Wednesday, February 14, 2007

The handset is mightier than the keyboard

Or at least it could be, if someone rethought the interface ...

"It could turn out that the hottest product to come out of 3GSM this week is the cell phone that managed to look more like a landline device.

Kudos to Motorola, which finally realized that there’s more to usability than making a phone that is thinner and, consequently, easier to lose. I’ve only seen pictures of its Rizr Z8 so far, but I like what I see.

Like designs from Nokia and Ericsson, it slides open to reveal a keyboard, but unlike those others, it includes a hinge that can adjust the phone into a V-shape that brings the microphone closer to the user’s mouth. I have often suspected that people talk loudly on cell phones not because of the so-so quality of their connection but because they feel they are talking into thin air.

As ingenious as this idea is, though, it will not be enough to get Motorola out of its doldrums, nor will it revive the fate of other handset makers, who seem stuck in the same rut as their PC counterparts. It’s interesting that the Razr Z8 runs the Symbian OS, given that at Symbian’s Smart Phone Show late last year its chief executive, Nigel Clifford, predicted that handsets would eventually supplant desktops. Instead of a PC in every cubicle, he said he sees “a smart phone in every pocket.” That may happen, but that doesn’t mean the desktop is dead. We haven’t come close to setting up the system management, security or applications to make smart phones a true across-the-board replacement client.

No matter what the hardware, it tends to evolve according to a fairly predictable cycle. The first movement is to shrink the form factor. Then you pack in more functions and features. Then you try to connect it with as many other parts of the network as possible. Then, once you’ve done all that, you try to shrink it down a little more, maybe. We’re reaching a threshold of sorts with these devices, even though OEMs done little to advance the devices from a usability perspective.

It’s great for Motorola to make the Razr Z8 both look more like a landline phone and more like a mini-PC, but shouldn’t there be an interface that transcends both of those machines? Think about how we tend to use phones: we dial the number (or touch speed dial), raise the phone to our ears or stick an earphone in our ears, and then – stare into space. At the same time, you’ve got companies like Microsoft and Nortel trying to hook up desktop applications like Office and Exchange with back-end PBX systems."    (Continued via IT Business)    [Usability Resources]

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