The Puma Phone was announced at the annual Mobile World Congress event in Spain in February 2010 and was one of the unexpected highlights of the show. It was manufactured by Sagem Wireless, which has been divested to venture capital firm Sofinnova in August 2008. There was some surprise that Sagem Wireless was offering a new phone as many people had incorrectly assumed it was no longer in business. In fact, the company has been quietly working with a number of well-known brands to develop devices and the Puma phone was the first example of this.
The primary aim of the device was to bring Puma’s brand personality to life via a mobile phone. It was targeted at 18 to 30-year-olds who led an active lifestyle while being designed to reflect the DNA of the Puma brand.
It had a built-in GPS receiver as well as a Bike Tracker and a Run Tracker, plus a step counter. Given the branding, it was unsurprising the phone’s focus was on exercise.
At the time, Jochen Zeitz, the Chairman and CEO of Puma, stated that the Puma Phone “was consistent with everything Puma stands for – joy, environmental responsibility and individuality”. He went on to note that he saw the device as a way to “directly connect with the Puma community through services such as live sports feeds and m-commerce”.
Despite appearances that it might be a smartphone, the device used a proprietary software platform which was powered by Myriad (another Sofinnova-backed firm) and it delivered an extremely compelling user experience.
The user interface offered a refreshingly clean approach and there were some nice touches designed to complement features on the phone. These included a counter that showed the charge provided by the solar panel on the back of the phone, increasing in terms of how many messages had been “powered by the sun”.
There were other user-interface elements that were designed to delight users. A good example was the ability to “peel back” the screen to reveal more information. This was one of the first times such a rich experience has been seen on a feature phone. Sagem Wireless noted that the phone was “designed to engage with you emotionally and charm you by the way it works” and that it was created to “talk to you like a friend, not a digital device”.
At the time of launch, there were some bold claims made about the performance of the solar panel, stating that “one hour of sunshine provides power for one hour and 30 minutes of MP3 play or enough energy to send about 30 text messages”. The reality (based on feedback from people that used the device) was these claims were extremely optimistic. Sadly, the solar panel didn’t work all that well, if at all in some cases.
One of the teams working on the PR for the device at Mobile World Congress recalls that the solar panel on the back of the Puma was to be the 'big reveal' and that they had decided to hold this detail back in the teaser marketing they had been doing in the run-up to launch. They figured that there was no better to launch solar charging capability than Barcelona in the Spring, but unfortunately, it snowed that year! Reflecting the later decision by Puma to abandon the project he noted that “I think the mobile phone Gods had it in for the Puma phone from day one!
The packaging of the Puma phone was a standout feature and well ahead of its time. When conceived, it was apparently the world’s most complex one-piece pulp container which was made from 30 per cent recycled newspaper and 70 per cent corrugated cardboard off-cuts. It was then air-dried to minimise the amount of energy used in its production.
The container was embossed with the outline of the device and its accessories such as the cables and headphones. It was wrapped in a minimalist red recycled paper band with the branding and the product name. It went on to win a British Design & Art Direction (D&AD) Gold Award
. The work done on this packaging went on to influence many other phone manufacturers as they sought to make their packaging more environmentally friendly.
The Puma Phone was planned to be available through mobile network operators and selected mobile phone retailers and the Puma online store from June 2010 with a retail price of €399.
With a resistive (rather than capacitive) touch screen and no Wi-Fi, it soon became clear the Puma phone was going to struggle to be competitive with the price point it was targeting. People working on the project at the time also felt it was too innovative in many areas and consequently too costly to produce. This limited sales once it was commercially available and the poor sell-out led to the project's demise.
Although the phone started shipping in the summer of 2010, the international expansion did not come to fruition despite agreements being in place to expand into markets in Central Eastern Europe with numerous operators. Puma eventually cancelled the project, so it never went into full commercial production. The number of units manufactured is disputed, with one person claiming that only around 1000 units were made, however other sources have indicated it was significantly higher.