When Palm released the Treo 755p smartphone, many faithful Treo users were quite disappointed. Where they were looking for a genre-defining device, they got a two-year-old one in new clothes.
But, as I listened to the noise about the 755p and other recently released mobile devices, a common thread of conversation seemed to come out. People were not so much looking for the latest and greatest features, but they truly wanted mobile devices that would enable them to engage their world, and do it more innovatively and simply than they had before.
One Size Doesn’t Fit All
Of course, innovation and simplicity looks different to different types of users.
There is one group of users who prefer devices that are easy to tweak, and offer mounds of freedom to install and play. Their opposites are those that just want something that works with as little "play" as possible.
There are those who want devices sharp and cutting edge in both design and features, and those that want just the basics, and performance doesn’t come into play except in how long a product will last.
These are all good and solid points, and ones in which manufacturers and marketers have to grapple with constantly in creating new devices. But (and I’m not at all averse to saying it) in most cases we’ve been given a pretty face without much to live with beyond that.
The best examples that I can give are the RAZR and iPod. Both are very good examples of consumer friendly design and excellent marketing. However, neither are technological marvels. And if it wasn’t for iTunes, the iPod would just be another MP3 player.. and a poorly specced one, too.
Because of these marketing marvels, we see sliders and more power (at the expense of battery life) as part of our mobile lives. We see less of the software and hardware design that expands our horizons towards the environment or usability, and more of what "blings." But of course, marketing will tell you that is what people want.
Getting Past the Hype
After some recent time to play with new Palm and Nokia mobiles, and comparing them to how I typically use my smartphone, I began to see the other sides of mobile devices. This is something I hadn’t noticed when I was concentrating on tweaking and communicating.
I began to see what I really use devices for is communicating, not the entertainment, infotainment, etc. that marketing wants me to do. If you will, I got beyond the pretty face of what I thought I wanted to do, and got to know what I needed to do. Sure, it makes for a pretty boring mobile life, but it’s how most of us use our mobile devices: a few specific tasks and occasionally a special one or two.
It was then that I could see and understand the frustration at Palm (and others) for lackluster devices. I could understand why people would go "ooh" at the Nokia N95, but then balk when they couldn’t figure out how to dial their family member. We all want to be enamored by a pretty design, but we want something that makes life easier, more fruitful… communal.
Here’s an Example
I recently started using the online presence service Jaiku. I had seen it many times, and the main draw for me was that it was something that could plug into my phone contact book whenever I am using a Symbian phone.
The web site is nicely done, the service is really simple. Yet it’s almost unusable because many of the people with whom I’d need this service for don’t have a phone or aren’t online enough for such a service to be effective. It’s really is a pretty service, but does me little good.
And like Palm and others who neglect innovation for the cause of being safe or pleasing marketing, it’s just another pretty face that won’t have a suitor for the (mobile) ball.
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