Simplicity rules

There is growing evidence that end users are tired of handsets that pack in too many functions at the expense of simplicity.

Tags: 3G
  • E-Mail
By  Roger Field Published  January 12, 2010

When the man credited with inventing the mobile phone says that devices are becoming too complex, it is probably worth listening. The mobile phone might have come a long way since Motorola researcher Martin Cooper, now aged 80, made the first ever wireless call from a Manhattan street corner back in 1973, but it now seems that today's feature-packed phones are causing a certain amount of disillusionment.

Speaking at a recent conference in Madrid, Cooper said many of the latest mobile phones are at risk of trying to do too much. "Whenever you create a universal device that does all things for all people, it does not do any one thing well," he was quoted as saying by AFP news agency. "Our future, I think, is a number of specialist devices that focus on one thing that will improve our lives."

And Cooper is not alone. While those bemoaning the complexity of handsets might once have been labeled luddites or technophobes, there is growing evidence that some handsets are simply trying too hard to be everything to everyone, and failing to offer a sound user experience as a result.

According to a recent survey from US-based research firm In-Stat, most consumers want a handset that offers improved quality in three key areas: improved connectivity, better audio, and simplicity.

"In many cases vendors have been so focused on making complex camera phones, music phones or mobile internet devices, they have lost sight of the fact that phone functionality is mediocre at best," said Frank Dickson, In-Stat analyst.

"How often have we seen someone with a finger in one ear and a cell phone pressed to the other ear, desperately trying to hear a conversation? Our survey responses suggest that there is an opportunity for vendors to develop phones with great audio quality, robust connectivity and antenna features that are simply easy to use."

While this does not mean that people are necessarily turning away from web-enabled devices, it does suggest that phones packed with the latest technology need to be intuitive.

This was a theme that emerged from a recent panel discussion held in Dubai, by advertising agency Draft FCB. The discussion focused on a trend the agency had spotted in the telecoms sector where people seem to want "more but less" from their phones.

For Simon Calvert, global chief planning officer at Draft FCB, the research pointed towards a battle between simplicity and complexity. "There is so much chaos going on in this particular market and we managed to boil it down to a battle between simplicity and complexity. There seems to be this kind of tension between having everything and actually not doing very much with it," he said.

The overriding message from the panel discussion was that phones across the board, whether 2G or 3G, should be intuitive and easy to use, while Calvert also suggested that the end user's desire for "less but more" could also lead to greater segmentation in the handset sector, possibly opening up opportunities for niche handsets for special interests, such as outdoor pursuits.

Manufacturers should also improve the performance of existing features, according to In-Stat. Better displays, audio, HD video, and connectivity will command premiums in the market, while rugged phones will also become more popular, the company said.

While Apple is chief among the manufacturers that seem to have achieved these aims with the iPhone, which has been lauded for its ease of use, the apparent trend for "more but less" comes as a stark reminder that layer upon layer of features is not always everything. Keeping the customer in mind is key at a time when technology often seems capable of tying itself in knots.

Add a Comment

Your display name This field is mandatory

Your e-mail address This field is mandatory (Your e-mail address won't be published)

Security code