One of the big questions of the year in the mobile world has been QWERTY or no QWERTY? Now before I continue, let me clarify that when I say QWERTY, I am referring to a full physical keyboard, and not an on-screen one. The different manufacturers had differing opinions on this matter in 2008. On one side of course, we had the iPhone and its on-screen virtual keyboard, which I can say now, users either loved or hated.
On the other side we had mobile giants like HTC with their HTC Touch Pro, as well as Sony Ericsson with the Xperia, and Nokia with phones like the future N97 and the E75. Of course the biggest representative of the QWERTY school of thought was none other than the mobile superpower, RIM (for RIM’s sake I am going to pretend the Storm never happened).
The balance these phone makers were trying to achieve was of course ease of use when it comes to text input on the one hand, and a compact and relatively thin form factor on the other. I think it is pretty safe to say that the ultimate device that combines these two important factors has not been introduced yet.
Comes along two, let’s call them “creative” companies and offer an alternate solution to this problem. Their angle is “If we can’t make a phone that has both a full QWERTY and comfortable dimensions out of the box, then let’s add a few accessories to the box”.
Let me explain. They are called modular phones, and if you liked The Transformers (awesome movie, if you have not seen it yet, you should. Oh, and you can also follow the lead actor on Twitter @ShiaLabeouf), chances are you will digg this concept. Of course the company that introduced this new idea is Modu (pronounced M-oh-doo). Modu announced the concept of a small cellular device (that I was fortunate enough to get my hands on, and it is seriously small) that can change its function-set based on the jacket into which it is inserted.
OK, sounds a little wacky I know, but somehow they manage to pull it off. Basically, you can put the Modu device, which by the way functions itself as a full fledged phone, into a slider, candybar, or flip form factor to accompany your mood that day. More importantly though, you can slip the little guy into a full QWERTY jacket, enabling you to input text the way you like to. What’s cool about Modu is that every time I look at their site (sucks for them that Modu.com was taken) they are offering new jackets.
I have debated multiple times with colleagues whether or not this concept is on its way to success or failure, always siding with success. The latest news of Modu signing contracts with Telecom Italia, VimpelCom, AND Lynk Communications seem to be indicating that I was right, but we should wait and see if Modu is around in 5 years before I do my “I was right, I told you so” dance.
The reason I bring this topic up today is that another company seems to be going in the footsteps of Modu by creating their own modular device of sorts. OK, they did not go as far as Modu did, but it seems like they definitely took a peak at Modu’s technology when introducing this phone. LG just announced a new phone for Verizon wireless dubbed the LG Versa (does Versa mean modular in another language?).
The idea is that the phone comes with an attachable QWERTY keyboard that can be connected to the phone when needed and left at home when a slim sexy touch screen device is what you are looking for. I cannot say this excites me as much as the Modu does. This device kinda reminds more of a phone with a Bluetooth Keyboard more than it does Modu.
What’s important to point out here is not if the specific phones or companies will succeed. It is more important to be able to recognize new trends in the mobile world. I, for one, can totally see Jack Bauer changing Modu jackets based on the mission he has that day, or should I say hour.
The big question is, are modular phones a new trend or just a passing fad? Let me know what you think in the comments.