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Consumers Look For More Utilitarian Cellphones

Zonk posted more than 8 years ago | from the finally-getting-over-the-shiny dept.

562

hdtv writes "The Associated Press has an article about new generation of US consumers, who shun the mobile devices packed with features in favor of simpler devices that get the job done. One would think that as cell phones evolve into cameras, e-mail readers, Web browser and music players, mobile users would be happy with the device that fulfills their digital needs, but according to AP, '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.'"

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one would think? (5, Insightful)

yagu (721525) | more than 8 years ago | (#15419297)

From the slashdot summary:

One would think that as cell phones evolve into cameras, e-mail readers, Web browser and music players, mobile users would be happy with the device that fulfills their digital needs, but according to AP, '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.'"

I, for one, don't think that. I also don't know why one would think that.

There reasons one actually might think otherwise is nicely laid out in the article... As more functions are built in to the mobile phone, by definition the interface gets more complex.

Heck, the desktop metaphor on the PC, ostensibly a device dedicated to the computing experience hasn't come close to perfection. And now the mobile phone industry is foisting increasingly complex devices with ever decreasing reliability on the naive public. And the embedded OS for some of these includes the not-yet-perfected-desktop-metaphor! WTF? It's nice to see there is starting to be some backlash.

Aside from the increasing complexity/decreasing reliability debacle, the mobile phone consortium should never be forgiven for abandoning what they ostensibly started out to provide: mobile phone service. I hate using a cell phone, and I can't stand talking to someone on a cell phone, and I can still easily tell.

It's an interesting industry when one of the advertising campaigns includes the boast: "fewest dropped calls of any mobile phone service". It kind of drives home what the mobile phone industry has failed most at, yet they continue to drive forward with other unnecessary and no more mature offerings.

Part of effective marketing is convincing people they want something they don't really need, or convincing people they need something they don't really want. The mobile phone industry sure has come close to perfecting that.

I don't hold out much hope, I've been using cell phones now for over ten years -- the service has declined, the quality has gotten worse, and somehow the mobile providers couldn't seem to be more proud. I'm glad they're not running airlines.

Re:one would think? (4, Interesting)

mattmacf (901678) | more than 8 years ago | (#15419331)

As more functions are built in to the mobile phone, by definition the interface gets more complex.

I call bullshit. I'm not sure what "definition" you're using, but a given interface does not have to become more complex as functions get added. As a matter of face, added features can simplify a given interface. I can't think of something specific atm, but I'm sure you can find an example or two in Cupertino somewhere.

I think the problem lies in the business model of the service providers rather than general ineptitude on the part of phone makers. I for one would be perfectly happy with a phone with a billion unnecessary gizmos, doodad, and whatnots, as long as there's a way to get them out of sight the minute they become intrusive. However, I think a lot of the clutter of most mobile phones comes from the exorbitant pay-out-the-ass-for-data plans that service providers are making a killing on. I doubt it would be difficult to design a phone interface that provides a "simple" mode that hides all unnecessary or obtrusive functions out of sight. But ask yourself the question, would it be as profitable?

Re:one would think? (1, Insightful)

misleb (129952) | more than 8 years ago | (#15419390)

I call bullshit. I'm not sure what "definition" you're using, but a given interface does not have to become more complex as functions get added. As a matter of face, added features can simplify a given interface.

I think you are confusing functions and features. Certainly features such as voice activated calling (when it works) make a phone easier to use. Functions, on the otherhand, quite often make it more complicated to use... especially if you want to make them easy to access along side other functions. Then you start to add new features to compensate for the extra complexity of the functions.. and the cycle goes on until you have an interface that is many times more difficult to use than it would be if all the phone did was make and recieve calls and store a few numbers.

I can't think of something specific atm, but I'm sure you can find an example or two in Cupertino somewhere.

If by Cupertino, you mean Apple, I would say they are a perfect example of sacrificing functions (but not necessarily features) for simplicity and ease of use. Microsoft, on the other hand, loves to try to load interfaces (and APIs) with all kinds of functions. See the difference?

-matthew

Re:one would think? (3, Insightful)

mattmacf (901678) | more than 8 years ago | (#15419451)

I think you are confusing functions and features. Certainly features such as voice activated calling (when it works) make a phone easier to use. Functions, on the otherhand, quite often make it more complicated to use... especially if you want to make them easy to access along side other functions.

Meh, I think the distinction between functions and features is a semantic one at best. What makes voice activated calling any more of a feature than a function? I realize that adding either can easily lead to UI clutter, but it doesn't necessarily have to. I mention Apple because they seem to do the best job at keeping a UI clean and simple without sacrificing utility. While I'm not sure this is the best example, compare iTunes with something like Windows Media Player. Here we see something that has more features/functions and yet is subjectively much easier to use.

My point is, a phone can make phone calls and store numbers AND include other features without adding to the clutter. The problem is, if these "features" (taking and sending pictures, downloading games and ringtones, etc.) aren't IN YOUR FACE, Joe Sixpack probably isn't going to use them as much as the telcos would like. Like I said, I'm sure a "simple" mode for cell phones would be trivial to implement. Something that strips unnecessary menu items and limits the phone to its essential tasks.

The problem is, if I'm a telco, and your phone makes it easy for my profit margin^W^Wcustomers to disregard or ignore all the flashy widgets I'm trying to sell, I'm not going to bundle your cell phone in any of my contracts. The sad truth is, ultimately, it's not about you getting a solid reliable phone that does the bare minimum. It's about the service providers fattening their wallets and milking you for every penny they can get.

Re:one would think? (2, Insightful)

Mistlefoot (636417) | more than 8 years ago | (#15419341)

I agree. I want a simple mobile phone that can text message. As seemingly does the average consumer. What does service start at for that? About $30/month? Add internet and you're now at $60/month so that I can what?

I am fairly certain that people don't want to pay for phones with features that cost more and more money to use. And how annoying is to have 50% of your phones capabilities 'in the way' when you don't activate them.

Imagine owning a car with a Radio or Cruise Control or whatever useful feature, but having to pay extra to use it. Would you be happy with it or find it cumbersome if you didn't pay that extra? Even in the best circumstances it would be an annoyance.

Re:one would think? (1)

BrokenHalo (565198) | more than 8 years ago | (#15419468)

I want a simple mobile phone that can text message.

Agreed. And I want it to take up much less space in my pocket. I'm sure that would be perfectly possible if they got rid of those crappy cameras and other unnecessary bells and whistles that never get used.

Re:one would think? (1)

timeOday (582209) | more than 8 years ago | (#15419356)

The article certainly fits in nicely with your comment, which goes along with the backlash we see here on slashdot every time a new feature-laden phone comes out.

And yet the one hard piece of data in the article is this:

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.
86 percent increase in a year. What a backlash.

And then there's always the "usability expert," in this case one Roger Entner, who always have to put in their two cents:

"What do (customers) do best on the phone? They talk. What do they do worst? Type. Why is every user interface based on typing?" Entner said.
Wow, what a genius. Except the industry has already been struggling for years to do away with typing. Problem is, nobody has found a better substitute yet. Of course Ertner doesn't suggest one, thus unintentionally answering his own question of why the devices still use keyboards. But there you go.

Re:one would think? (3, Funny)

miro f (944325) | more than 8 years ago | (#15419364)

my girlfriend's parents are looking at buying new mobile phones. One of the ones they are looking at contains (this is true, I'm not making it up):

Ability to print pictures
Adobe Photoshop
a Movie Editor

Although "just make calls" mobile phones still do exist (they're quite cheap, like the 3320, you wouldn't get one with a plan) I find that if I want a feature like bluetooth on my phone, I can't get it without including Adobe Photoshop in the deal.

I think this is proof that the human race is doomed

Re:one would think? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15419400)

You've hit the nail on the head there. The profit margin for these crappy services is wonderful for the mobile telecoms, so they require you to buy the extra crap if you want USEFUL features. Want extra minutes beyond the handful the basic plan gets you? Not without text messaging and a cell phone that has gaming functionality built in (of course, the games are grainy and all cost obscene amounts of money).

Most European plans get it right. Nearly everything with the phone is pay-to-use at time of use. Don't want dippy ringtones, an obscene of minutes, text messaging, chat capabilities, gaming, or crummy versions of software you'll never use? Cool, don't use 'em and you never get charged. You pay for the minutes you use, the messages you send, and the features you activate, nothing extra. American mobile telecoms are so obsessed with making the user bend over and bite the rawhide that we pay huge charges for garbage features.

Re:one would think? (1)

bariswheel (854806) | more than 8 years ago | (#15419446)

The human race is not doomed. The features are fine, they just can't take away from the main functionality of a phone. Pull all the bells and whistles you want, just don't make the interface sluggish slow, etc..

Re:one would think? (3, Funny)

tsa (15680) | more than 8 years ago | (#15419587)

WTF??? I've always dreamt about Adobe Photoshop on my phone. Which model are you talking about? I want it! :-)

Re:one would think? (4, Interesting)

Total_Wimp (564548) | more than 8 years ago | (#15419386)

I love phones packed with as many features as can be packed. I've gotten a series of ever more complex cell phones and I've enjoyed each one more and more.

But guess what, you're right.

I'm not like everyone else. I've realized for a long time that the compromizes I'm willing to make for the features I want are not compromizes very many of my friends or family would be willing to make. I've gottent to the point that I won't even recommend a phone that I personally love if I think that the phone will be too frustrating to the person asking for the recommendation.

So here's the deal. Why can't you have your simple phone AND I have my complex phone? Is there any reason why one of these should be "better" as opposed to "better for you" or "better for me"? I applaud people making their oppinions known to cell phone providers and manufacturers so more simple phones will be offered. All I ask it that you don't tell them to stop offering phones with the great features I want. Really, we can coexist in peace.

TW

Where does complexity lead? (1)

Beryllium Sphere(tm) (193358) | more than 8 years ago | (#15419408)

What happens when you put a device full of complex, half-debugged network-facing code onto the Internet?

Unless the OS does a brilliant job of sandboxing the apps, you have a security nightmare.

Re:one would think? (4, Insightful)

xiphoris (839465) | more than 8 years ago | (#15419456)

Some well-put points. I think the problem is that instead of listening to consumers, they're trying to tell us what we need. Or perhaps they're just listening primarily to the MySpace crowd -- I don't know.

FTA: One would think that as cell phones evolve into cameras, e-mail readers, Web browser and music players, mobile users would be happy with the device that fulfills their digital needs

See, that's the thing. I don't have any digital needs that I want satisfied by a mobile device besides text messaging. And the phone companies seem to think that charging $0.10 per message is still reasonable somehow.

I think the first phone company to start worrying about its customer's needs will be the Google of the phone companies. I mean, seriously, you hear stories about phone companies disabling features on phones they give to customers, such as uploading pictures to one's computer, so as to require them to purchase proprietary services that send the pictures to one's email through the phone network. Sigh. They just don't get it.

Re:one would think? (4, Informative)

grotgrot (451123) | more than 8 years ago | (#15419464)

Incidentally the "fewest dropped calls" thing is a spin on poor coverage. After all a call can't be dropped if you can't make it in the first place! I think one of the biggest problems is how the carriers nickel and dime their customers. For example Verizon Wireless have been trying to prevent getting camera images over a cable and forcing you to do it over the air (for a price). Similarly they arbitrarily remove Bluetooth functionality to prevent users from doing things that VZW can't get paid for each time.

Re:one would think? (4, Insightful)

Tim C (15259) | more than 8 years ago | (#15419517)

It's an interesting industry when one of the advertising campaigns includes the boast: "fewest dropped calls of any mobile phone service". It kind of drives home what the mobile phone industry has failed most at, yet they continue to drive forward with other unnecessary and no more mature offerings.

I never fail to be amazed at the state of the mobile industry in the US, at least as portrayed on sites like this one.

I live in the UK, and I can't remember the last time I had a dropped mobile call that wasn't directly attributed to completely losing phone signal (which at least for me, only ever happens when going underground on the Tube). Add to that some of the ridiculous pricing schemes that seem to be in effect (do you really still pay to *receive* calls?) and it's little wonder that everyons seems so pissed about things.

For a country that (rightly) prides itself on its innovation and technical advancement, you don't half seem to have some things completely wrong...

Re:one would think? (5, Insightful)

Dance_Dance_Karnov (793804) | more than 8 years ago | (#15419565)

england = 50352 sq miles USA = 3537441 sq miles...a little harder to cover.

iWon is slashdotted - here's another AP link (3, Informative)

tepples (727027) | more than 8 years ago | (#15419300)

You may have a better chance of success in RTFA if you get it from Yahoo.com [yahoo.com] .

Correction: Not slashdotted, just bad CSS (2, Informative)

tepples (727027) | more than 8 years ago | (#15419305)

Oops -- it was just a layout problem on iWon, affecting at least the Mozilla-based browser that I use. I saw a blank screen and didn't notice the scrollbar. Page down and I can RTFA.

Just A Phone (4, Insightful)

excelblue (739986) | more than 8 years ago | (#15419307)

The main reason why I have a mobile is so that people can contact me while I'm on the go.

Anything else is extra and I probably don't need it. However, it does contribute to making the phone harder to use, easier to break (less reliable), and more expensive. Why would I want a device with everything in it as a cell phone when all I'm supposed to do is talk with it?

After all, if I want all the extra features, I'd probably go with a PDA anyways. A cell phone only does the job half decently, and the features are just things that I can accidently use and incur a higher phone bill. It's not easy to use all of them, and it just makes it harder to just simply dial a number and go.

Rather be carrying a compact digital camera, a real MP3 player, a real PDA if I really want all those features. After all, those do a way better job at it.

Re:Just A Phone (1)

HillBilly (120575) | more than 8 years ago | (#15419384)

I have a mobile phone which its primary purpurse is to communicate via phone and sms. I also have fm tuner and mp3 player built-in not because I was feature hungry but because it saves pocket space - I don't want to carry another media player such as an ipod around.

Although my phone also has a camera, I rarely use it except for when I see something interesting but other then that it is useless.

Re:Just A Phone (1)

Threni (635302) | more than 8 years ago | (#15419540)

> Although my phone also has a camera, I rarely use it except for when I see
> something interesting but other then that it is useless.

Ditto, except I'd not describe a 2megapixel camera as `useless` because clearly it isn't. I have a `proper` camera too, but I don't always carry that with me, in the same way that I don't always carry my mp3 player or radio. Also, I don't always carry a games console, so it's nice to be able to play games sometimes when I'm on a boring journey. Also, it's nice to be able to read books on it - not a lot, as the screen isn't perfect for that, but it's certainly usable.

I don't know which phones are popular in the States, but the issues raised don't seem to be an issue in the UK or Europe. I can't for the life of me work out why people are equating more features with a lack of ease of use - the interface on my current phone is far better than that on the first mobile phone I had - possibly because this one has a large, colour display and the first one had a 2 link lcd display.

not surprising (5, Insightful)

solistus (556078) | more than 8 years ago | (#15419311)

I've heard many people (including my mother, who is what normal people would call a geek) complain that interfaces are getting too complicated on newer cell phone models. Users are often required to press several buttons and navigate poorly designed menus to perform basic functions like searching an address book. Also, all the silly gadgets they're building into phones these days have a tendency to drain batteries rather quickly. Phones seem to be getting worse and worse at performing the tasks of, well, a phone. My latest flipphone has 3 IM clients, a camera, a few Java apps and tons of other random crap on it, but my old Nokia candybar model was actually better at the main tasks of a cell phone: making and receiving phone calls. Part of the reason why these new features aren't leading to higher customer satisfaction is the plethora of other digital devices many people now have. As not only cell phones but also music players (iPods in particular), sub-notebook computers, hell, even graphing calculators demonstrate, it's pretty trivial to build a whole lot of features into any device; however, most people only need one calendar, one address book, one music player, one camera and so forth. When every digital device tries to do everything, it just gets annoying. I've never used most of the functions on my cell, and neither have a lot of others. I'd rather have a phone that could do nothing but calls and text messages, but performed these tasks well, than my current model, which seems like the bastard child of a phone, a PDA and a camera.

Re:not surprising (2, Insightful)

ItsIllak (95786) | more than 8 years ago | (#15419428)

On the other hand - one of the things that comes with the new features is often new UI innovation



Take for instance the Windows Mobile for Smartphones based phones... To get to an actual phone call I can do any of the following:

  • Dial the number manually and press send
  • Start to dial the number which will be matched from the contacts as I type - select from the decreasing list and press send
  • Start to type in the contacts name in a T9 type way (single press, intelligent alphanumeric matching) - select from decreasing list and press send
  • Click contacts button, find contact and press send, optionally narrowing list by typing all or part of the name


Featurefull phones are not in themselves a bad thing - badly designed UIs are a bad thing - always have been.



See the Fish [youtube.com]

Re:not surprising (1)

dapyx (665882) | more than 8 years ago | (#15419486)

That's not valid for all models: for example, on my Nokia 7260, I have to push exactly one button to get into the address book.

Wireless reception (4, Interesting)

misleb (129952) | more than 8 years ago | (#15419326)

What always annoyed me about the advances in mobile phone technology is that they never really improved reception. They add feature after feature. You can take and send photos. You can browse the internet, but you always manage to lose signal in the worst possible places. I used to live in a large metropolitan area and would regularly lose signal. I lived *inside* Chicago and I could barely get a signal in my own damn apartment. Is it because of the buildings? Maybe it'll never work right.

I say screw all the stupid features. Just give me a phone that just works everywhere. I couldn't care less if it can take pictures, browse the web, or download movie trailers.

-matthew

Re:Wireless reception (1)

EnglishTim (9662) | more than 8 years ago | (#15419379)

I suspect the reason you don't get very good reception is because the manufacturers are unwilling to make large phones with big aerials any more. If size doesn't bother you, some phones still have a sockets for an external aerial...

Re:Wireless reception (2, Informative)

BrokenHalo (565198) | more than 8 years ago | (#15419498)

the manufacturers are unwilling to make large phones with big aerials any more. If size doesn't bother you, some phones still have a sockets for an external aerial...

I would qualify that by suggesting an experiment. My LG U8120 works just as well (wrt both reception and battery-life) if I unscrew the aerial altogether. Which is why I replaced the standard fixture with a little stubby aerial, just to keep crap out of the hole.

Re:Wireless reception (1)

r.brown-bayliss (948623) | more than 8 years ago | (#15419398)

I live in a suburb of a large (1.5 million pop) city... Less than 500 meters, (a bit more than a quter mile) from the local telephone exchange and the cell tower for my phone company...

In my living room I get reception, in my bedroom, I can send and recieev text messages, but not actuall phone calls.

Yes, get the basics sorted out and then give me crapy web browsersr and vidio cameras that I wont use...

Re:Wireless reception (2, Interesting)

ItsIllak (95786) | more than 8 years ago | (#15419417)

To be fair - for the most part that's a function of the transmitters, not the receivers as much! BUT - that said, I remember when I first had a mobile phone having to go out on the street to make calls - Inside most buildings in built up areas is fine now - probably simply a function of more masts and more power though... See the Fish [youtube.com]

Re:Wireless reception (1)

Fire Dragon (146616) | more than 8 years ago | (#15419460)

Just give me a phone that just works everywhere.

Most of the modern phones work everywhere. All they need to have is decent operator. For past 10 years I have been few times on such places on my travels where there werent any coverage. Otherwise most of my phones have worked without problems. At least in Europe and Asia.

Most of the messages here tend to complain about their mobile operator being crappy, others blame operators shortcomings on phones. When browsing mobilephone catalogs, there seems to be model for every need and price range, all you have to do is know what you want and what you are willing to pay for it. And make sure that you aren't tied to some crappy operator.

That's cuz all the simple phones are in...... (1)

schoolsucks (570755) | more than 8 years ago | (#15419328)

they are in the "Pre-Paid" section. Browse through that section, and there are plenty of cell phone which are only that. No camera, email, pda functions or anything complicated. But pre-paid service is a complete rip off.

Re:That's cuz all the simple phones are in...... (4, Interesting)

Arker (91948) | more than 8 years ago | (#15419473)

It is a rip off here in the US, yes. Unbelievable.

In Europe, you can get decent deals, however. Your prepaid service has a good shelf life, unlike here where you simply MUST buy more minutes every month or they cut you off. You don't get charged for receiving calls (caller pays) and in fact with the service I had you actually got a (very) small kickback when someone called you. The prices were reasonable, and I would prepay roughly $60 and not need to worry about it again for 6 months.

When I came back to the US, I went to try and get service and it was an absolute nightmare. They don't want to just sell you bloody phone service, they want to give you a 'free' (read paid for by you, in the fine print, of course) phone that was loaded with all this crap I don't care about, making it far more complex than it needs to be, they want you to pay at least $60-75 every month, and they're very pushy about it. Even after politing refusing this over and over again and finally getting the simple phone service that I wanted, it's $20 a pop, there are connection fees and charges for receiving calls and every sneaky hidden gotcha in the book. That $20 lasts me barely a week, so when all the crap is added up it turns out to be TWELVE times as expensive as the service I was used to. And on top of that, of course, coverage SUCKS. And when I'm in an area with no coverage at all for a few weeks, I come back, and find that my prepaid phone, with a positive balance, has been turned off - apparently because one is required to add money every month whether you're using it or not, or else you lose it.

This was with T-Mobile, who were reputed to have by far the best coverage in the area I was in, by the way. If the others are worse, I don't understand how they stay in business at all.

So I've just packed my phone away. The cellular companies in this company, apparently, aren't interested in offering simple telephone service at a reasonable price. Until they are, I am not interested in them.

and what a timely article this is... (1, Interesting)

bariswheel (854806) | more than 8 years ago | (#15419330)

how timely is this article....

straight from my blog, enjoy:

I accidentally deleted a very important voicemail tonight. I was deleting one completely redundant voicemail (don't get me started on redundant unnecessary 'call me back' messages,) and pressed '7' one too many times, and deleted a message I never got to listen to. It was from an important recruiter.

I called Cingular and asked them whether they had a service for 'presshappy' people like myself to 'undelete' a voicemail in case of an emergency, and was brutally told that once a message is erased it's irretrievable. I kindly asked him to escalate my suggestion of having this capability so that Cingular would separate itself from the boys.

Needless to say, this incident was entirely my fault. But it brought up another issue I've been wrestling with for the last few months and I thought to share:

Today's cell phone technology seems to take away from the fundamental functions and add resource-hog features we don't use on a daily basis. These features drain the battery life dry and qualifies the 'cell phone' to an entity equivalent to a high maintenance girlfriend. How about making a cell phone that retains its battery life as long as possible, can store perhaps 50 phone numbers, has the best signal that that kind of a phone can provide, has a super-fast snappy interface, can easily slip in and out from my pocket jeans without me having to stand up, and still works despite all the abuse a device gets from being carried around with you all day? How about a cell phone you can tap on thrice with the tip of your finger while it's in your pocket to shut it up while sitting in a lecture? Maybe I haven't done my research, but if you find something that fits all that, let me know. I will buy you a beer. I will then buy you another beer. I'm talking Guinness.

My behemoth of a Motorola cell phone can pull these these cute numbers:

* play mp3s
* interface via bluetooth with other devices
* play movies
* download ringtones, like green days' latest song
* take 640*480 pictures, high quality vga pictures and send them to others
* provide me capability to play poker with other people on some proprietary network, along with being able to download other j2me games.

Why did I get such a phone? Amazon gave me $160 cash money (ok it was a rebate) and a free activation plan. Websites like phonescoop and cnet also gave it a rating of 8/10 or better. Maybe I didn't check the right websites. Maybe I didn't spend the extra 6 hours looking for a practical phone.

When are these Telcos going to get it? Or is some potential startup company sitting on a gold mine?

One day, here's hoping that I will have a cell phone that doesn't decide to change its ring style to silent while it sits in my pocket, here's hoping one day we don't have to listen to 40 second prevoicemail messages before leaving a voicemail. Here's hoping we will be able to buy a practical 'cell phone,' and this middle-of-the-road phase will indeed phase away like a bad fart.

baris

Cingular has an undelete command for this case (3, Insightful)

linuxrocks123 (905424) | more than 8 years ago | (#15419359)

I am familiar with the Cingular voice mail service you are describing. If you press '7' one too many times, immediately press '*' (I think; the friendly computer voice tells you if you stay on the line) to undelete the message you just deleted. Don't hang up or press any other buttons, because you only have that one shot at undeletion.

I'm sorry you weren't familiar with this at the time, and I hope this helps in the future.

By the way, I'd be suspicious if a phone company implemented a "feature" that involves routinely keeping backup copies of all its customers' deleted voice mails indefinitely. Is that really what you want?

Re:and what a timely article this is... (1)

Jah-Wren Ryel (80510) | more than 8 years ago | (#15419365)

Needless to say, this incident was entirely my fault.

As one of apparently very few programmers with an active interest in human interface design, I beg to differ. I believe that there is no such thing as "human error" when dealing with a computing device. You did not intend to permanently delete that voicemail message, but the system did it anyway.

To me, that indicates a failure in the design of the user interface, not a failure on your part. Ultimately, computers should be DWIM - do what I mean - but failing that, interfaces should not impose irrevocable consquences on the user unless there is just absolutely no other way to do it.

In the case of accidental deletions, we've already come up with a workable metaphor - the trash can, from which the deletion can be retrieved until the trash is either manually "emptied" or overflows and you get a FIFO behaviour on older deletions becoming permanent.

Ain't no reason a voice-mail system can't have a similar interface. Chances are, the UI designers could prevent most such accidental deletions up front at their level, but that they have not done a very good job with that either.

Re:and what a timely article this is... (1)

EvilIdler (21087) | more than 8 years ago | (#15419434)

I'm also a programmer with interest in making interfaces helpful,
and I agree. Rather than just deleting at the press of ONE button, there
should be either confirmation with a different one, or a trashcan concept
where messages are actually removed when you hang up, giving you one
final chance to listen to them.

Re:and what a timely article this is... (1)

NormalVisual (565491) | more than 8 years ago | (#15419435)

I believe that there is no such thing as "human error" when dealing with a computing device.

I'm not sure I'd go so far as to say that, but it seems reasonable that a voicemail system should ask for confirmation before deleting an as-yet-unheard message, because sometimes you'll find yourself needing to delete multiple messages and it's just too easy to do what the parent poster did.

It's rather like those poorly-designed vending machines that have numeric identifiers for the items inside - the item you want is number "77", but you end up getting item "45" because you were still subconsciously thinking about the $.45 you just put in to buy the item and punched the buttons before you were aware of what you were doing. Simply using an alphanumeric identifier fixes that for no extra cost.

Re:and what a timely article this is... (1)

AuMatar (183847) | more than 8 years ago | (#15419440)

Totally disagree. Human error exists. You can have 70 popups that ask if you're really sure you want to do something. Someone out there will still be stupid enough to click yes 70 times- thats human error.

Ultimately, unless we're dealing with a bug ALL errors are human errors. A human fucked up- it told the machine to do the wrong thing. We can mitigate common causes and cases, but in the end stupidity has no cure.

DWIM is an absolutely fucktarded idea. The problem with it is WIM is not WYM- what I mean is not what you mean. If the computer is busy trying to guess what I mean, its going to guess wrong. And there is NOTHING more annoying than that- especially if its irreversible or was time critical. Efforts to try and make computers read your mind are not only futile, they're counter-productive- they make the computer less useful by not having a common interface. With do what I say, I can at least know if I do X, Y will occur. With anything else you're begging for trouble.

As for your trash can metaphor- there's two issues with it. FIrst off, users don't understand it. You wouldn't believe how many people don't know how to clean their trashcan and end up taking it in for repairs when the hard drive fails. If the trashcan auto-deletes, they get confused when files they expected to be in there aren't. Its not a cureall.

Secondly- space costs. Especially on a remote server. Why should Cingular pay for someone else's mistakes? There's nothing in it for them, and it would make their server software more complex and error prone. It seems a lose/lose to them from here.

Re:and what a timely article this is... (1)

bariswheel (854806) | more than 8 years ago | (#15419453)

"Why should Cingular pay for someone else's mistakes? There's nothing in it for them," It would provide incentive to draw more customers, customers who want a backup of all their messages. If a phone company provided a feature where all my messages get sent to my email address in mp3 format, I would go for them. This way I would have an archive of all my messages, and wouldn't need my cell phone to check them. So they would make money, that's what's in it for them.

Re:and what a timely article this is... (1)

AuMatar (183847) | more than 8 years ago | (#15419463)

Then it becomes a simple equation- is # of new customers whom are decided by this feature*average customer bill>price of implementation+cost of maintenance+extra storage+cost of bandwidth and any possible extra frequency needed(for your mp3 idea)

Truthfully, I rather doubt it is. Maintenance and storage would be non-trivial, and its not a feature easily marketed and sold.

Re:and what a timely article this is... (1)

lintux (125434) | more than 8 years ago | (#15419381)

I bought my father a Nokia 1110 [nokia.com] some time ago. It's a real "back-to-basic" telephone. Pretty nice screen (white-on-black, must be attractive to geeks :-D), great battery life (lasts for a week for him, and he does have phonecalls with it every day) and almost no useless features (if you can at least live with the polyphonic ringtones). No colour screen, no camera, no MP3 player, etc. It also lacks GPRS support, which I personally wouldn't like to miss.

Maybe you'll like it, if you can live with the fact that it's from Nokia. I personally don't understand why people all like Nokia so much (I bought one for myself this year, for the first time in ages, because of bad experiences with all other brands in the last few years (fragile things)).. You can say a lot about the software, but if this is user-friendly, please give me back my user-unfriendly Siemens/SonyEricsson, at least it works and it's a bit more consistent.

Re:and what a timely article this is... (1)

bariswheel (854806) | more than 8 years ago | (#15419406)

thanks I'll definitely take a look at the phone. the message I missed by the way was from Google, but my recruiter was understanding of the fact, and things seem to be going well. I reached the final stage, the executive management group reviewed my packet on friday, and I got a thumbs up from my recruiter...I should know the results this tuesday, wish me luck!

Re:and what a timely article this is... (1)

Nick9000 (960604) | more than 8 years ago | (#15419466)

I have the Nokia 1100, which is even more basic. I bought one for my Mother (not the most tech savvy person) and liked it so much I got one for myself, replacing my fancy colour screen/Polyphonic Panasonic. The torch (flashlight, to you Americans) is a great feature.

Re:and what a timely article this is... (1)

Russellkhan (570824) | more than 8 years ago | (#15419385)

For next time: If you delete a message you didn't mean to and you realize it before hanging up, you can press "19" to review deleted messages. Sometimes I've even found that the deleted messages in the review seem to include messages I deleted in previous sessions.

Re:and what a timely article this is... (1)

ItsIllak (95786) | more than 8 years ago | (#15419422)

My current phone network provider has an ability to undelete messages before you hang up on the answering machine service - very handy....

Quite a contrast from my previous system - it was completely voice activated, and generally pretty reliable. However - if someone who knew the system shouted "throw it away" at an inopportune moment - it would cheerfully do so with no further confirmation!

See the Fish [youtube.com]

T-mobile has an "Undelete" feature (1)

All Your Name Are Be (931301) | more than 8 years ago | (#15419432)

T-mobile has a handy "Undelete" feature for people like you.

Nokia 1100 (1)

univgeek (442857) | more than 8 years ago | (#15419524)

I don't actually use this phone. But right now, this is probably the most popular phone in India - it's dirt cheap, has a very simple UI, does nothing more than you ask (except for a LED flash-light), has good battery life, is nearly indestructible and is quite slim and small. It's also reasonably water-proof.

I think the problem in the US is the plethora of standards. If you're going with Verizon or Nextel for instance, you're severely limited in your choice of handsets. Whereas in the rest of the world, with GSM, you have a very very large number of choices.

Panasonic makes the GD55, which is one of the tiniest phones I've ever seen. For a look at what's available go to any European cellphone website, or univercell.in which is an Indian reseller of mobile phones.

Another advantage is the very large second-hand market, which means that you can get previous generation phones with a lower feature-set, dirt-cheap.

Re:Nokia 1100 (1)

bariswheel (854806) | more than 8 years ago | (#15419557)

the 1100 looks very good. I do have GSM/GPRS at this time. I believe I can take my sim card out and install it on any other phone. Will pursue the 1100, thanks for the tip.

Re:and what a timely article this is... (1)

talksinmaths (199235) | more than 8 years ago | (#15419559)

I called Cingular and asked them whether they had a service for 'presshappy' people like myself to 'undelete' a voicemail in case of an emergency, and was brutally told that once a message is erased it's irretrievable.

Why couldn't Cingular have just arranged to have the NSA provide you one of their 'backups'?

My uncool, simple phone (3, Insightful)

sunwukong (412560) | more than 8 years ago | (#15419335)

I picked a Motorola V180 for the following features:

- great battery life (easily a week with regular use)
- colour screen
- small screen on the outer shell
- cheap (a few generations behind)
- NO CAMERA (so there'd be fewer objections to its presence on client sites)

It seems to be as good a flip phone as you can get without having a camera.

Re:My uncool, simple phone (1)

Osty (16825) | more than 8 years ago | (#15419383)

I picked a Motorola V180 for the following features: ... It seems to be as good a flip phone as you can get without having a camera.

Meh. I'm still happy with my 5 year old Motorola V60i [motorola.com] . Monochrome screen, great battery life, small screen on the outside (shows me who's calling, or the current time), so cheap [ebay.com] you'll probably not even be able to get it from your provider, no camera. It's also a tri-band GSM phone, which means you'll be able to use it just about anywhere in the world.

I could go even more basic, as the v60i does have some games and internet stuff (which I don't use, and you won't even know it's there if you don't scroll most of the way down the menu), but then you're into non-flip phone territory. My battery's going to give out soon (5 years on the same battery is pretty damned good), but I'm going to just replace the battery and not the phone. In fact, the only way I will ever upgrade to a different phone is if this one physically stops working and I can no longer get another v60i (unlikely, given ebay), or all wireless providers switch to some new technology that prevents a tri-band GSM phone from working.

Re:My uncool, simple phone (1)

DingerX (847589) | more than 8 years ago | (#15419394)

My v.171, even cheaper than yours:

-cheap
-NO CAMERA, no ridiculous frilles.
-Crappy battery life (two and a half days if I don't use the phone). Incidentally, this model gets advertised as having an "extreme battery" and long life.
-If you enter PIN too fast on startup, fails to logon, reboots (must reenter pin).
-When battery is low, emits an annoying beep every minute. This beep bypasses the ringer settings, so if you're in a meeting and have the ringer set to vibrate or silent, it will beep at you anyway. After all, its needs are more important than anything else.
-color screen, which largely serves to force these animations of some kid skateboarding or spraying graffitti, implying that only prepubescent kids should have a phone this cheap

-Even with clamshell design, it could be a little bigger. I don't need no handsfree kid, but it would be nice to cradle the thing against my shoulder without pulling my neck out.

So there you have it. You want a cheap, functional phone, they sell you one with a couple of lethal bugs. Then, because you don't want all those fancy toys, they specify a tiny battery, tethering you to frequent recharges, just as if you had been downloading 3G pr0n all the time. Finally, they keep it smaller than it needs to be.

Useful VS flashy (1)

phorm (591458) | more than 8 years ago | (#15419337)

Well, I for one welcome 'useful' features on my phone, so long as they don't compromise the usability or quality of the primary function (to be a phone).

The last thing I need it to be is an mp3-player and/or TV and further drain my battery. Ringtones I'm somewhat in-between with... the nice thing about polyphonics is at least you can tell your phone apart from others of the same make (it was quite annoying back in the day when you'd have 3 people with the same ringer).

Other features do come in useful for me as well... but aren't 100% necessary. The ability to stick calendar items and/or up to 3 alarm ringers is great. My phone travels with me almost everywhere, so on the go it's my alarm clock, and my reminder when I might otherwise miss an important event. Not a necessary phone, but a convenient one, and ones that make more sense than video games, television, or other such things (the mp3 player I could see being semi-convenient for those times when I decide to run off for a random bit of exercise, etc, but it's just also a battery drain).

Marketing gone mad (1)

WoodstockJeff (568111) | more than 8 years ago | (#15419345)

Yep, it's just a case of marketing getting what it wants to sell, rather than customers getting what they want to buy.

Personally, I don't want text messaging, so I don't pay for it... but, then again, I do, because Sprint won't turn it off, so people send me text messages at a cost of $0.10 each, because I don't have a "text messaging plan". And they charge that even when it's a spam message. Then only control I have over TM is whether or not I send one - there's no control over whether or not I get them.

I don't want to browse internet via the phone, but they decided I needed to have IP services enabled, so they can send me software updates... to improve the browsing and text messaging capabilities I don't want, and potentially allow a virus in. Sunday at 0000 CDT, my phone started bleeping at me. When it starts making noise at that time of night, it damn well better be because someone needs immediate assistance.... but, no, it was telling me about the latest TM update, which I wasn't asked if I wanted until after it installed it.

When I eventually need to replace my old phone, I'll be hard-pressed to find a phone. They don't sell those anymore, for the most part. Lots of things with phone features, but no phones...

Re:Marketing gone mad (1)

miro f (944325) | more than 8 years ago | (#15419370)

look for the nokia 3320... I'm sure you can find it somewhere...

Re:Marketing gone mad (1)

trickonion (943942) | more than 8 years ago | (#15419489)

Sprint will in fact turn off text messaging if you ask (just call). And you can enable net guard to disable vision, the updates however I have no solution for.

Nokia 1600 (2, Interesting)

hotzeyboy (725567) | more than 8 years ago | (#15419346)

I have a (gsm) nokia 1600 [nokia.com] .
It is probably the best mobile phone I have ever owned, for the following reasons:
-It was cheap AU$99 outright,probably cheaper now, I don't worry too much about dropping or breaking it.
-It has a nice colourful display that is easy to read.
-It has a reasonable form factor, not tiny and not huge, not heavy and not too light.
-It can send sms.
-It can make phone calls.
-It has a digital clock.
-It can remember important dates and meetings.
-The battery lasts *for ever* with the right settings. I find myself recharging it less than once a week.
-Even my mother can use the interface.

It does have a few negatives
-The keys feel a bit cheap
-Ocasionally when I go on a train(subway), it loses its connection with vodafone, and I have to turn it off and on. (Probably a firmware bug)
-Cannot add ringtones/skins/java games (who cares?)
-The default settings use more battery than is neccesary
I have owned phones before that were crammed with features (NGAGE anyone?) and I was never as happy with them as I am with this phone. The complete lack of advanced features is it's greatest strength.

Generation? (1)

Council (514577) | more than 8 years ago | (#15419347)

Yes, it's a whole new generation of customers since ages ago, in 2003.

Seriously, I want a phone that dials numbers and lets me talk to people. It should ring, vibrate, and tell me when I missed some calls. I can actually see the utility in having a camera in it as well, but that's just because I feel the need to carry some kind of camera with me and it's either that or as a separate keychain device.

For the other stuff, I will use an ultraportable laptop/PDA.

That's because they do it badly. (1)

FlynnMP3 (33498) | more than 8 years ago | (#15419349)

Poeple wouldn't mind so much if it did all those things well. As it is now, the extra functions are merely toys and hardly funtional. In a lot of cases, businesses are putting the cabash on these picture phones. Theatures don't want picture phones either. Though I believe that's just paranoia since the so called quality of the pictures from a phone are dubious at best in such low lighting conditions.

If any cell phone makers are reading, here is my request: Make a phone that has an excellent PIM with multiple (at least 4) numbers and emails for contacts, with multiple addresses (at least 3) that is accessable from any mode of operation on the phone. Also let us manage rings in such a way that we can program it based on a calendar. Either repeating daily, weekly, monthly, you get the idea. Give the ability to have complete control over the ring. In addition, every cell phone maker should put in the ability to lock the outside buttons to not respond when desired. You know, for those times you have the phone in your pocket or in a less than ideal location (not on the hip clip like most think we need to have).

Thanks.
Yours Truly,

A frustrated cell phone owner.

Re:That's because they do it badly. (1)

ItsIllak (95786) | more than 8 years ago | (#15419431)

Seriously - have you looked for such a phone? The Windows Mobile based devices have contact databases that are very much like Windows Outlook. Many addresses - many phone numbers, dates of birth, etc.etc.etc... Of course, for a few generations of phones they've been improving in this regard - just don't try to save names to your SIM (and make sure you can sync it with your favourite desktop PIM!)


See the Fish [youtube.com]

Re:That's because they do it badly. (1)

DingerX (847589) | more than 8 years ago | (#15419471)

actually, most phones have a keyboard lock feature. They usually involve pressing a sequence of keys. Although, the last candybar phone I had (cough siemens) decided that a sequence of keys was too complicated, and made it one key, the # key sitting in the corner. Pure genius. I'd walk into work, and find my boss had been on the phone with me for five minutes.

Thinking more about this topic, the fundamental problem is clear from the article itself. The debate is between Cell phone manufacturers and service providers, not between those two and the consumer. The question that's being asked is "How can the manufacturers make these services more appealing so our consumers will use them more?" What's ignored is that a good deal (but alas, not all) of the interface problems caused by these "next-gen" wonders are due to requirements of service providers.

A phone with bluetooth? Okay, but better put in a way that we can prevent users from downloading pictures directly to their computer. They need to pay by the kilobyte to send it through the mobile phone network.

Internet Access at 1 cent/kilobyte? Great! But let's make sure they use it -- wire that spare button on the keyboard to automatically load the browser; and set the homepage to our 50kb site!

Oh, and ringtones! Yes! Ringtones! Can we get that with double-dawg DRM?

It's nice to see people noticing (1)

Jason1729 (561790) | more than 8 years ago | (#15419352)

I'm still using my 5 year old Nokia 5100. I do like the look of the tiny clam shell phones, but they're too bloated with crappy features to be usable. There's no phone on the market now I've seen that I'd trade my old nokia for.

feature creep (1)

alfs boner (963844) | more than 8 years ago | (#15419353)

Didn't Motorola CEO get kicked out because he said, in essence: "concentrate on quality that's obviously suffering right now, and not race for features"?

I think in the current market there is always race for features. More, more more and more. Until some complaint gets too loud and bites the company in the ass. Then fixing it becomes a future as well ("Our dialer is now better than ever").

I found it interesting how Microsoft acted back in the day. They bloated their software with features, many many features, to beat the feature list of the competitor. Well, so what that it crashed constantly, so what that it didn't do the job that well. (sarcasm). For some reason, it's still around...

That's what my computer's for. (1)

vethia (900978) | more than 8 years ago | (#15419357)

The worst part is that even the older-model, simpler cellphones are no longer an option because they can't be used with new types of service. I had an older Motorola flip phone that sent and received calls and the occasional text message through a simple, green-screen menu interface. No games, no Internet, certainly no camera. It was great, but when my contract was up for renewal, AT&T told me I had to get a new phone in order to continue using their service; one with GSM(?) capability. Naturally, all of the phones capable of performing with the new system were full of gadgets and applications that were no more than unnecessary clutter. They didn't even come with a simple telephone-style ring. I hated every one of them, and when my contract expired again, I didn't bother renewing.

Sure, I live in America, and the consumer model here seems to be "more is more"--but if the companies gave it a shot, I think they'd find a lot of people who are happier with simpler devices, and not just the technologically challenged. I'm a geek, but I don't need a cellphone to browse the internet and play music. That's what my computer's for.

I'm the Opposite (4, Insightful)

DavidD_CA (750156) | more than 8 years ago | (#15419368)

Why can't I buy a device that has freakin' everything? I'm serious, too.

I want it to be a phone first, PDA second, and all the extras right after that. I want MP3s, FM radio, a decent camera (not a 5MP Nikon, but certainly not the crappy one I have now), bluetooth, WiFi, VoIP, and Windows Mobile 5.

Is that too much to ask?

Re:I'm the Opposite (3, Insightful)

DingerX (847589) | more than 8 years ago | (#15419410)

Yes, yes it is too much to ask. Convergence is a myth, get over it.

What you want is a tablet PC with a GSM card and a bluetooth headset.

Re:I'm the Opposite (1)

Justin205 (662116) | more than 8 years ago | (#15419425)

You can get most of that, if you're willing to sacrifice battery life. One of the HP smartphones or perhaps the Treo 700w do most of those things you mentioned, minus (as far as I know) the FM radio, and perhaps the decent camera (depending on how good you want it to be).

Personally I'd be happy if I could get a phone with a monochrome screen (don't need colour), Bluetooth (for connecting to my Palm T|X where I keep most important data), and very long battery life. Skip the camera, the web browsing, the downloading of extra things I don't need, the games, and even skip the text messaging. Just give me a phone, Bluetooth, and a damn good battery.

just the basics (1)

alphafoo (319930) | more than 8 years ago | (#15419372)

About a year ago I was talking with an engineer from Kyocera's cell phone group and I told him, hey, I would love to have just the simplest of simple phones. It's shaped like a little pencil and has no keypad-- you just twist it to dial one of your presets. Little LED status display running up the side. Syncs with the address book. No browser, no IM, no SMS, no Java games, no calendar, no address book, no MP3 player, no photo/movie viewer. And for the love of all that is good in this world, no crappy camera that takes grainy photos that make it look like it's 1867. This device would just receive calls and allow me to easily contact a handful of people. Small, light, fits in any pocket. Does what I want most of the time. 80/20 rule.

"We could build that, but I'm telling you, nobody wants that," he said. Well, I want it.

Would you want it?

Re:just the basics (1)

NormalVisual (565491) | more than 8 years ago | (#15419474)

Awesome idea. Hey Kyocera - I'd sign on too. A phone with that kind of form factor would be a lot easier to carry around than having something stuck to my belt or being an uncomfortable brick in my pocket. Stick a USB port on the end so you can plug it directly into your PC to sync it, and it's pretty much a perfect product.

Re:just the basics (1)

Dr. Ion (169741) | more than 8 years ago | (#15419490)

You almost understood him correctly. The full answer is
"I'm telling you, no CARRIER (network provider) wants that".

And that, alphafoo, is who Kyocera sells phones to. Did you buy your phone from Kyocera? No, you did not. You bought it from Sprint, or Cingular, or Verizon..

Of course you want it, but.. Do they want you to have a simple phone that does nothing but make calls and talk on the phone? Of course not. There's no "value add" or "ARPU" upsell there..

Think about it.

Re:just the basics (1)

alienmole (15522) | more than 8 years ago | (#15419492)

I would buy one of those on one condition: that there was some reasonably convenient way to dial numbers other than the presets. Either support using the twister to enter numbers, or have it use voice recognition, which is probably good enough for dialing phone numbers.

Re:just the basics (1)

Jack Schitt (649756) | more than 8 years ago | (#15419501)

I only have one additional feature to your phone if I were to have it. Yes it does detract slightly from the absolute definition of minimalist (which, btw, would be to go WITHOUT a phone), but I still want to keep it within the realm of 'phone':

Don't eliminate the dial pad.

Why?

Say you get a voicemail: 'Dude, the server's down and it took the pbx with it. Call me at $some_other_number asap.'

A phone should always have all of the following features:
Microphone (other party can hear you)
Speaker (you can hear other party)
Dial pad (you can call other party)
Some means of answering the phone (duh)
Some means of disconnecting (duh, possibly same button as above)
Some indicator of an incoming call (audible/visual/tactile)

Additionally recommended features:
Display (see who you're calling, what numbers you've entered, etc)
Contact list (attach names to numbers)
Clock (see what time/date it is [most commonly used non-network specific feature])

This is the phone I want to see listed as the $29.99 phone that comes free with either a prepaid account or most service plans.

You need sms? Call the service provided 800 number for that.
You need a camera? Buy a camera.
You need bluetooth? Why?
Headset? Speaker has headphone jack.
MP3? iPod.
You need the most possible features to one-up your neighbor? Buy a Treo
The trendiest phone? Buy a Razr.
You need additional features later? You got it. The software is stored in a removable chip (similar in style to a SIM card).

Form factor similar to a pencil.

This phone features:
Intuitive ring-o-buttons for your dialing pleasure (three rows of four buttons wrapped around the device, a small space at the end of each row for dialing without looking. Must be able to orient the device without looking [place the buttons near one end of the device]).
B&W Micro lcd display along half the length for assistance with contact list, clock, numbers entered, etc.
Single button for answer, hang up, power.
Double click (press twice) the power button to lock/unlock all buttons (prevent accidental dialing.
Speaker at top, mic at bottom. Headset jack on end near speaker, ballpoint insert at other end.
4-pin usb port for software update, backup number, programming, etc.
Runs on 4 AAA batteries.
Powers on/off in 3 seconds.
Non-programmable ringer (generic, while still somewhat unique, single sine wave beeps).
Ringer volume: On, Off (Vibrate can be separately turned on/off)

Re:just the basics (1)

Fire Dragon (146616) | more than 8 years ago | (#15419573)

Syncs with the address book. No browser, no IM, no SMS, no Java games, no calendar, no address book, no MP3 player, no photo/movie viewer.

No wonder mobile companies cannot come with phones that meet the needs of their customers.

Battery life (1)

staticdaze (597246) | more than 8 years ago | (#15419380)

The issue to me is energy usage. Songs, animations, fancy ringtones, and increasingly more involved games are simply a waste of battery for a phone. I want a phone to make calls and have basic features like directory for my contacts and a reasonable text messaging interface. Which is why I still have and like my Nokia 3360. I turn my phone off while I sleep, and only have to charge the battery about once a week. Contrast this to my wife's phone, which, while visually appealing, needs to be in the charging cradle once every night or two, despite similar talktime to mine.

Different people have different usage patterns. For me, I just like knowing that I have enough battery to make a call when I need to, combined with low maintenance. But then I'm the lazy type.

Actually... (1)

X86Daddy (446356) | more than 8 years ago | (#15419388)

The new generation of US consumers? More like the old generation. In my office, it's always the 50+ crowd making the lame old joke "I'd just like a phone that can dial numbers and make voice calls real good," and "I don't need any of this new-fangled crap." Then they spend time complaining about cell-towers or another unrelated topic. A few years ago, the same people complained about show quality when the topic of HDTV used to come up. There seems to be a fundamental lack of understanding that totally different companies are making handsets/tvs from the people doing things like network rollouts/show scripts. Either that or they just have a natural tendency at being crotchety. I expect to see this trend in behavior forever, until I'm the one exhibiting it. :-)

Dissatisfied cell phone users... (1)

Bottlemaster (449635) | more than 8 years ago | (#15419393)

As a dissatisfied cell phone user, I might be able to make a relevant comment.

I've been pretty old school with my cell phones, but I recently started a new contract with T-Mobile and got a slick new cell phone for cheap as part of the deal. It's one of the slimmest phones sold in the US (the Samsung T-509), and I'm very happy with that part of it. It's "candy bar" style, which I prefer, and I can barely tell when it's in my pocket.

Anyway, I pretty much hate the software that came on it.
My complaints are as follows:
1. Even when my phone is on silent, I cannot take a picture without an annoying "Click!" sound. I can change that sound, but I cannot turn it off. Apparently this is a Korean law or something... but last time I checked, I don't live in Korea. That's a minor problem, I guess.
2. Even when my phone is on silent, the "wake-up call" alarm still makes an audible noise. This is annoying when I show up to work early. When I set my phone to silent, I expect it to be silent. Any alarm should vibrate and nothing more. What's worse, the alarm sounds are not configurable, so I'm stuck with a quiet tone that will never wake me up. I'm a deep sleeper.
3. The menu buttons when the phone is in it's default "desktop-ish" state - I cannot configure the buttons. The left button is "Menu", which is great, and the right button is "T-Zones", which is T-Mobiles weird internet service. It's scandalous that I can't change the right button to something that I'll actually use.
4. Man, this is a big one. The phone is capable of playing MP3s. However, when an MP3 is present on the phone, it can be played back, but it can NOT be used as a ring tone. What a horrible artificial limitation. I can only use an MP3 clip as a ring tone if I convert it so some lame Yamaha proprietary format first. The specification is only available under NDA. I can use a MIDI as a ringtone, but only at something like 20% of the volume of a played-back MP3. I guess my desires aren't open - unless I buy a 15-second portion of a song for more than 2x what I would pay if I bought the _entire_ song from iTunes or some other service.

I was much happier with my Motorola phone from ~5 years ago. It didn't have a camera and it had a black-and-white screen, but it was completely configurable. It even had a ringtone composer _on_the_phone_. Samsung's user interface is AWFUL. I will never again pay extra for a phone unless I can run a complete free software distribution on it.

I've been griping about this for years... (1)

SmoothTom (455688) | more than 8 years ago | (#15419397)

...but instead of seeing ever more reliable, rugged, and functional portable phones, my carrier insists on delivering ever more complex devices that still don't do their primary function (being a phone) any better than cellphones five or more years old.

I even wrote in my blog about this last year. [tijil.org]

Re:I've been griping about this for years... (5, Funny)

Tim Browse (9263) | more than 8 years ago | (#15419467)

I even wrote in my blog about this last year.

And your carrier still hasn't done anything about it?!

What did the police say?

More features = okay. (2, Interesting)

J-1000 (869558) | more than 8 years ago | (#15419430)

I have no problem with more features, and regardless of satisfaction surveys, going with less features is probably not the answer. Take, for instance, the fact that there are plenty of outdated basic phones available that people skip on because they want something the new phones have. People don't want less, they just want to be able to use what they have. Forget metaphors, forget operating systems, just identify what the user wants most and prioritize.

There are a few things that I'd like to see that might already exist:
- The phone should always be ready for you to start dialing (unless you are editing a field).
- The most commonly used features should have clearly labeled dedicated buttons with one and only one function.
- The call log should always be available at the touch of a single button.
- The address book should always be available at the touch of a single button. None of this hold-down-the-button shortcut nonsense though.
- A camera phone should take a picture instantly with the press of one button. The LCD preview isn't always necessary, so using it should require a total of two button presses.
- Sending pictures should take priority. In addition to a nice transfer interface, internet phones should allow you to email yourself any photo you take immediately after you take it, with only one or two button presses.

So if you haven't figured it out yet, my ideal phone (a phone for someone like my dad) needs at least four dedicated buttons for the most common features (besides the talk/hangup buttons and numbers): Call log, address book, camera shutter, camera LCD preview. I realize many phones have these buttons but they add confusion by being dual use and poorly labeled (if at all). It's time to start adding morebuttons if you ask me. Layout matters too. With the exception of the shutter button, aligning these buttons side by side (like the 2nd generation iPod) would be ideal, but probably wouldn't make the most fashion sense.

Biased group? (1)

wile_e_wonka (934864) | more than 8 years ago | (#15419444)

I don't know if the group that posts on /. is biased or if this is a good representation of our population as a whole. But I am noticing that--by far--Slashdot posters want a simple phone. Myself included. What's up with these companies then? It's like the employees don't use phones.

I didn't RTFA, but I read a similar article on Wired this morning. That one mentioned that the reason cell phone companies started making it so you have no choice but to buy a phone with all of this crap is because the companies are hoping that you'll use it. The problem with a simple phone is that you can't possibly use these extra services that cost extra money. So they don't make that simple phone available to you. Instead they sell you a phone that has all these stupid features. So maybe you won't use the features--but you have them, so you might. If you don't have the features then you won't. It's no loss to them if they sell you a fancier phone than you need. But it would be bad for them to allow you to buy a phone that boxes you into a position where you can't use the extra features.

However--I think they've got it all wrong. And these Slashdot comments show that. There really is a market out there for simple basic phones! WILL SOMEONE PLEASE FILL THAT HOLE?!?!

Re:Biased group? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15419552)

These companies, against all empirical evidence, hope that by placing "Mobile Web" buttons, "download ringtone" buttons, music playing and downloading, buy "Brickout" buttons, and "send picture|movie|text message|email" buttons all over the phone, such that they intrude in every basic phone operation, eventually you'll give up and finally download that low-bitrate song for $3, or rack up $30 worth of internet browsing charges trying to figure out how to lookup movie times on some affiliate's "mobile web" site, or spend another $3 on a ringtone that sounds like someone playing Yankee Doodle on a kazoo. If nothing else, they hope that you'll accidentally activate one of these "features" so they can charge you for it. Plus, there's no incentive for them not to do this.

Or by making it so complicated, or even impossible, to transfer data off your phone that you'll finally just throw up your arms in disgust and pay $0.75 to send that tiny, grainy, blurry picture to yourself in an email.

This has almost nothing to do with what the customer wants. It has a great deal to do with what cell phone companies wish you would do.

So...

Cameras are built in to cell phones so that you'll pay the cell phone company some outrageous fee to transmit that picture to yourself or someone else, not because most people like taking pictures with their phones.

Video downloads are available so you'll pay ridiculous video service, data, and/or airtime charges, not because most people like watching animated postage stamps.

Mobile web interfaces intrude everywhere so that you'll accidentally turn on the browser and pay stratospheric per-byte transfer charges, not because any sane person likes squinting at a bad caricature of a web page trying to figure out how the hell to find anything useful.

And so on.

I hope that helps clarify your question: "what's up with these companies?"

In my opinion, a big part of the problem stems from the fact that in the United States, the cellular carriers can (and do) dictate which models of phone you can buy, which features will be on those phones, and that you can only buy those phones directly from them. So, for example, a Motokia 1234 will only work with Springular if you buy it from Springular, and Veri-Mobile won't then let you use that Springular phone on the Veri-Mobile network -- the names are phony, but you get the idea. Then the providers all but force you to sign multi-year lock-in contracts, so you can't effectively tell the provider to shove it when they try to screw you.

For those in the know there are sometimes ways around this, but most people don't have the time, or even realize it's possible, to figure out ways around these issues. Then the cellular companies have little or no real competition, but do have guaranteed revenue and no real reason to do the right thing with added "feature" services, phones, rate plans, or anything else.

So, in my opinion, the best way to start solving the crappy phone problem is to take control of the phones away from phone companies -- does anyone else around here remember when you could only use ATT POTS telephones, and what happened when you could use any phone? -- and break the mandatory contractual lock-in provisions of cell phone agreements.

Of course this would, literally, take an act of Congress and this isn't a Congress that seems to care much about the problems that affect real people. My only cynical hope is that some endangered congressman up for re-election will see it as an opportunity for some hometown political grandstanding...but I'm not counting on it.

Good cellphone UI's (1)

jesterzog (189797) | more than 8 years ago | (#15419448)

with some of the largest drops linked to user interface for Internet and e-mail services.

While we're on the topic, which phones would people recommend for having good user interfaces?

I'm on my second phone in about the past six years, and in both cases I've gone for the cheapest one on the shelf -- which in both cases has been a bottom-of-the-line Alcatel. Both have gotten the job done (I'm on a prepay plan and mostly just carry a phone so people can contact me, and sometimes for SMS), but I've found the UI of both phones to be horrendous for anything beyond talking on them. I'm not too surprised by this given what I paid, but I've been reluctant to spend more on anything better because from what I've seen of other people's feature-packed phones, a lot of companies simply don't put a lot of thought into designing helpful user interfaces.

The worst examples I've found have been with SMS, but only because I don't bother even trying to use my phone for anything more advanced. Sending an SMS message from my cheap Alcatel requires 13 actions! This doesn't include keying in the message, and it doesn't include scrolling through the directory to find the recipient. It does involve indicating that I want to send a message, followed by a string of confirming and re-confirming the person I want to send it to, before finally confirming that I still want to send it. To top it off, a couple of these actions have waits of several seconds while the phone goes to do some searching through various databases that shouldn't really be necessary.

The phone also has a limit of 20 SMS messages (which I think is standard for the SIM card it's storing it on). This would be understandable, but it's next to impossible to delete them efficiently to make space for more. It's only possible to delete one message at a time, and doing so takes 9 actions and a lot of waiting in between several of them.

So far I've been a cheapskate and I doubt I'm an ideal customer for the phone companies, but I'll quite happily pay for something if I'm convinced it'll be more useful than what I have. If anyone can suggest phones they've encountered that have good and well thought through UI's, rather than just packing the phones with impossible to use features, I'd love to hear about them.

anecdotal exception (1)

kie (30381) | more than 8 years ago | (#15419450)

not in my case, I have finally found a phone that I am happy with,

the Motorola A732 which has my two most desired features:

-1- hand-written chinese traditional character recognition using your finger
that actually works well. Writing Chinese SMS text messages is really useful in HK.
-2- it's very compact

although I would agree with simplicity being a good thing since I don't use most
of the other numerous features of the phone (i probably only use the
address book, alarm clock and chinese/english dictionary.)

I like my sidekick (1)

All Your Name Are Be (931301) | more than 8 years ago | (#15419452)

I guess i'm not the average joe, but i have gotten a good amount of enjoyment out of my sidekick. I've always thought things like calendars and even cameras were unessicary features, but i do like the idea of a 'portable modem' or 'network hole' as i like to call it. To me it makes perfect sense to have email and internet access on something thats already connecting to 'the network'. In my ideal portable world i'd have 2 devices, a network device (cellphone) and a storage device (ipod). An organizational device (pda) and capture device (camera/microphone) would be 2 other possible devices, but those unfortunately are pretty easy to integrate into the first 2, and while it might be nice (if insecure) to have these 4 devices in a PAN, now that i think about it carying 4 little boxes around does seem a bit strange when they could all be in one.

Theres a simple reason (1)

EEPROMS (889169) | more than 8 years ago | (#15419455)

The reason mobile phone makers (hardware makers in general are the same), dont like selling products with less features at a lower per unit price are two fold.

1. harder for sales people to sell a product with the moto "hai its got less features"

2. Companies don't like reducing the per unit average cost of phones, because this also means you reduce your gross income.

Say I sell 200 full feature telephones @ $150 per unit, to get the same return on a cheap phone at $25 per unit means I have to sell 7X more phones to get the same gross(no not a math error read on).

Ok you say but you going to sell more phones, true but not 7X more and the cost of selling phones, doesnt vary that much per unit, so my costs are the same but I have a lower per unit price so my margins are even lower.

So unless you can think of a way of fixing the above problem were all stuck with this mess.

Utilitarian Cellphones? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15419472)

I think Mill is rolling over in his grave from this use of the term.

Problem is... (2, Interesting)

JanneM (7445) | more than 8 years ago | (#15419494)

Problem is, manufacturers and providers are offering simple, stripped down, easy-to-use phones. And very few buy them. Just like simple, functional, easy DVD players; simple internet terminals and so on.

One problem is, simple phones aren't appreciably cheaper to produce since most of the differences lie in software, so the simple phones don't get a lot cheaper (and especially so when the phone is offered as part of a package deal).

A second problem is the lure of features. We like long lists of features, _especially_ for technology we aren't too familiar with. After all, since we aren't familiar with it, we don't know what functions will turn out to be important, so better get as much ass possible.

Third, even among us that want a simple phone, there creeps in a "that can also ...". Just look at the other comments to this story. I want a simple phone - that can also do good email, since I in practice use email more than speech. Oh, and having a radio on it is essential, so I don't have to lug around a second device. For other people, real email is pointless and radio is a waste - but they really want that integrated camera since it's such a convenient way to communicate (was it this part you wanted me to buy or was that one?). For a third person, having a Java VM for a steady supply of small games to play during their commute is critical, though they have no interest in any other function.

So, you could not make a simple telephone with mass market appeal. You would have to make a whole series of phones, all with different combinations of features. Which of course in practice means making one or two hardware designs, and selectively disable stuff in software. But then, of course, the users can simply refrain from using the features they don't want; they'r enot going to pay as much for the identical hardware but with less functionality, after all. Which brings us right back to where we are now.

On my phone, I have a web browser, music shop service, IR remote controller, OCR translation from English to Japanese, and probably a dozen other features I don't even remember. I simply don't use them, which suits me fine. It doesn't bother me that I have a set of icons I don't use, since the functions I do use - radio, email and sound player - are implemented well, and since I have them assigned on hotkeys, bypassing the need to ever delve into the interface itself.

Software is free... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15419575)

One problem is, simple phones aren't appreciably cheaper to produce since most of the differences lie in software

Sorry, bullshit.

The code has to be written, tested, debugged, usability tested, fought over on an include/exclude basis, documented, patent-checked, marketed, and supported. And as has been pointed out in comments: more features (or functions) means greater complexity and more chances for things to go wrong.

Testing software is a PITA. Testing GUI software is worse. And testing GUIs on devices worse yet as you likely have none of: a spec, working code, stable interface, or the device it's all going to run on, until far too soon to your final ship date.

Phone (and mobile service) vendors sell complexity for any number of reasons, the bottom line likely being that they think they can 1). charge a premium for it and 2). shanghai their victims^Wcustomers into incurring charges they didn't want and/or expect.

I want a phone I can make calls with. I want a service that works. I want a bill that's predictable and reasonable. And I want as few strings as possible, to exercise my customer and citizen rights to walk if I'm not satisfied.

I'm reasonably, but not fully, satisfied by my plain-jane phone and baseline service. Word up to Verizon: nail the basics and you've got it. Quit fucking around with the shit I don't need, stop turning my private life over to the NSA or highest bidder, and stop screwing with Internet neutrality.

A coincidence? (1)

PatTheGreat (956344) | more than 8 years ago | (#15419518)

I gotta say...

I got Google all customized with various RSS feeds. Right on top are Wired magazine and Slashdot. And with a regularity I could set my watch by, almost every time a Wired article pops up that isn't Sex Drive or their Auto column, just a few hours later the same article pops up on Slashdot. Is there no originality in aggregators any more?

Divergence (1)

cryptoluddite (658517) | more than 8 years ago | (#15419519)

I want a cell phone that:

* makes calls
* has a list of numbers
* has caller id
* has voicemail of some kind

That's it. Well there is one other thing... I want it to be a wireless USB drive. That would be so useful to be able to go to any computer and type \\myphone\ and access whatever I had put on there. Without having to plug anything in, mess with cables, go through some service, etc.

I couldn't give a rat's ass about learning how to edit word/excel documents using a tiny numeric keypad. Or watch movies on a 1" screen. Or whatever else these newfangled phones are doing these days.

they aren't looking for simpler devices (1)

penguin-collective (932038) | more than 8 years ago | (#15419537)

If their dissatisfaction is linked to the E-mail and messaging user interfaces of their cell phones, that tells you that they are actually using those functions; if they didn't want those functions, they'd just not be using them and they wouldn't complain about their user interfaces. So, they don't want "simpler" cell phones (in the sense of cell phones with fewer functions), they want "easier to use" cell phones.

Its not the quantity of features, it's the quality (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15419543)

Its not the quantity of features, it's the quality. I've just picked up a Nokia 6280. It has a 2MP camera, inlcuding a flash, low light setting and a few filters which work surprisingly well. Because of this, I no longer take my digital camera anywhere. The difference between 3.2 and 2 Megapixles in insignificant for my usage (ok I don't have optical zoom, but eh, I'm taking close ups mostly.

It also has a SDmini card socket, in which I have a 1GB card, holding a bunch of MP3's and m4a's and a reasonable music player program - Bingo! - no need for an ipod.

It's reception is as good as any other phone I have had. And it's speaker phone is the best I've experienced, loud and clear.

Drawbacks, I get at best 3days of battery life, my previous phone had 5-6.

Balanced against saving $$$ on an ipod and not having to carry around a digicam, well worth it.

Now about complications (1)

Strixy (753449) | more than 8 years ago | (#15419545)

I'm crazy about anything that works as it is meant to. Be it a cell phone or a word processor. If we're going to talk about cell phones, I want a cell phone. Period. I already have a digital camera, I already have an MP3 player, I already have a laptop. I don't need nor do I want a cell phone that does any of those things half assed. I want a cell phone that sends and receives phone calls. If I want to take a picture I'll use my camera. If I want to listen to music I'll use my MP3 player. Trying to sell me an all-in-one Is like trying to sell me a half assed camera, a half assed MP3 player and a half assed phone. I don't want a half assed anything!

Give me a bomb proof cell phone that gets reception in my basement and I'll buy it. Until then, leave a message and I'll call you back.

UI and ergonomics leave much to be desired (1)

Wansu (846) | more than 8 years ago | (#15419548)



I'm a big guy with big hands and big fingers. The buttons on most cell phones are too small. I often press 2 buttons instead of one. I can't read the display on some phones without my glasses.

I was recently looking for a cell phone for my 82 year old dad. I asked whether any of them came with larger keys. His hands are as big as mine and his vision is worse. Unfortunately, there aren't any cell phones made like that. He tried the LG they were giving away with the service but he couldn't deal with it.

It doesn't make any difference to him whether it has a camera or can play mp3s. He just wants a phone. For me, the csmera might be handy but not the mp3. Small size is great up to a point but when the buttons are too small, it's no longer an advantage.

Streamlined phone manufactures or models? (1)

abonstu (682723) | more than 8 years ago | (#15419551)

for a long time now ive been wanting a streamlined phone that has fewer 'features' (ie. no camera, no music, no colour screen even) but has decent connectivity (ie. infrared, bluetooth, 3G data modem - for use with lappa, not using to browse directly) and *kick* *arse* battery life.

screw charging my phone every day, screw infinite flashy menus - give me something really straight forward, like the simple text menus on an ipod. a robust reliable business phone that can take a beating.

im no technophobe, but i really appreciate good tools - and i havent seen a phone in a long time that i actually *want* to buy! can anyone suggest any manufacturers who make this kind of stuff? are there any models out there that really fit this description?

Because that's what they're there for! (1)

Opportunist (166417) | more than 8 years ago | (#15419553)

Imagine you bought a TV that can also record shows, make phone calls, plays your music CDs and all that jazz. Now imagine to get the TV to actually show a TV program, you'd have to click on your remote 'til the batteries are dead (or the show is over). Would you like that TV?

Imagine you bought a car that has built-in TV and wireless internet, an automatic navigation system with voice input and 15 different sets of lights for different conditions, but to start it, you'd first have to spend about 10 minutes to turn all the knobs into the right angle for it to start.

That's the situation with cellphones today. To actually make a phone call, on some you have to go through 3 or 4 layers of menues. Could it be that people first and foremost buy phones to actually CALL someone? Gadgets are nice and sweet, but if they get into the way of the main operation, they turn from a feature into a bug.

A recent survey here showed that about 3 of 4 people use their cells almost exclusively for calls and text messages. That's it. 75% of the people don't care about cameras, MP3s, videophone or what other oh-so-important gadgets are built into it. They want to make a phone call!

And when your cell gets into the way of making that call, it's time to throw it out the window and try to get one that's at the very least 4 years old.

I admit, I still have a Nokia 7110. Remember them? The older ones amongst you might remember them from stories told by their elders, from the times when life was still good and phone calls were what cells were about...

Age old problem - bloat (1)

Orlando (12257) | more than 8 years ago | (#15419555)

This is the same problem that so much technology suffers from, ie bloat. After the initial problems have been solved the manufacturers reach a point where the product is as useful as it's going to get before the next major leap in technology. In the mean time in order to get the same consumers to spend more money with them they pile on glitter that looks cool but actually isn't useful to most people, and in a lot of cases gets in the way of the basic functions. Instead of concentrating on what actually matters, ie reliability, ease of use, we get more problems, and obfuscation.

I'm convinced that there is a gap in the market for a manufacturer that can combine good design, reliable and cheap into products most people actually want. Implement a feedback loop of listening to customers needs and problems and implementing fixes and features they actually want and you end up with products that are refined over time rather than bloated.

Of course this wouldn't serve the average Slashdot reader, but most people aren't your average Slashdot reader.

One reason (1)

Hao Wu (652581) | more than 8 years ago | (#15419563)

It's that old mistake that inventors keep making-- adding a digital clock to something does not necessarily improve it.

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