Sunday, November 8, 2009

Mobile inventor says today's phones are too complex

My father recently pointed me at this article, perhaps with an element of tongue in cheek as we're currently discussing the issue of getting him a mobile phone, however its a view that is shared by many.  I hear many people say "I just want a phone that makes phone calls".  I think the problem is that the people I refer to end up with the wrong phones.  Lets take a look at two phones at different ends of the market that I've had first hand experience in the last couple of months.

Motorola Q

This is a typical example of a phone that is a terrible phone because it tries to do too much. Until a few weeks ago this was my main device, its problems include terrible battery life, a habit of finding its way into a state where it cannot make or receive calls (resolved by a hard reset), and terrible performance - handing up a call might take 4-5 seconds.  However, it has many other features, including the best predictive text I have ever seen, a web browser that is genuinely usable, and a general ability to be a portable computer which would allow me to action many tasks that I wouldn't be able to do with a normal phone.

Would I recommend this as a phone?  No way.  But I do understand that the attempt to push the boundaries of what a phone can do comes at a price.  There are many phones that suffer from trying to do too much, e.g. Nokia e65, iPhone 2 and 3.

Nokia 1100
Here is an example of the phone that people who "just want a phone that works" should get.  Its functionality list is short - it makes and receives phone calls, sends and receives text messages, and has a phone book.  Other than that, there's not much it does.  The flip-side of this is that it has outstanding battery life, lasting for days on end.  The user experience is as simple as using a cordless phone.  It does all of this flawlessly.

Is this a phone I'd want to use?  No.  Why not?  Because I have become accustomed to having the Internet in my pocket.  Whilst taking my dog for her morning walk I can skim through emails, both personal and work related, to see if there's anything that requires urgent attention.  But for people like my Dad, who just want a phone - don't complain that there's nothing out there that does what you want, buy this phone.

So if there are options to appease both ends of the market, why is the statement of "I just want a phone to be a phone" so common?  The answer is that consumers are lazy.  Phones are typically sold on plans offered by Telcos, and the phones that are pushed are the high margin phones.  Which phones are they?  Certainly not the Nokia 1100.

As to the question of why are we creating phones that keep doing more and more.  Its as simple as the first PCs - can anyone remember the arguments of "I just want a typewriter"?