There's an up-and-coming manufacturer of mobile phones, ZTE, which has an unfortunate problem with its business model. The company will only sell handsets directly to mobile network operators. No speculative consumer driven products with ZTE. Which is a real shame when you've just snuck around ZTE's 'concept phone' exhibition.
ZTE could be anything between the world's third and the sixth largest manufacturer of mobile phones by volume right now. And it pours a great deal of its revenues into R&D. Hence a considerable number of models on display which push the barriers of conventional design.
The company regularly shows the leading edge 'concept' designs to its prospective customers – and a few selected Europeans hacks. Some of the designs were simply stunning.
This creativity was epitomised by the fan-phone which ZTE had deliberately designed to show off its Chinese roots. The handset folds up neatly – just like a fan – but pulls out for regular usage. The snag? Well the handset's screen was built using 'digital paper'.
Unfortunately, digital paper technology hasn't progressed fast enough for the fan's handset to be viable it in production versions of the mobile phone. The figures didn't add up and this model is left languishing.
The laws of economics don't apply to another couple of concept handsets – one of which is made out of cheap plastic. That's deliberate because the target audience for such handsets was penniless students. These ultra low cost handset even appear to have a 'plastic' screen.
Far more likely to escape the confines of the laboratory were the flip-phone models made with clear plastic keypads. When folded up, the keypad side of the 'clamshell'-like handsets was transparent and users could see the main screen. This provides an easy way to distinguish incoming calls without the need for dual screens.
Amongst the handsets which have escaped into the wild are a solar powered handset made for a Jamaican operator and an MTV handset (F870) which boasts the standard buttons for controlling the MTV music channel.
One concept which we'd seen before was the WP623. This is a mobile phone which looks just like a desktop handset. Sorry, ZTE, we've seen this before in the shape of the Burnside P23. Incidentally the P23 has many of the Old Fart facilities, too.
Others worthy of a mention were S302 Old Fart's phone and a special 3G dongle made for an Italian operator. The S302 has very large keys and a loud ring, plus an easy to see screen. An extra feature is a big red button on the back of the handset. Pushing it dials any one of four pre-set 'SOS' telephone numbers.
Finally, the Italian dongle was unusual because it combined a 3G capability with support for DVB-H, the European standard for mobile TV. It even had a little antenna that pulls out for better reception.
You never know. Perhaps some of these concept phones might see the light of day outside China.
[09:24:02] Mike Magee says: thanks!