Cell phones unusable? A ready-made problem for Apple?

Cell phones unusable? A ready-made problem for Apple?

Summary: Today's cellphones are unusable. Don't believe me (or my bitchin' and complaining about the latest greatest Treo)?

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TOPICS: Mobility
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Today's cellphones are unusable. Don't believe me (or my bitchin' and complaining about the latest greatest Treo)? Then check out this story on the Discovery Channel's Web site (found it by way of Stephen O'Grady... Who says no one reads link blogs?):

Most cell phone customers don't use the camera, email, or gaming options offered by their wireless providers. According a survey by JD Power and Associates, most are satisfied when they can simply place a call efficiently....The organization surveyed 18,740 wireless users who've had their current cell phone for less than two years. While overall satisfaction was up four per cent from 2005, most people said that the physical design of their phones and the ease-of-use are the most important factors for positive user experiences.

Amen.  And the more complex these phones get, the less usable they seem to become (as evidenced by my Treo, which is supposed to represent years of ingenuity and thinking in handset design). 

Will the very latest -- the Motorola Q -- get it right? I'm hoping to lay my hands on one soon and will report the results back to you once I do (here's what I'll be looking for).  But, because of the software it runs, the Q is such a close kissing cousin to other Windows Mobile-based devices that it remains to be seen how much of a difference that it's unique industrial design can make. After all, with only limited control over a key part of the phone -- the operating system -- there's only so much any hardware manufacturer can do to revolutionize handsets compared to a company that has complete control over both the operating system and the hardware.

This is why overcoming the cellphone usability dilemma seems like a ready-made problem for the usability folks at Apple -- a company that has routinely, over the years, redefined what it means to be usable; a company that keeps tight control over both the hardware and software.   If and when Apple comes out with a phone (and it's rumored to be doing so), my expectation is that it will represent a quantum difference, if not a leap, in the way people interact with phones. 

If the company is doing a phone, my guess is that it's getting the personal oversight of CEO Steve Jobs. It's the kind of product that he wouldn't let out the door unless it's the sort of gamechanger the world has come to expect from an outfit like Apple. 

The only downside to such a device, if it happens to also be an iTunes client, is that it will include Apple's proprietary digital rights management (DRM) technology in it.  I won't go on one of my DRM rants right now (you can go here for a bunch of those), but the bottom line is that it's too easy to develop a dependency on proprietary DRM (Apple's, or anybody else's) given the way it works behind the scenes of your technology.  And once you've developed that dependency, a trainwreck like this one will come your way (especially if you decide to ween yourself off that dependency).   Speaking of such trainwrecks, in an attempt to better educate the world on the sorts of trainwrecks that proprietary DRM can lead to, the list I started on del.icio.us is in fact getting contributions from others.  If you have a real-life example of a DRM trainwreck, post it there under the tag DRMtrainwrecks for the world to see (here's the del.icio.us how-to if you're new to it).

Topic: Mobility

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11 comments
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  • The 700p is better not perfect

    Agree totally on the 700w buttons but they reconfigured the buttons and the center button is "better" on the 700p

    While it is far from perfect the entire "smartphone-PDA" genre could use Apples engineering talent- however a mis step for Apple would not be good. The bar for perfection is set so high that missing it is easy- and this is a tough nut to crack

    PS. WHat would make the 700p MUCH better is the fact that Palm OS does not have a simple DELETE button. If you want to delete a contact or file you have to press 3 buttons- stupid.
    dean@...
  • I can't even read the screen of my new phone!

    I use cell phones to make calls, and read the SMS spam I get. That's it. My old phone died a while ago.
    I bought a new Nokia phone, and as soon as I got it out of the shop realised that the color display is unreadable in sunlight! If you want to use the phone you have to find a shady spot just to be sure you have unlocked it! Give me the old Monochrome screen anyday. Unfortunately, the are no longer sold, and batteries for old phones are almost impossible to get.
    My REAL peeve is that none of the phone manufacturers supply smart chargers with their phones. leave it plugged into the charger for 24 Hrs and the battery is permanently damaged!

    Phil_S
    Dreamer.fithp
    • Smart charger?

      You shouldn't have a problem with leaving a cell phone into the charger; cell phones now have circuitry either in the battery or in the phone itself to stop charging automatically when it is completed. You don't get a smart charger because you're not supposed to need one.
      anythingbutmine0
    • Old Phone Batteries...

      [b]Give me the old Monochrome screen anyday. Unfortunately, the are no longer sold, and batteries for old phones are almost impossible to get.[/b]

      Have you checked on eBay? You'd be surprised at what you can find on there. There are all manner of outfits on there that sell all manner of accessories and batteries for just about any phone you can think of.
      Wolfie2K3
  • "I am not a Phone, I am a Computer Being !!"

    Just as in Elephant Man, just hear the Q Complaint or Nokia NSeries, SonyEricssion PSeries...

    One of the main reason people don't use the features is that they are told to buy "Phones" ! Do you listen to music on a Toothbrush ? Or play video on a typewriter ?

    This machines are actually multipurpose computers, new kind from the Desktop/Laptop but Computers anyway, that is the only product that feels natively multi purpose in people's mind.

    May Apple listen to you, David, but not to make an iPhone BUT an "iMac Nano" i.e a Nano handheld computer centered around a new metaphor (Contact, Media, IO Devices)i.e eating the UMPC "Desktop-in-a-pocket" bottom-up !

    Let's hope.
    JulienBoyreau
  • Churn is a problem

    With Cell telcos offering a NEW phone every 2 years - and those are NEVER "backward compatible" with previous GUIs, the problem is one of their own making. If a GUI was complicated - yet it carried over to new models, it MIGHT be worthwhile to learn.
    Roger Ramjet
  • Too complicated now....

    I buy a phone to make phone calls. If I want a camera, I'll buy one. If I want an mp3 player, I'll buy one. If I want to play games, I'll buy a game console.

    Todays phones are almost useless due to the complexity of these new devices. I want a simple phone to make phone calls. They just don't exist anymore.
    linux_for_me
  • Phone cameras are complete gimmicks

    A camera on a phone has virtually no purpose. They are too bad quality to print or even view on a screen other than the phone in most cases. They are very annoying especially when i am at school people take random photos and then laugh at the expression you have. I don't know anyone who uses one seriously. They are pretty expensive as well.
    quantumstate
  • I hate my phone

    I hate my Kyocera LG. If I'm not extremetly careful when I pick it up, I find that I've accidentally pressed one of several little external buttons, and that has put in in some "mode" or another. If I carry it in my pocket, a coin or key can press those buttons, with the same effect. I never wanted to have to learn about these features, especially while I'm busy with some urgent business!
    "Manner Mode" seems not even to be set/un-set through the menus. You have to know which key to press and hold. Is seems rather easy to set this mode ON by accident. I had to hunt down the thick instruction book for the phone to un-set this annoying (debilitating) little feature.
    I am sick and tired of my phone sabotaging me as I attempt to live a normal life. The designers of this phone should have something very unpleasant done to them.
    doncowdrey
    • I hate my phone also

      I have a Samsung 640 & I hate it! I have a similar problem with buttons on the outside! I can't use the phone at home ( in spite of compaining about it to Sprint for over a year) Even in town it's not really a very useable phone.
      richandbarb@...
  • Usable cell phones were bad business for Nokia

    I still use my Nokia 6310i with the classic candy bar shape, 10 days battery life, 500 names memory and good call reception. No MP3, camera, color screen or sexy logos, but solid build quality. Nokia stopped selling them without offering an adequate replacement because they weren't being upgraded often enough! Business people were canny enough to realise that here was the phone that did what was needed as well as it could be done, so decided not to upgrade any more.
    The current "fashion-led" phones are flimsy and quick to become obsolete. That is obviously better for the phone manufacturers, but not so good for the consumer. Recently a major retailer (CPW) in the UK had 5,000 refurbished 6310is for sale - they sold out within hours. That says it all.
    So if Apple can reinvent the 6310i, with their own inimitable minimalist styling, then I would certainly be keen to buy one.
    johnm41