Friday, September 16, 2005

What’s wrong with cell phones?

Announcing the (likely) commercial success of the gorgeous new iPod Nano, David Pogue from the New York Times writes:
Once again, Apple has mastered a lesson that its rivals seem unable to absorb: that the three most important features in a personal music player are style, style and style.

Well, maybe that's a statement that Nokia, Motorola, Samsung, and all the other cell phone manufacturers should ponder.
Most of the phones released recently are packed with features, mostly unnecessary, but they lack an essential part of the product: style. They look clunky and clumsy, big, uneven, dull… everything but pretty and easy to dissimulate in a pocket without creating an unattractive bulge.

I have nothing against cameras, video players, MP3 players and the like, although I do believe that they are rarely-used gadgets that people just play with to show off their phones a couple of times a year. But they should be integrated into phones only to the extent that they do not interfere with a streamlined design.
The Motorola RAZR is probably the closest you get to a cool-looking phone since the Nokia 8850 in my mind.

Don't get me wrong, I do think that cell ‘phones’ are evolving from regular portable telephony devices to much richer communication devices, and email, SMS, web or TV connectivity are quickly becoming useful features (though the infrastructure behind it is not always ready), and I am sure new services will arise as people devise new ways to make use of wearable inter-connexion.
From a design standpoint, the fact that all these features often go on par with a large screen and/or fullsized keyboard is one challenge of its own. And there are many more challenges. But it is no excuse for releasing ugly products. There is still plenty of room for improvements to be made on the design side.

I am pretty confident that a phone could exist that could be as slim and stylish as the iPod Nano. It would probably not be a full-blown PDA/SmartPhone, it might not have a camera, it might not have enough space for games or ridiculous ringtones, but if it could be
1.) a high-quality phone and
2.) provide connectivity to broadband services,
I am sure it would be a hot seller.

And if the iPod Nano can pack 4Gb of data, there is plenty of space for a gigantic address-book and recording of phone conversations.
A lack of keyboard and gigantic screen would still be a problem if users want to use web connectivity on the phone directly, but i feel it is already a problem even with today's biggest smartphones like the Treos and Blackberrys. And it will be so until new human-machine interfaces are created (voice?) and new displays are used (head-up display in glasses, rollable screens?) so that people don't have to carry a phone the size of a portable PlayStation.

Until then, give me a MotoNANO.