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The Helio designers had wanted to keep the device to about 100 millimeters long by 55 millimeters wide. But in fitting square objects into that area–chips, screens, batteries–they had to square off the round corners, losing the pure pill shape. Eventually, Helio mocked up an advanced version of this revised design–one of several that were made along the way. It had looked fine on paper, but when the prototype came back, everyone knew it was wrong. It just didn’t have the strikingly different pill-shaped form. “It had all the negatives of a pill shape–we couldn’t use the corners–and none of the positives,” Duarte says. So the prototype was tossed out: “We had to redo all of the tools. Those were some painful times.”

Plus, they had to “increase the LCD screen,” as one of the product engineers, S. K. Kim, puts it. Why? “It was actually Sky,” Kim says. The boss decided he wanted a bigger screen–2.4 inches instead of 2.2 inches long. Dayton’s desires could not be engineered away. Nor could the growing demand for power. Generally, the Ocean’s engineers minimized power consumption with software that put functions to sleep; some hardware choices, such as a separate microprocessor for playing music, helped too. But the device needed to endure a full multimedia workout all day–gaming, phoning, and messaging–before requiring a charge, so it was hard to get away with a small battery. All this drove the device toward somewhat larger dimensions: 115 millimeters long, 56 millimeters wide, and 21.9 millimeters thick, bucking the trend toward ever-slimmer devices.

The appearance of bulkiness was a concern to everyone on the team. There could be no sacrifice of function, and no putting the Ocean on a diet. So the engineers sat down to figure out how to make their slightly bloated electronic jackknife appear as thin as an iPod Nano. The Ocean could not be made thinner, but it could be made to look thinner. As the old carpenters’ saying goes: “Paint makes it what it ain’t.” Shininess and hardness can make a device seem larger; Helio chose a soft-touch black paint, partly for its slimming effect and partly for its somewhat minimalist look and slightly rubbery feel.

To further the illusion of slimness, a thin silver band encircles the device, in the middle of the soft black bulk. The eye sees the silvery line; the brain perceives thinness. And as a final touch to make the exterior as sleek and unobtrusive as possible, the buttons were made to appear black when the device was off but to light up when it was on. On the verge of the gadget’s debut in late March, the design team rushed out to make this last-minute change.

Dual-slide inspiration: The Ocean’s dual-slide design was inspired by a dual-sliding device conceived by Helio product-­planning manager Jungyong Lee when he worked at SK Telecom in Korea. In Lee’s Korean gadget, music-player controls popped from the side; in the Ocean, a full horizontal keyboard does the same.

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Credit: Toby Peterson

Tagged: Business

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