The cascade of Android devices set to enter the market this year is starkly highlighting the need for a better mobile experience inside and outside the devices, which requires a deep re-examination of how device makers approach their work, according to designers at mobile phone maker Sony-Ericsson.
It boils down to a central question, Jun Makino a producer at Sony-Ericsson's user experience design centre in Lund, Sweden, told The Globe and Mail: "There's a lot of Android devices coming out now - how do we differentiate?"
Mr. Makino said the team working on the just-announced Xperia Arc smartphone - to launch globally in the first quarter of this year - decided that they needed to take a simple design approach.
"We decided we should have two or three focus points: Be on the latest Android version, bring in the world of Sony experience and technology, and shape the phone," Mr. Makino said.
The result was a device that was lighter, faster, more powerful, and that had a better camera and processing software than Sony-Ericsson's first entry into the Android smartphone market a year ago, the Xperia X10.
The Arc's subtle concave "human curve" frame lets it sit lightly in the user's hand, improvements in Android's Gingerbread and useof the SnapDragon 8255 1 gigahertz chip makes it faster, the battery was made lighter and more energetic, and the 8.1 megapixel camera has a 2.4 aperture that gathers more light, combined with the Exmor R for mobile camera sensor from Sony's DSLR and Cybershot cameras for low-light photography. Combined with a mobile version of the Bravia display software engine and multitouch surface bnded to the screen itself to minimize internal light reflection, the Arc represents the first major step in the evolution of Sony's Android offerings.
"We are learning," said Hiroaki Kobayashi, head of product line performance in Tokyo, Japan. "We have learned a lot since we started on Android one year ago. And Google is learning too. They have made improvements to Android."
"The user experience is everything," Mr. Makino said. "This is not technology for the sake of technology."
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But the race for faster, more powerful, lighter devices has a dark side in conflict minerals: Rare earth elements used in the production of high-tech devices such as smartphones, whose demand fuels wars in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Last month, the Enough Project, which aims to end human conflict, published rankings of electronics makers performance in eliminating so-called "blood minerals." Sony-Ericsson ranked 13 out of 21 companies.
Asked how Sony-Ericsson ensures that their supply chain is free of such materials, Steve Walker, head of global marketing, said that they have an employee dedicated to leading their efforts in certifying their supply chain is free of blood minerals and continues to work on these efforts.