In these days of ever-smarter smartphones, the debut mobile from Danish design firm Aesir is notable for the features it lacks: a camera, an Internet connection, built-in obsolescence. "Instead of more, we proposed better and longer lasting," says designer Yves Béhar. "It became a way to answer questions like, Why do I need a new phone each year? And why does it have to be complicated?" For answers, Aesir founder Thomas Møller Jensen spent two-plus years gathering an army of materials specialists, engineers, and craftspeople. The result, the AE+Y, has exceptionally clear audio and parts that are fully replaceable ad infinitum. "We want the phone to be as interesting and relevant in 10 years' time as it is today," says Jensen. We peeked at the features underlying the phone's 6,000-euro price. aesir-copenhagen.com
French and Swiss craftspeople who specialize in luxury watches make all of the phone's gold and steel metalwork, using microtools and extensive hand assembly. Miniature metal screws, which are more durable than customary plastic, seal the handset and keys, yet allow technicians to access the phone's innards for later upgrades and repairs.
"Ceramic is used in high-end mobile phones, usually just at the ear pillow," Jensen says. "It's sturdy, light, and scratchproof." But that makes it pricey. The AE+Y opts for a full ceramic handset to increase durability and support longevity. A French company that specializes in polishing watch bracelets — and which invented machinery that exactly mimics the movement of two hands — polishes the phone's metal exterior.
To coax the highest-quality sound out of the phone, considerations ranged from ringtones (Danish-Vietnamese musician Chris Minh Doky composed a bespoke series in the optimal key) to the shape of the phone's speaker holes (they tried three shapes before settling on round). Béhar drew upon his experience designing the Jambox speaker when sketching the phone's audio mechanics.
Instead of being glued on, as is the norm, the AE+Y's crystal sapphire lens slips into the casing, allowing for a narrower phone profile and more secure screen. Like high-end camera lenses, the crystal is coated in a patented, resilient film that allows for an ultraclear display, even in sunlight.
The ceramic antenna's radiation pattern is printed on with metallic silver paste. By choosing ceramic — rather than pure metal — engineers can make the antenna slimmer. That reduces the proximity of nearby metallic components and decreases distortion (a lesson learned from the iPhone 4, when its metallic outer frame wreaked havoc on its reception). The team avoided similar problems with the phone's metallic stripes and speakers by creating an overmolded internal chassis with metal-screw inserts sup-ported by engineering-grade plastic. The solution preserves Béhar's design while still optimizing antenna reception.
Instead of a single piece of plastic substrate, which relies on distortion to trigger the right number, the phone's keypad comprises wholly independent buttons, which ups its ease of use. The buttons run edge to edge, maximizing space, while navigation and scrolling keys sport distinct textures, letting users differentiate them by touch.
A version of this article appeared in the April 2011 issue of Fast Company magazine.