Japan recently introduced a new phone - Heart 401AB. A heart-shape phone that is low-tech: no email, no web browser, heck, no SMS. The new phone will undoubtably be an object of curiosity and will definitely stand out among the crowd of phones. Still, you have to wonder about its market. Who exactly is this phone for?
The low-tech aspect means that the phone isn't for the techies. The heart-shape design removes the majority of the male population. So, the phone is basically for female who does not want nor need SMS or any amenities of a digital lifestyle. Is the market that big in Japan to warrant such a unique phone? Japan has always been a country that waltz to its own beat. Vinyl is alive and kicking, CD sales are the highest in the world, and the fax machine still rules supreme in corporate Japan.
While it's difficult to ascertain the domestic market size because of the unique characteristics of the country, it's still a good thought experiment if we consider how the phone will fare in the international market.
Microsoft's low-budget phone, the Kin One and the Kin Two, failed horribly because no one knew exactly who the phone was targeted at. While Microsoft tried to market it to kids and parents buying kids their first smart phone, it didn't attract those markets because kids wanted "cool" smartphones and parents wanted value for money. The marketing message got muddled and it was inevitable that the phone would fail.
The Heart 401AB, on the other hand, is highly targeted: female who doesn't want a high-tech gadget but wants a cute phone. Depending on cost of production, the heart-shape phone might actually end up being extremely profitable for the manufacturer precisely because it's so highly targeted. If the phone is a success, it's certainly only a matter of time until other manufacturers follow suit and produce other unique shape phones to cater to the market.
Either way you look at it, it's an interesting market experiment.