Available from mid-May, the Puma Phone is a bold step in a new direction from the world-famous sports brand â€“ and at first glance, youâ€™d be forgiven for thinking itâ€™s a misstep. Puma obviously arenâ€™t known for their technology advances and I think Iâ€™m being more than fair if I say that Sagem arenâ€™t exactly known for it either. To say I went in slightly cynical, might be an understatement.
OK, so letâ€™s get the facts out of the way; priced at Â£349 SIM-free and likely to be free on a low-to-medium sized contract on either Vodafone or Orange (think Â£30-Â£35 per month), the Puma phone isnâ€™t going to compete with your iPhones or your high-end Androids. Packing a 3.2mp camera, itâ€™s hardly going to be the next Nseries device either.
So where does the Puma phone fit?
Arriving at Londonâ€™s Groucho Club in the early evening, Iâ€™m wondering how much fun I can have. I plot quietly to take photos with the device and upload them to my Flickr account just so I can see the EXIF. Geek that I am.
Chris Davies from Slashgear is here, as is Andy Lim from Recombu. We discuss what weâ€™ve seen so far. Both in the press and the brief appearance at Mobile World Congress back in February. Weâ€™re intrigued.
The demo begins. So far, nothing new. The phone has a solar cell in the back (OK, so that is new) and the capacitive screen offers the kind of slidey-whooshy-finger-touchy user interactions you come to expect from any half-decent modern day touch screen device. Our demo chap tells me that â€˜any incandescent light can charge the cellâ€™ but this will only ever equate to â€˜actionable powerâ€™ ie: basic phone information, short actions. Donâ€™t expect to disappear into the Sahara without a charger. His words, not mine.
What else? The top part of the screen has an Android-like pull-down menu, combining the settings that you use most with other alerts like new messages and missed calls etc. The bottom part is akin to Android also, with the bottom pull-up â€˜carpetâ€™ menu echoing the settings button, this time underneath the display (as opposed to over the top), and offering a different set of background options depending on which app youâ€™re in.
Again, nothing ground-breaking. So what or who exactly is the Puma phone for?
This is where it gets interesting. Itâ€™s not for me. Or you for that matter, probably.
Puma see this phone as an extension to their brand and also as the next channel or medium that they can implement their more traditional ‘customer relationship management‘ mechanisms through. Yes itâ€™s a phone, but itâ€™s also â€“ whisper it â€“ a marketing tool. The brand really is the most important thing here. This is a handset led by the brand. Not by UI, not by creativity, not even by communication. Brand.
Back to the event and the UI chap from Sagem is showing us a three minute video about Puma, who they are and what they stand for. â€œFUN WINSâ€ it tells us. The film begins and suddenly it all starts to make sense.
Usain Bolt flashes on screen, then the Unity kit, the different initiatives around the world that Puma support start flooding our collective minds with Coldplay storming over the top. I can feel myself being converted.
With South Africa 2010 around the corner and the Olympics only a couple of years away, you can see these guys really pushing this device to the sports and also luxury market.
I mentioned this point to the Brands Manager for Puma at Sagem (not the Brand manager for Puma themselves, as we all misheard him to be), and he nods knowingly. Describing the device as the first of a range he said – â€œConsider it part of the Black Label line. We may go higher in premium models and we will go lower, it makes sense.â€ – and thatâ€™s just it, for them, it does kind of make sense.
If youâ€™re a 25-35 Puma fan and have cash to burn spend then this device â€“ as an extension of who you are â€“ might be for you. Style over substance, if you will.. and what style it has. When someone describes a phone as witty and charming, you may think theyâ€™ve been at the glue. But when it comes to the Puma phone, they actually mean it. Every tiny aspect of the deviceâ€™s UI has been revisited. Be it the brightness level indicator (move a digital cloud over the Sun to dim the screen) or the calculator (2+2 = oh thatâ€™s too easy… 4) a lot of different thinking has gone into this device and it shows.
Gimmicky? Maybe. On brand? Definitely.
The LGs of this world should take note, thereâ€™s a new style phone in town and itâ€™s not looking too shoddy.
And yes, that is a Puma. And his name really is Dylan. Like a Tamagotchi, but not.
Someone pass the glue.