How do you design a new flagship Android smartphone? It’s a lot trickier than just doodling a rectangle; you have to look at the current trends, and then catapult them a few years into the future to decide what people will want, rather than what they do currently. Our case in point is the Sony Xperia Z, which we’ve been talking about with Catherine Cherry, Marketing Director of Sony Mobile here in the UK.
Striking an Omnibalance
“We’ve been working on the Xperia Z for quite a while,” Catherine reveals to us, explaining the tough job that faces Sony’s engineering teams: “They work on product planning really far in advance. They look at what’s going to be happening in the market one, two, five years and beyond, and all of that ultimately boils down into the product.”
Ok, so that means that the Z has been in the workshop for some time, but the results are clear to see: it’s a stunning phone with a unique look. We wanted to delve into the secrets of that design, so we asked Catherine what it was that she thought made it special.
“We use an ‘Omnibalance’ design language, so the first thing that you notice when you pick up the phone is how nicely it fits in your hand. You notice how light it is, and then you notice the premium materials and how solid it actually feels in your hand. The level of detail that the design team and the engineers have gone into in this product is absolutely fascinating.”
“The level of detail that the design team and the engineers have gone into is absolutely fascinating.”
And it’s here that we get a sneak peek into the extreme attention to detail that takes priority at Sony HQ – it turns out that the Xperia Z’s seemingly simple power button has been fawned over, thought about and precision-engineered for an awfully long time…
“When you hold it in your hand, whether it’s in your left hand or your right hand, you’ll notice that the power button sits in an absolutely perfect position to be pressed very easily,” Catherine explains. “There was a lot of time spent thinking about that.”
Some surprising stats
“Also,” Catherine continues, “if you look at the intricate design and the feel of the Xperia Z’s power button as you press it, it has a very distinct feel. Research showed us that consumers actually press that power button about 80 times a day, which is a huge amount.
“If you think about the number of hours you’re actually up and about – let’s say about 16 hours a day – that’s basically about five times an hour that you’re pressing that power button. So the engineers have really gone into a huge amount of detail in terms of every single piece of this phone and how it can help deliver the best experience when you’re holding it in your hand and using it as the centerpiece of your life.
“And that’s ultimately what the smartphone is for people.”
The power button’s one thing, but the Xperia Z has a few more standout design features, too. The first is its super-solid frame, and the second is the water, scratch and dust resistance that combine to make it one of the most durable phones on the market. And that’s unusual for a flagship phone. What was the thinking there? It’s because we can all be a little bit clumsy at times…
“People carry their phones around all day, so they tend to drop them and they get a little bit knocked about,” says Catherine. “If you look around the edge of the Xperia Z, there’s actually one piece of material which goes all around – at the back and over to the front – and that’s what we call the skeleton frame.”
“It uses a special material called ‘half glass fiber polyamide’, which is extremely tough, and is a material that’s actually used in cars and aircrafts because it’s extremely durable. Then we have tempered glass and anti-shatter film, so these really gorgeous glass reflective surfaces on the front and the back are actually extremely strong as well.”
“People carry their phones around all day, so they tend to drop them and they get a little bit knocked about.”
And the water-resistance? “Again,” Catherine continues, “it’s all about looking at how consumers are really using their phones. If you look at insurance quotes and how many people are returning their phones as a result water damage, it’s actually really huge. People do want to have a durable phone, but in the past you’ve always had to make a compromise. If you wanted to have a water-resistant phone, then you haven’t been able to have a high-end phone with a gorgeous design as well.
“So in starting out we said we need to make an absolutely gorgeous product, but we also want to make it water-resistant and that’s what we’ve been able to do.”
4G-ready and the future
The Xperia Z is hitting Vodafone as a 4G-ready phone, which means it’ll play nice with our 4G network when it launches later this year. And Catherine’s excited about it. “4G is incredibly exciting for us, because Sony is uniquely positioned to deliver a complete entertainment experience in your phone.
“We’re really focused on letting you access entertainment wherever you are, and 4G means that’s going to be quicker and easier. For us,” Catherine says, wrapping up, “4G ties in perfectly with our strategy of providing the best entertainment wherever you are, and being able to get all of that on your smartphone.”