“Anti-smartphone” Light Phone runs into delays

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For people who feel that we are a little bit too connected these days, Kickstarter project Light Phone was promising a respite. It was scheduled to ship in May this year, but has seen a number of setbacks. This week, the company issued a statement. It says that while it missed its goal, it hopes to start shipping later this month.

Light Phone’s goal was to be the opposite of a smartphone. Including a 2G SIM card and the ability to take and make calls only, the phone aimed to have three weeks worth of battery life on a single charge.

Tiny, pretty, and with a three-week battery life. What's not to love?

Tiny, pretty and with a three-week battery life. What’s not to love?

The company suggests “A few limitations in our initial user experience goals due to some iOS restrictions” is the reason the device is shipping late, but the company has received some criticism for how it has handled its Kickstarter campaign, too. It hasn’t posted any public updates since August last year, instead opting to post updates exclusively to its campaign backers. Not a big problem for backers, of course, but a bit iffy to those of us who were following the company’s progress from the sidelines.

The company came under fire for only offering a dated cell technology for the telephony side of the phone, suggesting that relying on 2G may have been a poor solution. In some countries, the 2G network is scheduled to be switched off soon. “Australian 2G is being switched off on 1st December 2016,” one backer writes, referring to the first round of switch-flicking during a 9-month shutdown process of 2G networks down under. The Light Phone company, in turn, offered to refund backers in countries where the phones would no longer be usable.

When the Light Phone was first announced about 18 months ago, it seemed like a novel and interesting idea. At $100 per device, it’s undoubtedly cool, but the device is also entering a spectacularly competitive space. You can pick up a no-name quad-band phone for a seventh of the price, and most carriers will let you turn off SMS functionality altogether, if you feel passionate about only receiving phone calls. That raises the question; who is the Light Phone actually for?

I look forward to trying the Light Phone and learning what it feels like to live a life without fending off the barrage of social media notifications. Realistically, however, if this was a problem someone was passionate about solving, they’d have found a way of turning off the notifications or get a no-features burner phone already.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the design and the general concept, but it can’t be denied that creating a phone is a complicated process. On top of that, the types of radios used in mobile phones is heavily regulated throughout the world. The icing on the “hmm, is this gonna work” cookie: in telecoms R&D and manufacturing, a $400K budget (the amount the company raised from Kickstarter) to bring a product to market is an incredibly daunting prospect.

Either way, Light Phone is an incredibly inspiring company; it takes some serious focus and dedication to bring a complex product in this space from cocktail napkin to brick-and-mortar shops. The company is bringing a fresh pair of eyes to the humble mobile phone, and I’ll be cheering them on from the sidelines.