So, one thing we've done a lot of in the last year is handset customisation: in particular, producing handset themes for a number of Nokia devices. The 6120 and 6110 Navigator are the ones we can talk about, though we're doing this sort of work elsewhere too. We've actually had customisation as one of The Things Future Platforms Do for a few years now (after we did some Series 60 theming work for Three a while back on the 6680), but this year it's something we've put a lot more effort into.
And a good thing too, because it's prone to be a painful process, and one which I suspect Bryan (who heads up our design team) will post about once he's recovered from the experience. You think that development environments for J2ME are restrictive and bug-prone? Taking artwork and massaging it into a Nokia theme file using their Carbide tool is *incredibly* painful, then you need to get the thing QAd and bug-fixed, frequently on prototype devices that Don't Officially Exist, often with arcane firmware. Add in the variety of possible capabilities, even in handsets from the same vendor (curiously, Nokia Series 40 devices seem in many ways to be more capable then their upmarket Series 60 cousins), and you get a picture that will be familiar to anyone who's spent time working in mobile: poor tools, on-device testing mandatory, and fragmentation everywhere.
But where there's muck there's brass, and after a years effort, we've now evolved a process for doing these things: taking original artwork (or creating the artwork from style guides), mocking it up quickly to show what it might look like and get sign-off, then as far as possible automating the transfer of these mockups onto a real device - where the pain of QA, bug-fixes, workarounds and so forth remains.
Why spend so much effort on this, particularly when it's hardly glamorous or of-itself interesting work? We think there's an opportunity here that goes beyond the telecomms industry clients we've worked for so far. Mobiles aren't consumer electronics any more, they're fashion accessories, daemons even, scampering away from being feature-driven and towards being displays of social status. In this journey, manufacturers have typically favoured industrial design: getting the packaging right, often at he expense of the internals. Cough RAZR cough.
I reckon that, particularly post-iPhone (and post-75% of RAZR owners saying they'd not repeat their purchase), the innards of these beasties are going to start getting the same sort of attention that's been lavished on the outside - after all, why delineate software and hardware so clearly when it's all one device? And when this happens, customising the bit which device owners spend much of their time staring at is going to become more and more attractive for device manufacturers, operators, or even third-party brands.