3SkyePhone - the reasoning behind the Skype button and camera placement

Last week, I received a long and well written email from the "Director and GM, Handsets and Applications" Frank Meehan from Hutchison (the company that owns Three). He explained to me that his group was responsible for putting together the new 3SkypePhone and offered up some explanations as to why certain things were done the way they were.

We had a brief email conversation, and he kindly has allowed me to publish extracts of our email exchange so we can understand where they are coming from. In the interests of full disclosure the initial email exchange was performed by Frank sitting in the back of a cab going through New York via his trusty Blackberry.

The "Skype" button

> Frank Meehan wrote:
>> One issue we faced in development is the central key. We wanted it to be
>> the Skype button but it also had to multitask as a central enter key for
>> other apps. We looked at two buttons but everything we tried made it
>> ugly from a design perspective. So we just hope that people are used to
>> pressing central button keys anyway and figure out it's dual purpose.
>> But you're right it isn't always obvious how to get to Skype from other
>> features which is why we did the switcher key.
I understand completely and you are right.  The central button is a
phones "action" button and should never too far away from a thumb!  But
there are times for example, the phone burps to alert you to a new Skype
message, and you are stuck to get there fast.
As a blackberry user, you will know only too well the power of the
button on the left hand side.  BB let you assign whatever function you
want to that, and i have it jump straight into my EMAIL.  The Skype
phone could do with such a quick jump button at the side, much like the
camera button at the moment.
I understand from a business point of view, one doesn't get the
opportunity to put a big ass "skype" logo/button in the middle of the
handset at this point, but really, as we have seen that is misleading
since it doesn't always do what it says on the tin.
But the need to jump straight into SKYPE from anywhere, is definitely a

The Onboard Camera

> Frank Meehan wrote:
>> On the camera, it was important for us to hit the right combination of
>> design and price for us, and the extra front facing camera made the
>> phone too long, and video calling is not big in our user base so we went
>> for form factor to appeal to the widest possible audience.
Completely understand if that is indeed the way the present user base
is.  That said, if 3 are indeed serious about the Skype as a long term
venture, then Skype Video calling will have to fall into this product
plan sooner or later and this issue will need to be addressed.  Video
calling at the moment is an expensive affair which is probably one of
the reasons it hasn't taken off like wild fire that 3 was hoping for.
But with SkypeVideo, that may change.

Still more to do

> Frank Meehan wrote:
>> There is loads more we do to improve the device but our primary goal was
>> to make a skype voice call and chat as easy to do as voice and text. And
>> we couldn't get any of the big vendors to do that integration in time so
>> we did it ourselves including writing a set of APIs that didn't exist
>> before.
Yes, agree completely.  The SKYPE chat has been the biggest plus for
this device.  I love that.  I also love the way it doesn't get in the
way of my Skype desktop.  I have both running and i see chat come up on
both.  Its wonderful.  It has made Skype truely platform agnostic in
real terms.  I have a NokiaN800 tablet with Skype on it; and it doesn't
integrate half as well as this little handset your team produced.

Mass Market handset

> Frank Meehan wrote:
>> It's a mass market handset, not designed to compete with N95 but just to
>> bring internet communications to everyone. Our philosophy is do make
>> mobile internet available to everyone and we're going to really do that.
>> The big operators don't like us doing it because it's very disruptive to
>> their model but that's what we're about - shaking up the cosy old GSM 
>> world.
Absolutely, more power to you, and i am completely behind you.  As you
have read, i am a long term blackbery user, and really, it will take a
lot for me to give that up as my primary device.  My love of BB comes
from the inclusion of the QWERTY keyboard.  Even yourself, you couldn't
have typed this email reply to me with the SkypePhone.  So once we get a
keyboard, then the world is really your oyster.

Frank was wonderfully open here and it is exchanges like these that make me warm to Three as a company and give them back as much feedback as possible so we can benefit from their increased dedication to bring the internet to the masses. Frank is even going to get the Skype button issue addressed for a possible upcoming release update. So that is a wonderful result and one that I am sure will ease some of the pain of this handset.

Let me thank Frank for taking the time to talk with me on this.


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