July 19, 2004
Rise of the Clamshell

Waiting for the Eastbound Piccadilly Line train at Alperton on my journey into work. I must have only just missed a train - as the platform appears to be largely deserted. Only me and a couple of others waiting. One of them is a young man sitting on a platform bench - engaged in an almost trance-like state to his mobile phone. Completely oblivious to everything going on around him. He’s not talking - he’s holding his phone in his hand - staring at his screen - and tapping away at the keys every so often. He doesn’t look up once during the entire waiting time until the next train arrived - that’s over 8 minutes. Of course - he’s using a “clamshell”

Over 8 minutes without looking up or changing his posture

Over the last few years I’ve been informally monitoring the behaviour of people and their mobile phones on the public transport systems. One particular dimension I have been particularly interested in of late is the relationship between mobile phone usage behaviour and fundamental phone design.

Mobile phones can broadly be classified into two different fundamental design groups: 1) “candy-bar” and 2) “clamshell”

The candy-bar design is most prevalent in Europe. It’s the unmistakeable small-screen-at-the-top, keypad-below-screen, bar-of-soap shape and size mobile phone. The clamshell design is typically similar in size to candy-bar but - has a hinged-flip-over-panel which revals the screen on the other side of this panel - and the keypad on the other panel. When fully opened - clamshells tend to position the screen relative to the keypad at an angle that is conducive to speaking as well as screen-viewing.

Like I said - the candy-bar design is undoubtedly the most common/popular here in Europe. The mobile phone manufacturers have placed a lot of emphasis on compactness and style - and much innovation on these two dimensions have been demonstrated in the candy-bar design.

The particular usage behaviour I’ve been informally studying lately is this. When mobile-phone users are NOT talking on their mobile phones - what are they doing with their phones? And how does this behaviour change (if at all) between candy-bar owners and clamshell owners?

Well - and this is entirely, casually-empirical - in the last few months I have noticed an ever-increasing number of people carrying clamshells. And one very striking difference in usage behaviour that I have noticed is that of whereas users of both candy-bars and clamshells will sit on trains or stand at bus-stops staring at their phones whilst manipulating their keypads (usually for reading and writing text messages - or clearing out and organising old text messages - or browsing mobile web sites or playing Java games) - the clamshell owners tend to be performing this act for longer and more sustained periods than the candy-bar owners.

My theory is this - the clamshell design (i.e. the angled keypad and screen flip) is much more conducive to non-voice operations than the candy-bar. i.e. it’s much more comfortable to be using “data” services like text, web browsing and game-playing on a mobile phone on a clamshell than a candy-bar. This is further reinforced by the fact that with a clamshell there is greater potential for the phone manufacturer to increase the size of the screen display whilst keeping within the sweet-spot of the overall size of the phone’s form-factor. I stress the word “potential” there - because there are very few clamshell phones out there which take advantage of the extra available real-estate on the screen-flip. It seems that the current state of the art in clamshell design is not about manufacturers/network-operators responding to the increasing propensity to use phones for non-voice stuff - but about doing clamshell just to provide an alternative to candy-bar - i.e. a style thing rather than a function thing. Once again - I believe this to a be temporary situation - as more and more of the ordinary mobile-phone-owning public demands a better non-talking experience on their mobile phones - then the clamshell design will chage from being a novelty alternative - to being a more serious “data” workhorse: i.e. greater screen size, better build quality etc.

My prediction is that in less than 3 years time - the clamshell design will be dominant - at least on the public transport systems - and the candy-bar design will become niche.

Posted by jag at July 19, 2004 08:38 AM

I think thease clamshell designs remind me of the old star trek phones. I believe they used to flip the top up the same way.

Posted by: HOOla on July 19, 2004 11:44 AM

You can have fun with these people, eg put litter on their head and see if they notice. And by you, I mean, you.

Posted by: adam on July 19, 2004 02:02 PM

Hi HOOla - yes the Star Trek communicators use to flip just like today’s clamshell phones!

Adam: You mean me? Yes - these people are so absorbed in what they do - they prob wouldn’t notice.

Posted by: Jag on July 19, 2004 02:53 PM

my reason for getting a clam-shell phone. screen dont get scratched when i put it in my back and i dont accidentally press “999” … bad, so bad.

Posted by: Jaina on July 19, 2004 06:13 PM

Having not had a phone, nor having used one much, i feel that the candy-bar phone are much conducive to just talking, and its relative simplicity, and non-mechanical parts.
But then, people with more free time to do things, much more than just talking on the phone would rather prefer the clam-shell version.
Probably even the N-Gage, purely developed as a mobile gaming device - the Taco phone is arguably the best time-pass cell ever

Posted by: sat on July 19, 2004 06:36 PM

Hi Jaina - I forgot to say that the clamshell design is also really popular with girls - for exactly the very same reason that you describe!

Posted by: Jag on July 19, 2004 09:21 PM

Sat: the N-Gage has been a flop over here. Lot so seriously bad design flaw. Not least that one looks like a real idiot using it as a phone. And the whole game-switching ergonomics is really bad.

Nokia are going WAY downhill in the style wars …

Posted by: Jag on July 19, 2004 09:22 PM

When I’m not using my mobile phone it’s either forgotton at home or in my trouser pocket. Luckily I’ve already put enough children into this world, so I don’t really have to worry about what effect those radio waves might be having on the family jewels. Perhaps I can start worrying about the effect on my heart when the phone’s in my jacket pocket? Apart from using the phone as an alarm clock on my travels, I can’t get much joy out of the other functions it has to offer. After four years of trying, I’ve only just found out why I couldn’t send an SMS. And I thought it was because I was over 40.
But generally, the issue is that size does matter. The smaller the better. The clamshells got there first: ideal for the trouser pocket. Now the candy bars are that size too. In the Far East lots of people wear their micro-sized mobiles on a lanyard round their neck (often with a little tassle hanging on it). Now that is really where the fashion statement comes into it.

Posted by: David on July 20, 2004 08:54 AM

I must agree.
Apart from the N-gage, Nokia seems to have conquered the market in India. Most popular ones being the old workhorses 3310 and 3315. No frills, no thrills. Dirt cheap and better reception than the later models.
And both are candy bar phones.
Other popular models are the 2100 and the 1100.
Camera phones are pretty expensive here. More in demand is FM reciever built into the unit.

Posted by: sat on July 20, 2004 07:10 PM

Do you think they are as powerful an isolation booth for the users as mp3 players or personal stereos ?

Posted by: stroppycow on July 21, 2004 12:15 AM

I’ve ALWAYS used clamshell phones. I started out with the older Ericsson flips where the flip just hid the keys but the screen was visible, and now have a moto v50 which is a true clamshell. It’s about half the size of my palm, and only a little fatter. The screen takes up about half of the upper clam. why this type? Partially because of that whole Trek flip thing, partially because I prefer my keys/screen to be protected and partially because I just find nokia phones ugly.

I’m upgrading in the autumn and plan to get a moto v500 fotophone (the one with the deep blue clamshell)

Posted by: Mags on July 21, 2004 12:14 PM

Hi Strop: probably not as powerful as personal stereos etc. - but even myself - when I have been using my own mobile phone in this way I am completely oblivious to what’s going on around.

Mags: I certainly agree - I find all the more recent generation of Nokia phones not so good-looking any more. And that V500 does look good doesn’t it?!

Posted by: Jag on July 22, 2004 01:58 PM

I just had an idea that I thought would work. Why not a TV show starring you about Indian cooking?
I have never seen one here in the USA there have been several by chinease chefs but the time is now for someone to present Indian cooking. Your route 79 omelette is a masterpiece by the way.
This TV show would have to be on PBS.

Posted by: Fritz on July 22, 2004 03:04 PM

Fascinating observations. You’ll be interested in this as well: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/3911527.stm

Posted by: Lisa on July 22, 2004 05:51 PM

Hi Fritz: thank you for your kind comment! Sure - I would love to be a TV star chef - but I suppose “they” need to discover me first. Actually - I don’t think that I’m the best Indian cook - but I sure would have a go if given the opportunity! Glad you liked the Route79 omelette - it really is tasty and very quick to make too.

Lisa: thx - I checked out the BBC article - fascinating too.

Posted by: Jag on July 22, 2004 08:53 PM
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