The biggest supposed trend in electronics over the last few years has been convergence - we would be seeing the phone, the PC, the TV, the music player (etc., etc.) converge into a smaller set of gadgets that do multiple tasks. "everyone" has been talking about this, from Bill Gates to the telcos - try this Google search for an idea of the buzz.
Now along comes this story in Wired, which seeks to throw some cold water on the idea:
Nathan Bales represents a troubling trend for cellular phone carriers. The Kansas City-area countertop installer recently traded in a number of feature-laden phones for a stripped-down model. He said he didn't like using them to surf the internet, rarely took pictures with them and couldn't stand scrolling through seemingly endless menus to get the functions to work.
"I want a phone that is tough and easy to use," said Bales, 30. "I don't want to listen to music with it. I'm not a cyber-savvy guy."
I think the problem extends beyond the non-savvy. I have a camera phone, and I generally like it - it's nice to have a small camera that I can take anywhere. On the other hand, getting the pictures off of it is insane - I have to type in the email address to send to for each pic (there seems to be a way to save and retrieve that, but believe me, it's not obvious). The method I'm presented with for inputting the address is nuts - the default is numeric, as they assumed I'd want to beam my photo to another phone number (never mind that I've never seen that actually work). The second choice isn't alpha-numeric - it's "t9-word". WTF is up with that?
So this weekend, we bought an inexpensive 5 megapixel digital camera. It can store hundreds of pictures (and video), and download via USB. It's smaller than my phone, and takes much better pictures. It's not trying to be two things at once, so it's far easier to use. Hmm. Guess which one I'll be using more of to take pics with? It sounds like I'm not the only one with these issues:
Consumers last year paid $8.6 billion for so-called data applications on their phones, up 86 percent from the year before, according to wireless trade group CTIA.
But they've also shown a growing frustration with how confusing those added features can be. A J.D. Power & Associates survey last year found consumer satisfaction with their mobile devices has declined since 2003, with some of the largest drops linked to user interface for Internet and e-mail services.
Well duhh. Anyone who's tried to type on a phone keypad knows that it's a really horrible way to enter text. Anyone who's thought about the problem knows that making the keypad bigger, in order to fit in a keyboard, is asking for trouble. The keys are still too small to type properly, and the phone gets to be too big to carry comfortably. There's actually a lesson in this quote, for anyone paying attention:
Coffey said the testing is worth it because ease-of-use can be a competitive edge.
"IPod was not the first MP3 player on the market, but once they figured it out (the user interface), they became the predominant one overnight," he said. "Whether you make it a marketing message or not, the public will discover that usability and choose your product over a competitor's."
How many things did the iPod do? Is it trying to be a phone, email device, and media player, or just one of those? Sure, there's the iPod phone - anyone notice just how successful that was? I don't think most people want a brain dead, converged device. Sure, they'll tell market researchers that they do, because ideally, we would all like to carry fewer things in our pockets. Our actual behavior says something different though.