Would you pay £260 to not be distracted by smartphone apps?

Updated: Feb 28, 2020

Is there such a thing as an unsellable product?

The uber-optimistic sales types will probably say ‘of course not, you just need to have the right attitude’, gesturing confidently while clutching a copy of The Sales Bible in their hand.

In the world of gadgets and tech innovations, it certainly seems like there’s a place for literally anything.

But a recent smartphone launch in the US has us wondering, ‘why’?

A new bite-sized android phone, around the size of a credit card, has recently been released by Palm, the same brand name that brought you those Palm Pilot digital assistants that were all the rage in the 90’s.

The idea, according to the company, is to help people cut out distractions commonly associated with actual-size smartphones – we’re looking at you, social media – and reduce our smartphone usage.

A noble cause. But this tiny phone has a big problem.

It’s currently sold for $349, roughly £260, with fewer features than your main phone, and designed to make you stop using the features you currently have on your existing phone.

Spending more money, to use something less.

It’s like paying for a Mercedes S-Class, and receiving a very authentic, very small Hot Wheel’s version.

This miniature mobile is taking a swipe at the market space occupied by other phone accessories, like smartwatches.

The company pitch this pint-sized number as a genuine alternative to smartwatches for fitness users, citing the same sensors and portability, but with 2 cameras, a keyboard and apps.

Unfortunately, even a bespoke case design from fashion brand Kate Spade can’t give it the same style factor as the Apple Watch - a gadget that still has that iconic ‘wow’ factor, and enough functionality to (maybe, just about) justify the purchase.

It’s not only mini-mobile to be introduced to the market.

Around the same time as their launch, another companion phone has been announced from Japanese Telecoms firm, NTT Docomo.

Another credit-card-sized number, this phone, snappily named “Card KeiTai KY-01L”, is thin enough to fit inside a card holder.

It also offers a sparser features list, and aims to help users to get away from the incessant white noise of notifications and distractions.

The new Palm’s stripped back size and functionality, and the growing trend for mini companion phones in general, serves as a statement on smartphone addiction.

It’s a growing concern, with Apple and Google both addressing this with features to track daily usage, and put time limits on apps.

This approach to tackling an unhealthy small screen obsession is welcome, even from an advertising perspective.

No, we don’t want to compete for screen time every second of every waking (and sleeping) hour.

We want someone to like a brand or business, to maybe even fall in love with it – in a non-creepy way, naturally.

That rarely happens when someone’s still scrolling through their feeds at 2am, bleary eyed, too tired to entertain the idea of stopping on yet another sponsored post.

On the subject of selling products, let’s return to that first question.

Could another phone for your phone ever be a realistic proposition for customers?

It’s obviously a luxury purchase.

But there might just be a niche, for those really looking to switch off.

It might be an option for holidays, to be able to leave your main phone safely at home, while enjoying a nice Malibu Beach-side Mai Tai (or whatever it is that affluent Americans get up to on holiday).

And there is doubtless a market for those who prefer their expensive Tag Heuer watch over an Apple variant, so they have a space in their lives for a teeny tiny phone-lite.

There’s a chance this ridiculous offering might actually work.

We can’t help but feel, though, that there’s a big, £260-shaped hurdle in the way of success.

Plus, Palm doesn’t exactly conjure the same level of wide-spread nostalgia as brands like Nokia, which is arguably a big part why the brand name has been surgically attached to this very un-Palm-like product.

For now, we’ll stick to a more old-fashioned way of limiting our small screen time – refusing to charge the iPhone battery.

That should cut it down to about an hour, per phone.

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