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Obi set to shake up smartphones

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By Mark Davison in San Francisco – A group of former Apple executives and designers, including its former CEO John Sculley, are looking to take the smartphone market by storm with the launch of two new devices – the Obi Worldphone SF1 and the SJ1.5.
Sculley, who was the CEO of cola giant Pepsi before taking the reins at Apple back in the 1980s, has again teamed up with the likes of Robert Brunner, designer of the Apple PowerBook and Newton, as well as other ex-Apple executives and Silicon Valley legends such as Gordon McMillan and Satjiv Chahil to take advantage of what he calls “the sea of sameness” that is currently sweeping the smartphone market.
“It’s a real thrill to be together with Rob Brunner again,” Sculley says. “We all grew up at Apple where we learnt about a design-led company. And here we are as a team when the tech world is looking at the smartphone as iconic. In the past, it was the TV that was the biggest consumer product, but the smartphone has outstripped this. It is the one product that everyone aspires to own.”
Sculley says that the players in the smartphone market seem to have lost their way.
“A lot of companies are worried about the smartphone market … they say it’s too competitive … and there are many famous companies haemmoraging money,” says Sculley.
“So what is the future of this market?” he asks. “We think that this industry is a commodity industry and that there is extraordinary opportunity if you look through the lines of possibility that fill the design gaps.
“Remember, I come from a commodity background,” Sculley adds. “How much more of a commodity can you be than sugared water?”
Sculley says that when he examined the smartphone market more closely, he realised how similar all the major players were – with one exception.
“All the smartphone companies look the same,” he says. “Only Apple seems to break out.
“Everyone else is in this sea of sameness,” he adds. “So I asked Rob if it was possible to use design to differentiate and then sector this into the fastest growing markets in the world. And the fastest growing markets are not the US and Europe – not even China any more – but in markets that are going through conversion. Conversion from 2G to 3G and on to LTE. There is a 36 month to four year cycle for this conversion and it is happening in markets where half the population is under 25.
“And these are markets where these young consumers are looking to move from feature phones to smartphones,” Sculley says. “So how do we design to differentiate for this market … but at the same time build those markets.
“That was our challenge,” he says. “And I think with the Obi Worldphone SF1 and the SJ1.5, we’ve come up with a way to address this market.”