Home > Musing, Travel, Utilities > A Mobile Phone – How Hard can it be?

A Mobile Phone – How Hard can it be?

I have recently switched to iPad as my primary device for media viewing, music, book reading, email and to some extend blogging (though I still find Live Writer superior and even run VMware Fusion on my home Mac for that purpose alone). Because I no longer need a big screen on my phone, it is therefore time to go back to the old days.

Remember when phones would last two weeks on a single charge? Back when, thanks to the T9 dictionary, you could type almost as fast with one hand as a ten finger typist on a keyboard, and certainly faster than on iPad. Yes, tactile feedback rules – the brain latency of vision is too high. Remember when we were convinced that the next evolutionary step for mankind would be smaller thumbs, to type even faster? We didn’t have twitter back then, so we were forced to type real sentences that reflected full thought patterns – these things took many characters and long words.

So, I went searching for a phone to replace my legacy devices (I own both HTC Mozart and iPhone 3G). Feeling like a dinosaur stampeding into a crowd of intelligent design proponents – I walked bravely into the Nokia store in Heathrow. I clearly remember this wonderful brand for its legendary 6310i, I thought they should get the first stab at taking a sizable piece of my budget.

The friendly girl lit up immediately when I asked for "a phone that can make calls and send SMS, nothing else". It turns out that I am not the first customer to make that request. A sigh of relief for me. As much as I like to be bleeding edge in my job, I prefer technology in my personal space to be tested and sound – hassle free if you like. It turns out that Nokia is catering to the dinosaur market – with the C3-01 model. It can be yours for the meager price of 120 GBP – unlocked and subscription free.

Eagerly, I set out to try before I buy. Demo models were available in black and silver. The silver looks bling bling, the black one has a cool, carbon fiber feel to it. The phone still has a T9 dictionary and it only took my nervous system a few seconds to reacquaint itself with this phenomenal design. It has a fast address book too, navigated with the same T9 functionality. It syncs with Google contacts – which you will not get on a the 6310i. Sure, it does Facebook and Twitter too, but I can forgive it for those bugs. The screen is nice but a bit big. It is laid out nicely and easy to read, but why it is in colour and so large defeats me. Perhaps it is related to the 5M pixel camera, but who cares about that? As may be clear from my gravatar, I look just as horrible on pictures as in reality. It charges from micro-USB, no Apple vendor lock-in there – big plus. Bluetooth? Unfortunately yes, but it also has a jack for a wired headset to workaround THAT bug. The girl claims it can do 6 hours of non-stop talking and will last 3-4 days on a charge if receiving the occasional call. Not impressive, but i guess some battery has to fuel that damn colour display. You can install apps too, but I hope you don’t have to. As all true love affairs, you learn to love the small flaws in your partner, even a colour display and low stamina when fully charged. At this point, I was reaching for my credit card.

So why am I still dragging my makeshift, 20 USD, parallel imported, no-name, hacker unlocked device around? Why do I have 120 GBP too much on my bank account that are not contributing to saving our economy? Because I decided to try a few more things while waiting for my plane – and thank goodness it was late. I scouted for the settings on the phone; just to check if Nokia still does those cool profiles that allow you to customize how the phone behaves in a meeting room. It was at this point I discovered the deal breaker! The phone has a touch screen… Why? One of the points of an old fashioned phone is that you can operate it with one hand, and stuff your face with hamburgers using the other. But it doesn’t end there, the scrolling functionality of the menus…well… Let me put it nicely first: it leaves something to be desired. One might ask, why even scroll in the first place, mainframes did fine without it, and i dare say they do quite a lot more than a mobile phone. At this point I was acutely aware of my dinosaur opinions, so I asked the nice girl: "sorry, am I missing something here or did they f*** up the scrolling?". Our mutual smirk made it clear that this was another sentence she had heard before.

And this brings me to the point reflected in the title of this blog: when it comes to simple, personal devices with well understood requirements – there is NO EXCUSE to f*** up anything. When the poor scrolling of the Nokia touch screen makes me annoyed, when I wait until the next ice age for a Samsung Galaxy Pad to move to the next app pane – I have ask myself: if the engineers are this sloppy, or under this much time pressure, what else did they miss that is going to come back to haunt me? This is why Apple is worth more than the US, and why Linux is growing like crazy at Amazon Cloud Services – even though you have to manage it from a black and white SSH session. It is not just about passing the user and integration test. It is about engineering for excellence up front: do less, but do it well. It is about not accepting to ship things that are obviously wrong! Engineers are generally good people that want to do the right things. If only companies would let them work, and if us buyers would stop asking for all those checkbox features that we will never use: like big colour touch screens and the ability to run apps 🙂

I will go on eBay to hunt for a repurposed Nokia 6310I now, so I can stop being angry and get back to blogging about databases. Thanks for listening.

PS: incidentally, you can now track updates to my blog on twitter. If you are too impatient to wait for the RSS feed or too busy waiting for your Android screen to scroll, my username is thomaskejser. But please, please use email or my blog comments to communicate with me – I don’t have the patience to acquire a smartphone.

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  1. August 12, 2011 at 09:38

    And soon most smart phones will have two CPUs and even shorter battery life 😉 I agree on apps, most are totally useless. I like to have a good camera though.

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