SonyEricsson LiveView remote and the changing face of mobile computing

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SonyEricsson’s LiveView remote control for their Android handsets was launched a couple of weeks ago. Visually people have compared to an iPod Nano, both devices are small, can be worn as jewellery, are square and the designs are dominated by their colour LCD displays.

There is also an important distinction to be made between them. The iPod Nano is a standalone computing device dedicated to music. The LiveView is a small display that relies on the computing power of a larger phone that is on your person, but that you don’t have to take out of your pocket.

I see the LiveView as a natural extension of where research work was going with personal area networks and wearable computing over the past two decades; and where military organisations had been going with augmenting soldiers; notably the US Army and its Land Warrior programme.

It prompted me to ask where would this take smartphones and connected devices? This would then raise issues around a number of different areas:

  • The user experience – Since consumers wouldn’t need to break out a full computing device when they needed to make a call the visibility of the phone would change. You could leave a brick in your pocket and use a headset and LiveView device as your phone. Where computing was required a larger screen may appear from another pocket with a more familiar touch interface. This plethora of interfaces would affect consumer behaviour and the status nature of mobile devices – an area that may make both Apple and RIM more vulnerable and allow the Young Turks of the industry like ZTE and Huawei a great opportunity. It would be a major challenge and opportunity for both for interface designers and peripherals manufacturers. The flipside would be a benefit with better user experiences to match use cases | contexts
  • Product design – The learnings from the US Army Land Warrior experiment where that wearable computing tends to be on the heavy side. Despite the fact that the kit managed to halve in weight during development the programme got bumped partly because the soldiers weren’t that keen on wearing it and it cost so much. The elephant in the room would be battery life, Bluetooth to connect devices, 3G always-on connectivity, GPS modules and displays all consume a relatively large amount of power, so industrial engineers would have to make much more complex trade-offs than would be the case for a standard smartphone.
  • The carrier experience – If the phone could be a black hockey puck-sized brick like the Apple TV, or even a plastic covered brick what would this mean for the customer relationship with the carrier, what would the economics of phone upgrades look like?