In search of the super easy super phone

We like to complain about mobile phone complexity, but secretly we want more features, not fewer

MIT Media Lab founder Nicholas Negroponte railed against complexity in mobile phones, recently, and said that "simplicity is the biggest challenge that handset makers face."

A survey by Opinion Research Corporation found that non-iPhone and non-BlackBerry smart phones are the single most-returned gift during the most recent holiday season; more than one-fifth of them were returned to the store. Why? The top reason was the inability by the customer to understand the setup process.

Returned gadgets are bad enough for the companies that make them, but the survey also found that almost 16 per cent of those polled said that trouble with phone setup "significantly worsened their perception of the company that manufactured the product."

A study conducted last year by the CMO Council's Forum to Advance the Mobile Experience (FAME) discovered a global phenomenon it called "function fatigue." There are just too many mobile phone features that users either don't know how to use or don't want to figure out how to use.

The problem, of course, is that mobile phones are sold -- and bought -- based on capabilities, not on simplicity or the lack of features. They're sold that way because that's what works.

Regardless of what people tell pollsters, mobile phone buyers increasingly demonstrate their preference for feature-rich devices. The fastest-growing segment in the mobile phone handset market, of course, is for so-called smart phones, which is expected by at least one analyst to quadruple worldwide in the next two and a half years.

Something else is happening. As phones get "better," or, at least, more capable, user expectations rise along with it. But lately, it seems, expectations are soaring ahead of what the industry is providing. I don't have any data to prove it, but my own observation is that even the most enthusiastic mobile phone users these days just aren't all that enthusiastic. A lot of would-be upgraders aren't upgrading because they're blase about what's available. And the fact that some users resort to extremes - such as carrying both a BlackBerry and an iPhone - suggest that the industry isn't producing the phone many of us really want.

I think everyone, from inexperienced, non-technical, everyday users to advanced, rabid technophiles, are clamoring for the next leap in smart phone usability. We all want a phone that's superpowerful, does it all, but is brain-dead easy to use.

Can it be done? And, if so, who's likely to do it? Microsoft and its partners? Palm? Apple? Google's Android? European or Asian handset manufacturers?

More really is better

The reason the mobile phone has become the Mother of All Convergence Devices is that a mobile phone is the one gadget you can't live without. A recent study conducted by IT research firm IDC and paid for by Nortel Networks found that most respondents would rather leave their keys and wallet behind than their mobile phones.

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.
Mike Elgan

Mike Elgan

Computerworld
Show Comments

Essentials

Mobile

Exec

Sony WH-1000XM4 Wireless Noise Cancelling Headphones

Learn more >

Budget

Back To Business Guide

Click for more ›

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Tom Pope

Dynabook Portégé X30L-G

Ultimately this laptop has achieved everything I would hope for in a laptop for work, while fitting that into a form factor and weight that is remarkable.

Tom Sellers

MSI P65

This smart laptop was enjoyable to use and great to work on – creating content was super simple.

Lolita Wang

MSI GT76

It really doesn’t get more “gaming laptop” than this.

Jack Jeffries

MSI GS75

As the Maserati or BMW of laptops, it would fit perfectly in the hands of a professional needing firepower under the hood, sophistication and class on the surface, and gaming prowess (sports mode if you will) in between.

Taylor Carr

MSI PS63

The MSI PS63 is an amazing laptop and I would definitely consider buying one in the future.

Christopher Low

Brother RJ-4230B

This small mobile printer is exactly what I need for invoicing and other jobs such as sending fellow tradesman details or step-by-step instructions that I can easily print off from my phone or the Web.

Featured Content

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?