Skip to main content
March 31, 2010

Where do the opportunities lie for innovation in materials – Design by Community

3. Blogger

GLOBAL – With materials top of this week’s agenda, we turned to longtime Nokia and Symbian Guru, Ricky Cadden, community manager of and known worldwide simply as ‘The Guru’. He’s packaged up his thoughts in response to the questions we posed: When it comes to materials in mobile devices, where do the opportunities lie for innovation and what materials would you like to see used in the future and why? Read on after the jump to get The Guru’s take.

When it comes to materials in mobile devices, where do the opportunities lie for innovation?  What materials would you like to see used in the future and why?
Ricky Cadden, Community Manager,

As companies consider how to build future devices, one area that simply cannot be ignored is the materials used in the process. Just as in the various features on a mobile device, there are countless opportunities for innovation in the materials that we use to build tomorrow’s mobile devices. For the most part, you could easily classify the innovations into either environmental or performance related.


We’re only just starting to see the effects that the green movement has had on technology, but we’re going to be seeing plenty more over the next few years. Nokia is already waist-deep in this category of innovation with phones such as the 3110 Evolve, which was announced at Nokia World 2008. The 3110 Evolve is almost an exact copy of the original 3110 Classic, but uses far more environmentally-friendly materials. Biodegradable plastics, significantly reduced packaging, and other improvements help the phone make a smaller impact on the world it is used in. Moving forward, there are tremendous opportunities in corn-based plastics and other natural materials. Another side benefit is that often, these materials are cheaper and use less energy to produce.

The key for manufacturers with an eye for the environment is that consumers often are not willing to sacrifice features or design in exchange for a more ‘green’ phone. Biodegradable plastic needs to look and feel like ‘normal’ plastic, for instance, and the phones that are designed to be more environmentally friendly shouldn’t scrimp on features, either.


Traditionally, mobile devices are typically made up of plastics or metal, a bit of glass, and rubber. While these materials have held up nicely over the years, there is, always, room for improvement. Carbon Fiber is one material that I would like to see in future devices, as it offers a tremendous improvement in durability and sturdiness without adding substantial heft. Antimicrobial surfaces are also an area of opportunity for the mobile industry. We already see these on many handsets for the Japanese market, but any mobile phone is a candidate, as they’re always being pressed against your face or passed from hand to germ-filled hand.

Of course, the fit and finish of these new materials is also something to consider. In the past, there has been a focus on high-gloss shiny finishes that really catch users’ eyes. Unfortunately, as we all know, these materials are a nightmare to use on an ongoing basis, as you constantly have to clean and polish them. Soft-touch coverings have started to make an entrance, and personally, I would prefer to have soft-touch on all of my mobile devices, as it provides better grip in most circumstances.

Materials used in the battery of tomorrow’s mobile device are equally important. Batteries tend to be the most dangerous part of the phone when it comes to the environment, and manufacturers are already looking for alternative ways to power your phone. Solar panels instantly come to mind as one of the most under-utilized technologies for powering mobile devices. Of course, I wouldn’t expect to only use the sun to charge my phone, but having the entire back panel as a solar panel would certainly make top-ups throughout the day a much less painful part of using my mobile device.


As Nokia pushes into this Design by Community experiment, it’s incredibly important to consider the materials used along the way. By focusing on more Earth-friendly materials and manufacturing processes, the phone of tomorrow has a better chance of actually existing.

Written by Ricky Cadden, Community Manager,