ‘wow’ factor, but the way Motorola created the phone is surprisingly simple,” Stuart Robinson, director of Strategy Analytics’ handset technologies research service, told TechNewsWorld. “There were a few innovative new components such as the double-sided display module with a single, shared backlight, but most of the space was saved by simply rearranging the components.”

Motorola saw significant growth in market share during 2005 as a direct result of the Razr, according to Stephen Entwistle, vice president of the strategic technologies practice within Strategy Analytics. “Other companies, including Samsung, LG, NEC and BenQ-Siemens have followed Motorola by bringing out their own ultra-slim devices.”

Researchers now expect the market for ultra-slim phones to grow from three percent in 2005 to about 15-20 percent by 2010.

The Motrola Razr has become the most wanted mobile phone in Europe, according to a report from mobile industry research firm Telephia. During the first quarter of 2006, the Razrposted a 6.2 percent share of the mobile market, with nearly 5.3 million mobile consumers buying the Motorola handset.

Market Share Spike

The Razr’s market share has increased dramatically, from its 3.1 percent share in the third quarter of 2005. Razr’s market share was especially strong in the UK, Italy and Spain, claiming shares ranging from 7.5 to 9 percent. The Razr claimed a 6.1 percent share in its first quarter report for the U.S.

While Motorola had the most popular model, Nokia dominated total volume, claiming five of the top eight models in Europe.

The phones are not just popular in the U.S. and Europe, however. They’re in demand all over the globe.

“Great looking, highly featured mobiles,” said Josh Delgado, general manager, Samsung Mobile Australia, “will assist in driving the uptake of 3G services in Australia.”

Last year, he noted, in the Asia Pacific region, 53 percent of mobiles sold were in form factors other than the “Bar,” form, also known as the “Clamshell,” or the “Slider.”

With a constantly emerging series of new phones, the “strategy to deliver stylish, highly functional mobiles that consumers want to be seen with and want to use,” said Delgado.

Next Move

The leading foreign mobile phone manufacturers are busily applying for patents in China currently, as industry watchers expect this area to be the venue for most vendors’ next big moves.

The number of GSM patents applied by foreign mobile phone manufacturers increased rapidly from last January to August, 2005, according to the Chinese government. Nokia’s patents increased from 591 items to 744. Siemens’ patents increased from 307 items to 392 items. And Motorola’s patents increased from 307 to 392 items.

The number of China’s homegrown GSM mobile phone patents totals 327, including the mainland, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. The firm Huawei applied for nine patents and ZTE applied for 15 patents between January and October of last year.

Foreign mobile phone manufacturers typically apply for the patents five years before they enter the Chinese market, analysts said.

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