As a person tied to the Internet from both the mobile computing and web development side, I tend to use both perspectives when it comes to using the best software that will enhance some aspects of my life.
For example, I like the idea of web-based calendars. However, I don’t like that many of these aren’t so usable in offline settings, nor are they designed for every type of web-capable device.
It’s not that these are a bad thing, but in some respects they just too much of not the right tool to do calendaring and collaboration.
In many ways, I feel that smartphones suffer from the same problem.
Yes, they are wonderful marvels of modern computing. You can email, talk, record video, play music, run a web site, record a podcast, and then still have enough power left to talk some more. They are really amazing.
But as I think about which models are more successful and innovative in the minds of non-technical people, I come to the conclusion that slightly less just might be more.
Too Much Is Too Much
If features were no dainty object, chances are that many of us would use the HTC Universal and be quite happy. But features are dainty, and there is a delicate balance between someone getting a device they feel has “enough” features, versus one that has “too many”.
Of course, extra buttons, strange designs, and availability do come into play here. But we know that most of the time people want something simple, stylish, and that can do basic tasks really well, and maybe one or two more tasks well enough that it doesn’t feel like a compromise.
And, for many people, smartphones have too many compromises and not enough simplicity to make them easy to catch on.
Simplicity Is King
A posting in the Brighthand forums talked about how a person went from a Treo 650 to a Blackberry Pearl. Both are devices that get email nearly all the time, but the Pearl was favored highly because the software was simple, the design was elegant, and the device did not require reading a manual to get started.
It’s not that the Treo was a bad device, only that it had (in that person’s opinion) unwanted complexities just to get things done. For that person, the more complex smartphone was not the best because it required too much of the user’s effort to make it smart.
A Simple Future?
Who really knows what will happen to smartphones in the near and far future? Maybe we will get to the point where interfaces and cost will improve to the point that people’s hopes for mobile computing can truly be realized.
But until simplicity and effectiveness take a hold in developers and manufacturers, smartphones will continue to be a solution that many people could care less about.