It's been the best year ever for Vodafone-branded devices. We've been speaking to the man who can tell us why, and getting some hints about 2014 too.

Vodafone Smart Tab III

2013’s been a busy year for our big manufacturing partners, but it’s been just as big for us at Vodafone. We’ve been talking to the big names in the industry about what 2013’s meant for them, but now it’s time to turn our gaze inward.

What’s 2013 been all about when it comes to Vodafone handsets? We’ve been speaking to Vodafone’s phone guru Tim Newell to find out, and we’ve had a glimpse into the future along the way.

 

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“We’ve launched four devices this year,” says Tim, recapping the year. “The handsets are the Vodafone Smart Mini and the Smart III, while the Vodafone Smart Tab III 7″ and 10″ are our latest tablets.

A brand new focus 

“I think the Smart Mini’s had the biggest impact,” he tells us. “What we wanted to do there was to help get smartphones into people’s hands. We did a lot of research about how smartphones have become more popular with people, but found that there are still some barriers to entry. One of the main ones is price, so we wanted to do something about that.” The solution? “Bring an affordable smartphone to our customers.

The Smart Mini did just that, weighing in at just £50, but doing so in a pretty special way…

“One of the key things with that is that, while there have been other devices at that £50 price, they always make compromises on the kind of experience the user gets. It’s not really a smartphone if you have memory constraints which means you can’t use a range of apps,” Tim explains. “We wanted a really true smartphone experience. That’s why we brought in the Smart Mini – it was the first Android Jelly Bean handset at £50 in the UK, and it’s led the way in everything we do with Pay as you go now. It’s all about easily affordable smartphones, and the Smart Mini is the very essence of that.”

VodafoneSmartIII-618

Next up? The Vodafone Smart III. “On the Smart III, we wanted to make a more premium handset, but the key focus was still on great value. It sits sub-£100, while still completely blowing the other phones around it out of the water in terms of what it offers.”

And lastly, we updated our own-brand tablet to be really competitive. “Last year the Smart Tab II was a really big success,” says Tim, “tablets were becoming more mainstream and popular as a second device then. The Smart Tab III is a continuation of that, but it’s also a massive step up in quality. Again, it’s about producing a quality device at an affordable price point, which is what Vodafone is a trend that really focussing on at the moment.”

These three devices add up to a great year for Vodafone and, as Tim explains, a bit of a turning point: “We’ve nailed it this year in terms of getting the right price and getting good quality products out there. So we want to carry on with that, but 2014 will see us focus even more on the design of our handsets.

We’ve got everything else lined up now, but what it comes down to, and what customers really want is a device that customers can be really proud to show off. So we’re looking to devices with the same price point but with a really quality and premium look.

Big things in 2014…  

Ok, so that’s 2013 wrapped up, but while we’ve got some time with Tim, we’re keen for him to clue us in about what’s coming next from Vodafone.

“There are no excuses for anyone to not be really great value now, but we have the benefit of being able to control our own handsets. That means we can spot and follow the trends in the market. We see things coming before they launch – things like bigger screens and upcoming mobile platforms – and work really hard to make sure that we’re following these trends and giving people exactly what they want, but at a much more attractive price.

“We’ll be following upcoming trends with a Vodafone twist in 2014.”

“The process of making a device always starts off with Vodafone looking at these trends, so that we can turn around and say ‘4G is a big thing, maybe we can produce something in that space that at a more affordable price?’

“Our engineers would then be able to look at specs and suggest what it is we need to be able to make a device like that that’s of the right quality but at a low price. And then we’ll go to one of our key manufacturing partners, who’ll build a device to meet our needs.”

Bigger screens, you say? 4G? Is that a hint? “We’ll be following upcoming trends with a Vodafone twist in 2014,” Tim says. “You can expect devices built around where the market’s going: 4G and big screens, etc. but, as always, at exceptional value.

“It all comes down to a discussion about what’s best in terms of specs and what we need to do to achieve that at the right price for the customer.”

Back to the future… Check out our talk with Vodafone’s futurologist, in which he explains the ‘phablet’ phenomenon, and reveals what’s coming over the next year.