Mobile phone is a commodity

Mobile phone is a commodity

The huge number of new handset buyers getting added everyday is more intelligent than the buyer of reputed brand mobile phones.


 The mobile is like commodity rice and bread where no brand has yet established its pull nor tangibly shown any better benefit.
The mobile is like commodity rice and bread where no brand has yet established its pull nor tangibly shown any better benefit.

The resemblance between staple food and mobile phones that I wrote about last week spells a red signal for manufacturers. How long can manufacturers continue the version strategy in the hope of sustaining their business?

New model versions every quarter is the name of the game now. Global companies bring out several price categories; inside each category there’s some tinkering with the software. This becomes the new version with inhuman digits like Nokia Lumia 1320, 1520, or Samsung Galaxy note, 2, 3, s3, s4, s5; then there’s Apple’s iPhone, 2g, 3, 3g, 4s, 5s. Such insensitive acts are done robotically to generate revenue without understanding the customers’ subconscious mind. What is the distinctive change the mobile device design brings?

Sooner than later, the handset is becoming a commodity. The huge number of new handset buyers getting added everyday is more intelligent than the buyer of reputed brand mobile phones. The masses either don’t have money to waste, or consider it foolish to spend extra on a brand’s value. The mobile is like commodity rice and bread where no brand has yet established its pull nor tangibly shown any better benefit. Similarly, the large community of unbranded mobile phone buyers find negligible  distinction between different branded handheld devices. The branded handset buyer will shift to unbranded categories because as there’s no functional distinction, why specially choose a brand, why pay more?

The mobile phone industry is lagging behind in understanding the parameters of differentiation vs distinction. Everybody knows that digital technology brings cost down. By altering colours and digital icons to prove premiumness and brand distinction, digi-tech mobile phones are struggling. Perhaps there’s technological engineering differentiation in the software, but the consumer eye that chooses the instrument, gives that differentiation no credence. Steve Jobs was driving Apple like a fashion designer. After the death of this sultan of design, everybody has realised that the mobile hand device is generic.

Big mobile brands are destroying their brand value by the frequent launch of a new versions bearing heartless code names that nobody can mentally register. I was using Samsung Note 2 without any problem when suddenly I was provoked to buy Note 3 within six months. According to my requirement, I never did figure out why I needed the new one, it showed no extra purpose.
Making such versions, brands are losing consumer mindshare in the product’s human touch. Here,  pseudo-Chinese handset manufacturers get the opportunity to commoditise the global brands. If we see the frequently changing versions manufacturers make we can easily detect there’s been no radical change in user interface in the last three years. As a victim, I consider it all as eyewash to change for the sake of change. But as a designer sensitive to the human touch, let me take readers’ permission to narrate my ideas on the quality customers want:

1. No version model can ever overcome the conclusion I’d arrived at that the handset has become akin to staple food, whatever may be its digital mathematics.
2. It’s impossible for digi-tech users to emotionally bond with the digital interface. Only when the device is held in the hand can it play a role of sustaining emotional attachment.
3. It’s the upper portion of the human body, the head and face, that identify and define emotional cues in different individuals.
4. The recognition of love, affection and sexual inclination all start with the face, that’s the real connecter. The rest of the body enables generic enactment from the brain’s command.
5. Using this analogy, the mobile phone performs the body’s work, making it like generic staple requirement. It’s missing the human face and head that reflect aesthetics, emotion and brain command over the body.
6. The brain or face of mobile phone is devoid of digital dogma that enslaves some digi engineers in the world.
7. The handset is the only object that can become the face. It can be made to have strong human connect.
8. Lasting emotional connect can be created on the mobile device itself. It’s not the size or quality of a canvas that defines its distinction and a painter’s emotional connect with its admirers, but the content of the painting. In the same way, designing a handset requires an involved vision. The design should sustain for three to five years like a visionary artist whose painting sells beyond a price.
9. Once the user gets used to the physical design of the handset, its digital aspect cannot be the frivolous reason to change the brand or product.
10. The mobile handset manufacturer needs vision that’s totally missing today. While keeping the same handset, continuous digital interface upgradation has to become the new trend, even as changing the handset’s internal circuit panel should be put in practice. I’m sure if new digital changes become user advantage centric, people will pay for digi-upgradation while keeping the same device for a long time. I believe this is the right direction to change the buying behaviour of mobile phone device.

When Swatch was launched in 1981, the vision was to create a Swiss marquee to go beyond the digital dial wrist watch that was signalling watch market commoditisation. This vision led to the incredible sustaining business success of Swatch.

Many companies copied Swatch but nobody could create another Swatch-type brand in the vulnerable low cost watch market. Mobile phone companies should hire people who invent the substance that makes addiction happen in cigarette companies. Creating addiction to retain their customers is every cigarette brand’s challenge.

Mobile device design needs bigger ideation to make it distinguished and prevent its becoming like commodity staple rice. The human hand with 10 fingers has so many sensitive areas to connect to the device. You can’t imagine the kind of sustaining emotional connect that can be established before the mobile phone turns into a commodity.


Shombit Sengupta is an international creative business strategy consultant to top management. Reach him at