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Old 07-22-2006, 09:13 AM   #1
Bob Russell
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Why are smartphones disappointing?

Smartphone were supposed to take over the world. Analysts were saying that people would have their lives revolutionized by the capabilities of smartphones that are with them everywhere. Mobile communication, web browsing and applications, multimedia and much more. It was a social revolution, right?

Well, in the light of those kinds of predictions, it has been pretty disappointing to look at adoption. Even more disappointing is that ordinary people with smartphones don't seem to use them for much more than voice calls, email, and maybe the address book.

We gadget freaks think about smartphones in terms of all we can do with them. But most people think of them in terms of the headaches they cause and how hard it is to do new things on them.

I can relate. I didn't bother to learn how to use features on my regular cell phone because it wasn't obvious to me, wasn't worth it, and even if I did learn it I wouldn't remember for next time. Those extra features were more of a headache than they were worth. I didn't care enough to overcome the learning hurdle.

On the other hand, with a smartphone, it's like a dream come true with a computer in my hands and so many cool applications. I love the Treo gadget I use so much that I even feel good looking at the keyboard, and reading text on the screen. Reminds me of when the very first PCs were coming out way before the first IBM PC appeared. I was fascinated by one particular model in Popular Electronics, I think, because it wasn't programmed by toggle switches and LEDs on the front panel. It had an actual video monitor and keyboard. I was so fascinated with the idea at the time, that as a geeky kid I would have used a year's allowance just to get it so I could type things and see them show up on the screen like that. It fascinated me whether it was useful or not. And handheld gadgets are like that for me now. Fortunately, they are actually practical and useful at the same time!

But the regular person doesn't get a kick out of holding a handheld device. He or she just sees the potential headaches it will cause if trying to do stuff. And it brings that vulnerable feeling of not knowing what to do if they get stuck or something goes wrong.

Do you remember the first time you picked up a Win Mobile device in a store, never having seen one before in your life. I do. And I couldn't figure out how to use the handwriting input. Come to think of it, I never could make it work well on the WM2003SE device I have, so instead I use fitaly on it all the time. How many regular people on the street are going to care enough to find and buy and learn fitaly. Not many! Same thing for almost anything you do on a handheld. If you don't like gadgets, it's torture. Not only figuring it out and making it work the first time, but then remembering what you are doing and keeping it going.

Think about the first time you have a device crash. The regular person says, "forget this!" Or maybe gives it to a friend to fix for them. Only the half-crazy tech geek like me says they will hard reset it and rebuild it. Maybe a businessman or other person that used the device out of the box with no tweaks or added software. But basically, you've gotta love fiddling and "wasting" time, or you probably will just use your fancy smartphone as a phone and email. And when something goes wrong, you just join the phone throwing competition! I could give so many examples of things that often go wrong, or are hard to do, or are so limited they are almost not worth the effort. But instead, let me just give a simple and common example from a recent experience.

I was on vacation recently, and my friend (who works in an IT-related role) brought along one of the newer Blackberries which was supplied by her company. She brought it with her and mentioned that she has the web on it, but the web is just not worth using on the device so she doesn't bother. I think that just about sums it up right there. It's a pre-installed application, and it's probably even easy to use. But the speed and unfamiliarity and limitations and screen size and keyboard size all conspire to make it worthless to her.

If something as valuable as the web is worthless when already available on a smartphone for an average person with a decent device, how much hope is there for something that has to be set up and fiddled with and even purchased?

When someone makes a smartphone with an mp3 player, video player, news reader, ebook reader, web browser, email, etc that doesn't require you to set anything up, or figure anything out, or fiddle with formats or compatibility issues, and it works almost as well as a dedicated device, THEN you might have smartphones catch on big time.

Or we might see people using these devices more fully when a long, long time passes as people have gradually become accustomed to the technology and the technology is truly user-friendly. We see mp3 players creeping into regular phones. Why not the other features over long periods of time?

Unfortunately, that's unlikely to happen anytime soon because it's much harder than it looks. It will take a while to work out the kinks, and become natural and easy. Both for the users and the phone makers. So maybe that's why people say, like the writer at the Register , "Old technology works best."

This article arose from a topic highlighted in a very intriguing post by Surur, the new writer over at PDA24/7. He's been an active participant in the online community before, and it's great to see him with PDA24/7. Our best wishes to him as he continues his work there!
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Old 07-22-2006, 10:50 AM   #2
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Totally agree Bob- just got a Sony Ericsson m600i. Painful to set up...
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Old 07-22-2006, 11:02 AM   #3
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I had one of the first SmartPhones - the Motorola one.

I'll tell you why I jettisoned it: it couldn't make phone calls! Seriously, I started keeping track, and around 50% of the time when I tried to answer a phone call I got an 'error - cannot connect' message.

I replaced it with a phone with no bells and whistles whatsoever, and it works every time. I'll stay with best of breed devices for the forseeable future.
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Old 07-22-2006, 12:15 PM   #4
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I have a Motorola with a 1 gb transflash removeable card and a capacity for mp3 (they say). Its a hassle to use just to listen to music, and I still have'nt figured out how to input text to the thing. There is nothing in the encyclopedia that comes with It which would help. Which means they don't care what use you would have had for it.

It will stay a phone!!! period.
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Old 07-22-2006, 02:10 PM   #5
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The main reason, IMO, is that non-Smartphones are outpacing Smartphones in terms of new features being added. Many basic phones nowadays have a camera, MP3 player and basic PIM. What is the genuine added value of a Smartphone then? One important advantage is easier texting. OTOH, a usable keyboard makes the device much bigger and I'd like my phone to be as small as possible.
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Old 07-22-2006, 06:01 PM   #6
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I think the main problem with all these little gadgets is, that there is no way to make a device that small really useable using convetnional controls.

You need two hands to use the stylus on the SE smartphones...and try that on the train...you'll never hit whata you're aiming at.
You'll need really revolutionary controls to make these devices useful...but don't ask me how that could be done...direct mind-control or something.

Any kind of input is very cumbersome for most mobile devices these days...
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Old 07-23-2006, 11:26 AM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by CommanderROR
I
Any kind of input is very cumbersome for most mobile devices these days...
You're right. What we need is a new interface from human to digital.
I don't know...brainwave reading maybe ?
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Old 07-23-2006, 12:14 PM   #8
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They need to be easier to set up than the VCR was for Joe Consumer (remember all those flashing 12:00). We have become conditioned for instant gratification, even though our needs and uses are not identical. While manufacturers could create an easier setup, their efforts can be undermined by the carriers in their effort to monetize everything. Further, consumers are fed up with being nickel and dimed for every feature they may want to use, thus not seeing the now unused feature on a featurephone eases any resentment they may have each time they look at the screen.
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Old 07-24-2006, 12:56 AM   #9
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Hello Everyone:

Well, Well, if it is the one and only Dick Tracy; fancy to see you here.

Ladies and Gents, allow me to introduce you to the internet bully.

Let me inform you Dick, that this site is not like Brighthand, you cannot bully people around. Mobileread is a community place, were people treat each other with respect. On this forum, we don't just have 1-3 individuals answering question, everyone is allowed to share and express one's opinion on an equal level. Just in case you didn't know...Alex is the boss around here.

dillon

Last edited by dillon65; 07-24-2006 at 08:12 AM.
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Old 07-24-2006, 02:02 AM   #10
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Which "bullying" reply would that be? You might want to pick your fights elsewhere.
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Old 07-24-2006, 08:14 AM   #11
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Hey: Laurens:

Though, I can appreciate your peace factor. You would be correct. I was not engaging in some sort of fight. I clearly was making a statement nothing more.

dillon

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Old 07-24-2006, 01:44 PM   #12
Laurens
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OK, back on-topic. Just saw this: Who really needs a smartphone? Posted at David Beer's great Software Everywhere blog. Haven't had the time to read it yet, but will do so later tonight.
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