It’s safe to say many of us want to switch off a little more. We see this in the increasing amount of people practicing mindfulness, or going on ‘off the grid’ holidays – not to mention those strange people you see on the train who aren’t even on their phones.
Enter the Light Phone. This credit-card sized phone aims to keep you connected with your family and friends, but solely through calls. Yep, you read that right: no texting, no tweeting… more doing.
I called up the New York based co-founder Joe Hollier, to ask why, when, where and how.
What led you guys to start Light?
Kaiwei and I met inside of the Google incubator ’30 Weeks’. It was basically an experimental program to see if designers could become founders. That was the catalyst. Kaiwei and I stopped what we were doing; he moved from Chicago to NY and we met at the incubator.
It was the first time doing anything tech related for me. I come from a graphic design background, working in stop-motion animation and fine art exhibitions of my work – a very different direction to tech. I realised very quickly after jumping into the incubator that everyone is saying their products will give us our life back…
It was so full of it.
So I started thinking to myself, why don’t we disconnect? It was obvious that everyone was craving an escape from the habitual overwhelming nature of being connected all the time. We realised that the answer was simple: the Internet comes with us everywhere, but we used to leave it at home. It’s in our phones, so we end up bringing it wherever we go. ‘It doesn’t make sense to go out with a smartphone,’ god forbid…
Did you design the phone for yourself? Or for people who are spending more and more time on their phone?
In terms of my social media use, I fell off everything but Instagram. That being said, I’d still catch myself sitting at home on Instagram for 15 minutes… I thought to myself ‘I didn’t even consciously choose to do this,’ that’s what scared me. It snuck up on me, my phone usage, and I was like ‘Woah, these things are seriously addictive in many ways.’
The start-ups I see who are receiving funding are all using this metric of stickiness or retention, basically how long the user stays on your app. That was the main metric for apps that we saw getting funding. That seemed, to us, like a scary future. The only products getting successful backing are the ones that are built to be addictive… I think that’s a backwards way for products to come about.
I remember joking, each time my phone would die, about how free it was and how much I enjoyed it. I’d be at a bar and I’d scream ‘yeah, I’m free!’. I ‘d leave my phone at home a lot, if I was going skateboarding or whatever, and my girlfriend would tell me that I’d break my leg and wouldn’t be able to reach her. On the other side, I’d be out without my phone all day, but then I’d want to reconnect to go to a bar, or go for dinner… I guess I was dabbling with the solution before I’d even joined the incubator.
So tell us more about the Light Phone? What do people need to make it work?
It’s a standalone phone. It works completely independently of your current phone/ carrier situation. Using our app, that we’re currently working on, you’ll be able to easily connect your smartphone to the light phone, meaning your important calls will be forwarded. It’s built to feel like an extension of your existing phone, as you keep the same number. When you call from the Light Phone, too, it will adopt your smartphone’s number.
Unlike a Bluetooth tethered device, like an apple watch or a headset, you’re not limited to any sort of range. So you can leave your phone at home and your light phone will be able to work all around the world. We’ve designed it around the idea of ‘a phone away from phone.’
Talk us through the design of the phone.
The first design that made sense was the phone acting as a smart answering machine. So you’d leave your phone at home, and we drew the arrows so mom got through to you, but clients didn’t. Then we thought about how it would look: we wanted to make it feel as invisible as possible. So we said, ‘what is it that people bring with them everywhere? What do people have all the time?’ The answer was an ID and a credit card. No matter if you’re male/ female, old/young, everyone has an ID or a credit card. If we make it that size, it’ll be as invisible as possible.
We started looking at calculators first, just out of nostalgia for those old solar calculators. In terms of our branding, we were very much inspired by things that we were already doing. I’d been taking film landscape photographs a few weeks prior to joining the accelerator. I went on a road trip with my girlfriend and turned my phone off for the week. I was taking all of these photos, and doodling – which I always do. That sort of became our branding. Our idea for the branding was not to make people feel guilty for using their smartphones. We want to celebrate the special moments, the moments when you don’t need a smartphone and life is better without it.
We want to take you away from your screen, so if it had a screen it would feel hypocritical. We made the decision that 95% of the time the phone would be blank; it’ll only turn on when something important happens.
It’s even more stripped back than your basic flip phone, in terms of notifications especially. We’ve limited it to 10 speed dials, which came about during our testing. People only wanted 3 or 4 of them, so we gave people the option to have a few more. Your Light Phone will never let you know that it’s missed a call. If you miss a call right now, it won’t tell you. We have such a habit of checking our phones all of the time, we want there to be no excuse for you to check the Light Phone unless you look at the time. We’re trying to break these addictive, nervous habits. Hopefully it breaks some of these things.
You guys use social media to promote Light Phone, but you’re asking people to use their phones less…
Needing to grow from nothing is the reason. On our Instagram, what we try to do (as do all companies), regularly but not too often, is post things that are thoughtful. The feedback we get from our users that follow us is that it’s a nice reminder each day.
Since we don’t have an actual product on the marketplace right now, it’s about keeping the product going as well as motivation to inspire people to disconnect. We try not to annoy and provide inspiration. It’s a little bit hypocritical… but we only use Instagram, Twitter and Tumblr… we don’t do Facebook, or anything like that.
Why did you decide to go down the Kickstarter route?
We knew that going public would not only give us a backing of people to continue to test with, but also prove to the manufcaturers and investors that our concept is valid.
Really it was about starting the conversation. The object is really special, but what we’re really excited about is the bigger picture of how this technology will play out in our day-to-day lives. And, going forward, how do we use it to make our lives better and easier, not more confused, or cluttered.
As you guys are based in the US, will the Light Phone work elsewhere in the world?
The phone is fully unlocked and will work anywhere that has a GSM network, which is pretty much anywhere other than japan. We’re working on alternative versions for those countries that aren’t GSM compatible. The phone uses a mini-sim, which may not be the most common anymore… but it’s more universal than more recent sims, and you can get cheap mini sims/ adaptors if you do want to use a different card. It felt like the best choice.
We imagine people using the phone with prepaid minute plans, as the Light Phone wasn’t built to be in use that much. It didn’t make much sense for us to provide monthly plans (as we’re used to with our smart phones). If you did want to add it onto your existing contract, you still can. But we imagine people just getting a cheaper sim.
Who do you see buying the Light Phone? Who’s your target market?
Initially (with the potential for it to spread and grow) we went for younger creatives like designers, photographers or film makers in the in the 25-35 range. People who appreciate the value from a creative standpoint in giving your brain a chance to live in the moment and let the unconscious do its thing and absorb. Those are the demographics that immediately responded. There are also the parents who just want a simple first-phone for their child, too. We’re also seeing a lot of people from the adventure and hiking demographic getting excited, the same goes for athletes who go running often, and higher-level people who don’t want to bring the iPhone out to a party. They want a smaller, more invisible accessory.
If you’re interested in getting yourself a Light Phone, they’re due to reach hands the world over in June 2016.
I am far for your focus age group….far from. But this phone idea really interest me. I have a basic phone now…or DUM phone they call it. I don’t like the idea of carrying around the a SMART PHONE. It isn’t SMART to me. I have a tablet for my web I terest. I am a artist and don’t like being CONNECTED all the time, and neither do my artisit friends. We don’t answer the phone every time it rings or plays “my country tis of thee” I don’t like carrying it everyplace I go…..I could go on and on. It doesn’t make my life easier and it is rude; it rings when I am busy and then I feel I have to answer it.
nice; it is basically a copy of the Dutch John’s Phone, the simplest phone made – hard to find nowadays, which however worked with its own SIM card; this one can be used as an extension of the existing ‘smartphone’, so it might have more appeal. Curious to see it when it comes to market!
I love this idea – I too am way older than your demographic and I do switch my phone off when I can. It’s still scary the way the smartphone pulls you in and as I’m self employed just knowing a client has called is on my mind even if I’ve decided not to respond until Monday morning! This has the added benefit of filtering out people who you do want to hear from and no missed call alerts too. A little sad we need something like this to bring us back to our senses but…I hope it goes viral and will look out for it as soon as it’s available in the UK. Thanks guys.
I, too, am FAR from your target age, but I want this phone… and I want it NOW!
LOVE this! I am older than your target audience, am also in a creative field and understand the need to simply disconnect. We’ve lost our ability to be creative by constantly looking, scrolling, connecting with a screen instead of with people sitting next to us. Don’t underestimate your market; I think you will find a broader audience ready to step away from constant contact yet still be available for emergency calls. Can’t wait for this to hit the market.
The one thing that I think needs to be taken in to consideration is, to have the ability to make a call to help. Perhaps if this can access an emergency call part only through your smartphone, nothing else, and only an emergency call.
You folks really need to rethink your market! I am a 60+ yo C level manager who really appreciates having and NOT having a smart phone. I’m also a clinical psychologist who sees clients who are severly addicted to their phones and desperate to make the break. This idea will work for people at my age who need a break but have to stay somewhat connected and for people who need to ween themselves off the ‘crackberry.’
Thank you, Moo team, for sharing inspiring topics and stories!
Ditto – to the demographic comments above. I’m a designer in my late fifties and this speaks to me too. Already I regularly disconnect from the Iphone in order to connect with longer thoughts. I do think the appeal of this concept is more linked to how we work than to age. Fantastic if a tiny phone could give people a chance to (re)discover the luxury of privacy and get more of the “here and now”.
Thank you everyone for the comments, I’d like to clarify even further what we meant with the age group. When we initially had the idea and were thinking of who else would use it, and our first reaction was to test what we knew 25-35 year olds in creative fields, also people that we had easy access to talking to (our peers). We quickly realized that the age group was not at all a factor as older and even some younger ages really responded. We launched our Kickstarter campaign to gain further insight and have been overwhelmed at the amount of diversity the concept attracts. Seriously! It’s amazing, people from different backgrounds all over the world, it’s inspiring. So we don’t at all intend to limit or market to that specific age group that was more just our first hypothesis. I hope this makes more sense and sorry for the misunderstanding! Thank you Jonathon for the interview and to everyone who took the time to read.
What a great idea. I think it will take off. Coming from a 37 year old designer, who started with a brick when I was 18 (just to keep in touch). Life was much simpler back then, and I would love for that concept of getting in touch only when absolutely necessary to come back in vogue. People expect you to be available 24hrs a day if you have your phone on you the entire time. Thanks for thinking out of the box, and giving us a chance to get back to the simple, less busy life. Looking forward to it hitting Australian shelves.
yes, good idea- I thought too and participated this project on kickstarter
but the project lastet much longer than planned, the communication to customers was ashaming bad and the phone never arrived.
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