#interview – Xperia Z Ultra developers on “the world’s slimmest Full HD smartphone”

Hi everyone – I sat down recently with a few of the brains behind Xperia Z Ultra

I talked with Product Planner, Toshiyuki Ichino; Designer Naoe Kaneta; Colour, Material & Finish designer, Saki Kanada and X-Reality for Mobile developer, Junichi Kosaka.

It’s a highly extensive piece, covering: design, inspiration, creative back-story, key features, inspiration, new Sony screen and video processing tech integration – so, enjoy.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll be taking a closer look at some of the Xperia Z Ultra’s features talked about here – and if there’s anything you’d like to know about Xperia Z Ultra, feel free to drop a comment below.

Ant

Xperia Z Ultra has a large display, with social buzz comparing it to that of a tablet – can you share a little on the creation process & thinking?

1_1Ichino: In the past, the use cases of mobile phones were calls and email. However, recently, functions such as SNS communication, web browsing, as well as the shooting and viewing of photos and videos have become central.

By providing customers with a large screen, while keeping the traditional functions of a mobile phone intact, I think we are exploring the limits of what is considered a “smartphone.”

So, why did you opt for a 6.44-inch display?

Ichino: We began developing the Xperia Z Ultra by looking into a variety of main body sizes. We made lots of different sized prototypes and conducted tests with them by asking various people to hold them and tell us their thoughts. We were searching for a size that would fit well in one’s pocket and feel right when held in one’s hand. We also aimed to strike a balance between body size and design. After much deliberating, the display size that we arrived at was 6.44 inches.

Another potential technique is to decide the size of the display at the beginning of the design process and research how  to build a small body around that device. However, it’s hard to create a design which is comfortable when you hold it in your hand, or fits well in a pocket or a bag when using this technique. I think that the joy of using a smartphone comes from one’s ability to casually carry it various places. We adopted a display size of “6.44 inches” for Xperia Z Ultra because we believe that it is an easy-to-carry size.

Can you tell us a bit about Sony’s development of the waterproof and dust-resistant feature?

Ichino: There are a large number of waterproof and dust resistant models in Japan. Globally speaking, however, there are not many products offering waterproof and dust resistant features. At Sony Mobile, we started marketing waterproof and dust resistant features when the Xperia Z was released in spring, 2013.

To be honest, in the beginning, we were not quite sure if waterproof and dust resistant features would be appreciated in other markets like they are in Japan. On the other hand, we were confident that, once customers tried it, we could give them a sense of security by assuring them that waterproof features will protect their phone on rainy days or near water. We are glad that we have received praise, like, “I can use it in the swimming pool and kitchen without worrying,” from Xperia Z users. We have used this feedback to come up with more, potential, uses for smartphones, such as using them to shoot photos and videos under water.

Xperia Z Ultra has a higher level of waterproofing than Xperia Z. I hope customers will take advantage of these waterproof and dust resistant features and use their smartphones in wet environments, just like they would anywhere else. If it gets dirty, you can even clean it by rinsing the phone off with water.

Much of the reaction has noticed Xperia Z Ultra shares Sony’s OmniBalance design, first seen in Xperia Z…

Kaneta: Xperia Z Ultra uses the same OmniBalance design as the rest of the Xperia Z series. It’s a symmetrical design which allows users to hold it in a variety of ways and keeps its beautiful design elements visible at all angles.

4-1Xperia Z Ultra was designed to appear as a “slate.” In order to achieve this effect, we used aluminum on the sides of the phone and glass on the front (including the LCD) as well as the back. These aluminum side plates increased the phone’s sturdiness and allowed us to achieve a comfortable width and premium, slim design. The phone is only 6.5 mm thick and 92mm wide, practically the same size as a passport.

We aimed for a design that focuses the user’s attention on the content being shown on the phone’s large screen.

There’s also been some chatter about Xperia Z Ultra feeling *even* thinner than its sleek 6.5 mm?

Kaneta: The OmniBalance design can occasionally cause phones to look thicker than they actually are. This is primarily due to the sharp angles the design employs. To reinforce the “slate” design, and accurately represent the lightness (212g) and thinness of Xperia Z Ultra, we created a number of prototypes with different edge angles, and picked the one that fit our criteria the best.

Ultimately, a “slate“ design is a hexahedron consisting of right angles. But if no modifications are made to this shape, the edges would be very sharp and, depending on the angle at which you view it, the phone may appear thicker than it actually is. Removing these sharp corners and making straightly edges, creates variations in the phone’s shape, making it look thin and feel “softer” when you hold it.

Kanada: I would also like to point out that every detail, including the texture of aluminum plates and aluminum power button, was designed to enhance the high-quality look and feel of Xperia Z Ultra. You might not believe that these small changes can make a big impact, but we think that these details bring the Xperia Z Ultra’s Omni Balance Design one step closer to perfection.

We used two separate finishes, a sandblasted finish and a hairline finish, to maximize the impact of the Xperia Z Ultra side panels. The soft, rounded feel of the sandblasted finish is contrasted with the sharpness and solidity of the hairline finish, adding a sense of contrast to the phone’s design.

The two finishes also scatter light in different ways, providing the edges with an impressive sheen and enhancing the slim look of Xperia Z Ultra.

Individually, they may seem like insignificant details, but I think their combined effects greatly enhance the power of the OmniBalance Design.

Xperia Z Ultra is available in three colours; white, black, and purple, just as with Xperia Z. Can you talk about the inspiration behind the colour-scheming?

Kanada: We carefully thought about the how people would use the phone. We were inspired by beautiful moments in nature such as, incredible landscapes.1_3

The pure black colour of the glass is expressing the quietness of midnight.  We designed the aluminum side panels with a tinted bluish black  imagining the surface of the sea, lit up by moonlight.

This soft and gentle white represents the colour of snow in the sunshine.  The shining silver aluminum frame adds a sense of tension as well as harmony.

Purple, is the color of twilight.  The sky dresses up elegantly at this time. It is a magical hour.  The colour of the side panel is bit shinier creating a contrast to enhance the colour’s elegance.

We have also slightly increased the brightness of the colours used on the side panels. I think that you’ll enjoy watching how the colours change depending on the angle you hold the phone at.

What experience does “X-Reality for mobile” offer?

6Kosaka: “X-Reality for mobile” incorporates the knowhow of the super resolution technology “X-Reality,” in Sony’s BRAVIA TVs, into mobile devices.

X-Reality™ for mobile analyzes each image and reproduces lacking pixels to optimize quality for the sharpest videos. It analyzes elements depending on the scene and adjusts them based on pattern, outline and colour composition. It strengthens subtle patterns and accurately portrays their detailed feel, as well as reinforces bold outlines. It also enhances colour composition, vividly reproducing hard-to-display natural colours

You mean “X-Reality for mobile” can recreate the data that was once there?

Kosaka: “X-Reality for mobile” is based on the “X-Reality,” incorporated into Sony’s BRAVIA TVs. However, it is unrealistic to use the exact same video processing chip found LCD TVs in a smartphone for various reasons such as power consumption. The distance that users view smartphones at also differs significantly from LCD TVs. This is why we developed and incorporated a super resolution processing technology, unique to Sony, that is ideal for smartphones including our new Xperia Z Ultra.

 X-Reality for mobile – on / off comparison

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Please click to enlarge!

 

The super resolution processing of “X-Reality for mobile” analyzes videos one frame at a time, estimating and complementing any lost information. At the same time, it combines suitable video processes for each frame and applies them. Such video process patterns are stored in a database, and the most suitable pattern is selected for each various scene from the database and applied, thereby reproducing video quality infinitely closer to the original.

The super resolution technology, which estimates any lost information from videos and restores it by combining various processes, can be said to be a fruit of Sony’s video technologies. Each and every one of the process patterns stored in the database has been created by an internal development team in Sony, operating on high-performance workstations. By storing complex super resolution processing in a database, “X-Reality for mobile” enables you to enjoy high-quality video reproduction real-time that would otherwise take a few days.

With the adoption of the high-performance Qualcomm® Snapdragon™ 800 quad-core processor for its CPU and graphic chip, Xperia Z Ultra has made it possible to perform super resolution processing that had been difficult to do thus far.

Concurrently, in collaboration with the BRAVIA development team, we have developed the new TRILUMINOS Display for mobile, among others, which can represent the subtle difference in red between sunrise and sunset. Having been able to build close relationships with the internal development team in Sony as part of the collaborative efforts  has played a major role in the realization of “X-Reality for mobile” and the TRILUMINOS Display for mobile.

Xperia Z Ultra offers options for pen, as well as touch input. Not only that, it’s not limited to a specific pen – it can be used with a variety of writing tools including pencils. How was this achieved?

Ichino: We achieved this by improving the capacitance touch input technology we used in Xperia Z and other mobile devices. That’s why a pencil or metallic pen can be used as long as it is conductive.

Pen input enables you to manipulate the Xperia Z Ultra more accurately than with a finger. We also have enhanced the character recognition functions that work perfectly with pen input. You can, for example, select a portion of a photo with pen input, enter an email address, add text, and send a message without letting go of the pen. If you miswrite a character, you can correct it by writing the correct character over the wrong character, or erase it by whisking over it with the pen tip. Xperia Z Ultra’s pen and touch input functions make it easier to write on your phone than on paper.

Searching for a pencil or paper to take notes while making a call is a common, everyday situation. Handwriting is a simple input method that most people have used since childhood. Offering a convenient and comfortable writing experience is a must in order to increase the number of people who write on their smartphone. We have created Xperia Z Ultra to respond to these needs. I hope that the addition of pen input makes more people want to try using the Xperia Z Ultra.

Lastly, how do you want Xperia Z Ultra users to feel when first getting to know the device…

Ichino: A major goal for Xperia is to constantly pursue new experiences and bring them to life, developing the most advanced technologies and proposing uses for them that will improve our lives. I hope that when you get hold of Xperia Z Ultra, you will want to use it to view more videos, read e-books, and write on it like a pocketbook. I’d really like provide people with a new experience.

Kaneta: I hope you’ll feel a sense of excitement. Xperia offers a number of functions that are unique and easy to use. That’s what will make you excited, and keep you coming back. It also has the ability to connect with a variety of devices such as Bluetooth® receivers and headphones. I think that Xperia Z Ultra is a smartphone which you will find more interesting the more you use it. That’s the attractiveness of Xperia.

Kanada: I think that the moment people glance at Xperia Z Ultra, they will feel that it is “fascinating” or “great.” To make it even more fascinating, I want to create designs that customers won’t get tired of no matter how long they look at them, in addition to using colours that make an impact.

Kosaka: I think that one of the joys of using Xperia and other Sony products is that they offer new experiences. In the video field, we have been aiming to offer natural and realistic looking videos for decades. I encourage you to watch a video on the Xperia Z Ultra. I’m sure you will be amazed at the realness of the videos shown on the screen. I’d like to offer the best video experience on a smartphone because it is something that you always have by your side.

Thanks to the group for their time!

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