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Lee’s innovation was what Dayton calls “the germ of the idea” for the Ocean’s basic dual-slide form. But the horizontal slider had to be a full QWERTY keyboard–far larger than Lee’s music controller–in order to make messaging and search satisfying experiences. Most mobile gadgets with QWERTY keyboards cram them into a square, with the space bar or Delete key stuck in an unfamiliar place. The large horizontal slider provided more real estate to work with. The Ocean’s designers put the space bar–the most-used button–between the V and the B, so you can hit it with either thumb. The Enter and Delete keys are about where they are on a full-scale keyboard.

But the dual-slide format brought on another problem: no one wanted a device that was too thick. A number pad and a QWERTY keyboard would normally require two sets of springs and hinges–one for each slider. This would tend to fatten the gadget. What’s more, Helio wanted the sliders to be rugged and to have a firm “feel,” like the luxu­rious thwunk of a BMW’s door. “We need to avoid those indeterminate states, when it can slide halfway out, and it is neither fish nor fowl,” Duarte says. The Ocean needed a very special kind of mechanism: a single spring that could not only control hinging action from two directions but impart that hum-to-yourself satisfaction to the keyboard-sliding experience.

Designing the spring required the expertise of ­product-­engineering specialists. Most cellular carriers will hire a manufacturing company–a general contractor, if you will–and accept its solution to a given mechanical problem. Helio had hired Pantech of Seoul, South Korea, to build the phone, but it also hired a small engineering company, Teus of Suwon, South Korea, specifically to solve the hinge problem. Teus’s people came up with something new in the realm of mobile communications: an ingenious triangle-shaped spring that governs the opening and closing of both of the Ocean’s sliders. The triangle simply gets pushed on different sides, depending on which slider is being used. Using one of the sliders feels like pushing something over a little incline and then dropping it firmly down into a locked position. With the design of the spring, Helio was on its way to a device that worked well as both a phone and a messaging device–­without being too fat.

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Credit: Toby Peterson

Tagged: Business

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