In one of my first segments in this series of real-world takes on Motorola's Q smartphone, I criticized it for the difficulty I had in accessing those company directories that you sometimes navigate when the business your calling has no receptionist on duty. You know, the kind where it asks you to spell the name of the person you're trying to reach? The problem is that, even though the Q's thumb-board has a phone keypad embedded into it, that keypad is missing the letters that go each number. For example, on your typical phone keypad, the letters J,K, and L go with the number 5.
In the case of the Q, as with other smartphones that have QWERTY thumbboard, the buttons are too small to print all of that information on them and, unfortunately, when the device is in "phone" mode, you can't use the regular QWERTY keyboard to generate the letter you want into the phone line. One solution would be make it possible for the end-user to very quickly (since you typically don't have much time) pop-up an image on the display that shows a real phone keypad as a visual guide.
But some of ZDNet's readers thought this criticism was too harsh. One said I was whining. Another said You've got to be kidding. But I remain steadfast in this criticism and here's a better, perhaps more important example of where this design flaw can come up in every day life. Two days ago, my wife was on her way home from work with our two youngest children in the back when her car broke down (about 30 miles from home). The positive terminal in the battery had coroded from the inside out -- something you'd never catch with the naked eye -- and now, the car was dead as a doornail. No power. No heat. Nothing.
Fortunately, we have AAA and they came. It took a while though. Also, fortunately, it wasn't winter. It was late and there was no way to determine if this was a warranty-covered repair or not (If it is, we take it to the dealership. If not, it goes to our normal mechanic or I try to fix it). So, we had AAA tow the car to our house and I decided to deal with it in the morning. After deciding it needed to go to the dealership, the service guy at the local GMC/Pontiac store said to call 1-800-ROADSIDE to get it towed for free. They advertise that phone number in that way so that you won't forget it and so, that when you're in an emergency situation, you won't have to think about it or go looking for some documentation in the glove box in order to get help.
But try figuring out which numbers to press in order to spell out ROADSIDE when there are no letters on the button. It's impossible. Luckily, we weren't in an emergency situation and I was at home where I could use my regular landline phone to figure out how to dial ROADSIDE. But there are lots of phone numbers out there that are advertised in this way. For example, I've seen signs on the side of the highway that say, "In an emergency, dial *SP." SP (for state police) is much easier for some to remember than 77 (what the letters S and P map to on a phone's keypad).
In my opinion, this problem needs to be corrected sooner rather than later. In the meantime, if you have a Q, use its 1.3 megapixel camera to take a picture of a regular phone keypad and then keep that picture in the Q's memory for future reference.
By the way, GM's Roadside assistance definitely sets the bar for customer service. Very friendly. Very accomodating. And immediate follow up to make sure you got taken care of. Well done GM.