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Phone manufacturers can’t just focus on cramming the most powerful chips in their devices nowadays — they have to have a certain glamour, too, according to a panel of top phone manufacturing executives.

Phone manufacturer HTC’s success has a lot to do with the design of each phone, which has made its customers conscious about the brand and support it as a fashion statement, said HTC President Jason Mackenzie. The same goes for Apple, which has had an almost ruthless design philosophy that prizes simplicity and a closed development environment, he said. Mackenzie and the others made the comments today at a panel at the CTIA Wireless 2011 conference in Orlando, Fla.

That’s because smartphones today are typically an extension of each phone owner’s sense of fashion and personal identity. Some of a user’s most private information and conversations are held on a smartphone — through email, text messaging and other applications. There are a lot of options in the smartphone market, so HTC made the move early to have its users identify the brand as a fashion statement, Mackenzie said.

“The smartphone is the most personal device know to man,” said Jeff McDowell, senior vice president of portfolio and device product management for Research in Motion. “It’s an extension of people’s personalities.”

HTC went from having basically no presence in the U.S. to being the third-largest handset manufacturer and having around a 50 percent brand awareness in just more than a decade thanks to its design philosophy, Mackenzie said. The company purchased San Francisco, Calif.-based One & Company Design to develop the aesthetic design for each phone and make them as attractive as possible. But that same design firm also works for companies like Nike and snowboard manufacturer K2.

“That allows us to stay within pop culture and understand where the trends are going,” Mackenzie said. “One & Company can weave that philosophy into our designs and stay on the cutting edge of design.”

Research in Motion isn’t particularly well-known for its fashion sense when it comes to phone. The traditional BlackBerry hasn’t strayed far from its roots, despite some new entries in Research in Motion’s BlackBerry lineup. But the company has acknowledged that a phone’s fashion sense can play into whether a customer ends up buying the phone, McDowell said.

“We realized that fashion and design matters a lot, and we’ve put a lot of focus on shifting that,” he said. “If you don’t understand how much fashion matters, you’re in trouble.”

While specifications for phones — such as processor speed and screen resolution — are still important, they are largely just table stakes to get a potential customer’s attention, Mackenzie said. Most phones today have the similar specifications — a dual-core processor that’s at around 1 gigahertz in terms of speed and around 32 gigabytes of hard drive space. The actual selling point is the user experience with each individual phone, he said.

“You need to have an emotional experience,” Mackenzie said. “We had to make sure we rewrote HTC’s Sense UI to create that personal experience.”

Thanks to Sprint, which is sponsoring VentureBeat’s coverage from this week’s CTIA conference. Learn more about Sprint, the Now Network, here. As always, VentureBeat is adamant about maintaining editorial objectivity. Sprint had no involvement in the content of this post.


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