"Badass" e-ink O phone by Alter Ego Architects aims to eliminate the need for apps


Serbian studio Alter Ego Architects has designed a concept for a 3D-printed mobile phone with an interface that only features numbers and symbols, and has no apps to prevent users acting like "mindless zombies" while on their devices (+ slideshow).

O Phone by Alter Ego Architects

With an e-ink screen – similar to a Kindle reading device – the credit card-sized O phone would have no lettering in its navigation so it could be used regardless of language.

Instead, owners would use a series of symbols and numbers to select functions and make calls. It would also feature no apps, and only offer call and text functions.

O Phone by Alter Ego Architects

Novi Sad-based Alter Ego Architects wanted to address the idea that people could be spending more time with their phones than with their families, and propose an alternative to the now ubiquitous smart phone.

"We're spending on average more than three hours per day – almost one day per week! – looking at our cell phones," said the studio. "In order to 'be more productive', we're trying to fit too much stuff in our day, and smartphones 'help' us with this."

O Phone by Alter Ego Architects

"We are actually losing our focus and make our lives complicated," added the architects.

The simple range of features would mean the phone wouldn't need to be programmed to reflect language options for different regions.

O Phone by Alter Ego Architects

"It will be the first phone ever built without language barriers," said Alter Ego Architects, which described the device as "badass".

Following this principle, the phone's name and logo are also a symbol. This can be interpreted as a circle, a ring, or the letter O – pronounced in different languages or dialects.

O Phone by Alter Ego Architects

The phone would be 3D printed and cheap to produce. Its e-ink display would use a very small amount of battery to create a paper-like effect and illuminate with an optional backlight.

O Phone by Alter Ego Architects

Target users would be those who may need to be contactable in an emergency, such as children or the elderly.

It could equally be useful for businessman travelling abroad and people in parts of the world with poor internet connectivity, according to the studio.

O Phone by Alter Ego Architects

In a similar move, Jasper Morrison launched a basic phone with just calling and texting functions for Punkt as a "liberating" alternative to smartphones during London Design Festival 2015.

"Technology is a very powerful tool, but as our lives become increasingly complicated, it is important to find time to disconnect and rediscover the simple things," said Punkt founder and CEO Petter Neby.

  • I kind of like this. You could stay very professional if that’s all you want. I know plenty of older people who like talking on the phone and find smartphones too complicated.

    All those games could be put on a 3DS or some other portable gaming console? My only issue would be the lack of language, as a contacts list would be great.

    Good for people whose phone priorities involve verbal communication only. As in, the original purpose of the phone.

  • Ale

    Simply awesome!

  • Ale

    Simply awesome!

  • spadestick

    Badass un-ergonomic edges.

  • Natalia

    I really like this ergonomic design. I’m so tired lately of all apps and games that I would gladly use this one!

  • mik

    So they propose an expensive grandpa primitive phone with a different design?! I would not buy that! That’s for sure!

  • Hej!

    Because it is very cheap, this is also amazing invention for third-world countries, where poor people now can afford to buy a mobile phone with which they can call emergency services.

  • Aaron

    The one downside of this concept would be having to talk to people. Seems like an oversight.

    • I KNOW! Talking to people, let alone making eye contact, is just SO last century.

  • Spasso

    It’s a simple and good alternative, and I would like to have one!

  • Kay

    Or you can just buy any phone from 1999 to 2005 and get like a month of battery life.

  • If you’re tired of the apps, don’t use the apps. Power of will, anyone?

  • Kyle

    Has anyone notified Nokia that they are relevant again?

  • You can’t side step localisation that easily. Does 01/02/2016 mean 1 Feb or Jan 2? Some languages don’t use Arabic numerals at all. Some languages are right-to-left, so that leftward pointing arrow you think means “Back” probably means “Forwards” to someone else.

    I presume that 5th launcher icon means “Home”, but it also looks a lot like a Shogi piece. And that generic human silhouette — are you sure it’s *really* generic? Like, will *everyone* think “that looks like most people I know”?

    This design looks nice on the surface, but how would it actually work?

    Removing language and the need for translation still doesn’t remove the need for localisation to make the user interface culturally appropriate.

    • Charlie Bing

      Better call Susan Kare…

    • ellieban

      The silhouette is male for a start. ;)

    • Brendan

      Agree. And what about texting?

  • Chad Sutter

    I gave up my dumb phone years ago. In fact most of the modern world did, and much of the third world. This is nothing new and certainly nothing that’s not currently available, as far as function goes. They are garnering attention, but why give them credit for technology that’s come and gone?

  • Joost Dingemans

    “With an interface that only features numbers and symbols” is kind of contradictory to: “and only offer call and text functions.” Texting will be really hard using this device.

  • blackmamba

    I really like it! What about a Kickstarter campaign?

  • ellieban

    This would be a fantastic phone for people with visual impairments. Navigating a smartphone touchscreen is impossible for people with low vision.

  • SteveLeo

    Similar to this:https://vimeo.com/129693491

    Although this doesn’t mean you have to give up your smartphone.

  • Iguessaluddite

    I’m surprised to see such disregard for the idea, apparently because this “already exists”, and also apparently because the decline of “dumb phones” proves something.

    Am I the only one that sees a need for a dumb phone that defies the qualities of former examples (like Nokia)? Is the comments section of a design site seriously suggesting that we suck it up and use things that have been popularly declared obsolete?

    Why advocate for design that permanently charges “ahead” and why require design that steps to the side to be measured as resolutely backward?

    • Felix M

      The biggest reason this is a backward step is because a smartphone can already do everything this phone does simply by installing a simplified OS or launcher.

      Yes people want simplification, but everyone uses smartphones in different ways. My ideal simple phone is different to yours. Why take something powerful and customisable and lock it down? The set of functions is what, 15 years ago? Why those? It’s nostalgic rather than solving a real problem.

  • Simon Gray

    Design firm calls potential sales “mindless zombies”. And who uses their phone as a phone anyway.

    • Felix M

      Yeah, I feel like they’re trying to scold me.

      I mostly use my phone for messaging, browsing, gaming, video, navigation. If I wanted a simplified phone it would be one with excellent messaging capability first.

  • dan

    I don’t have a problem with the proposal, but I think the graphics and form would need to be more refined. That said, students seem to propose very similar things every year at degree shows, so it doesn’t feel groundbreaking to me.

  • I’d like to see some smart designer attack the need for a ‘smartphone’ for the blind. It’s a hugely overlooked need.

    • Felix M

      Blind people can already use existing smartphones with the right software. They use voice commands, physical buttons and a screen reader.

      • Not nearly as easy as you make it sound. Ask a blind person.

    • Simon Gray

      We should be able to provide a movable type-braille interface on a pocket super computer, I agree.

  • agagnu

    I would go for a small voice-controlled unit, maybe a wrist watch and a hook-on earpiece.
    The new Nokia is an exercise of minimalist form/design, without ergonomic consideration.

    One good possible provision for the breast pocket would be a bulletproof barrier for the American ‘wild west’ streets.

  • Chad Sutter

    Here’s a comment. Why bother with this “new” design idea when you can get a smartphone from India for under $5? That’s right $5. http://www.msn.com/en-us/news/technology/indian-firm-launches-dollar367-smartphone/ar-BBpBK8S?ocid=spartanntp

  • archshen

    I like the interface design, but it needs the option to install some basic apps. One question though, if no language is set up, how do people do texting in other counties?

  • George Endplays Coffin

    I’m surprised nobody has brought up the Punkt phone. I think they did this concept way better with the actual use of technology. I know this is just a concept, but I’m really not impressed with photoshopping black icons onto a 3D-printed rectangle as an “e-ink” concept. E-ink is a real technology that has limitations just like any other. If smartphone users are such “mindless zombies,” then why propose such a “mindless” design solution. I mean, texting without language? Sounds like bullshit to me.

  • Loving the design, its “no-app” reasoning and lack of a text function.

    And as long British Telecom have got the latest “hit parade” ready at the Dial-A-Disc “studios”, we can return our music library’s to the music centre at home.