Phones Getting Harder To Use Than VCR Clocks

from the hey-kid-show-me-how-to-use-this dept

Inevitably, every time a cell phone is released with some new feature, it’s met with a backlash of people saying “why would I want that?” It’s not too surprising — after all, the first cell phones were likely met by the same chorus, now they’re nearly ubiquitious. But apart from resistance to anything new, technophobia or even just general disinterest, one bigger problem remains for handset manufacturers and mobile operators: the lousy usability of the typical mobile phone, which seems to only get worse when these new features are tacked on. So even if they could convince users to give some of these new features and services a shot, they’re bound to be frustrated or disappointed by the experience and unlikely to try again.

The latest case in point is the LG “Chocolate” handset Verizon released this week as part of a renewed push to get people interested in its over-the-air (not to mention overpriced) music downloads. Mainstream reviewers have given pretty mixed reviews to the device, focusing on its ease of use, or lack thereof: the WSJ’s influential tech writer, Walt Mossberg, says “While the Chocolate may look like an iPod, however, it doesn’t work like one. In fact, as a music player, it functions like an iPod designed by a committee. It’s burdened by a ham-handed user interface and other failings that would get its designers fired at Apple.” USA Today’s tech reviewer also notes the phone’s similar looks to an iPod, but “that’s where the comparison melts: Chocolate is not as simple to use”. Mobile phones are never held up like iPods or other electronic devices as hallmarks of usability, something that’s not a new issue. But it’s one that doesn’t get much attention, since it’s far easier to just slap on a camera or an MP3 player without thinking about making it — and all the other functions — easy to use. There are certainly plenty of other obstacles to widespread adoption of advanced mobile handsets and services, but poor usability is a killer. It’s little wonder there’s so much interest in an Apple mobile phone.

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Comments on “Phones Getting Harder To Use Than VCR Clocks”

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ConceptJunkie (profile) says:

Re: Thats right

I _AM_ savvy and I just want to make a phone call. And you know what? It’s a hassle. Every new phone I get is harder and harder to navigate and use… and of course they are chock full of features I would never need at the expense of usability for the features I do.

This is true pretty much across the board with consumer electronics. Usability has largely been abandoned. Cordless telephones are even worse than cell phones.

The software industry suffers from this a lot too. Between high-color and high-res graphics and the Web, software usability has generally _decreased_ in the past 10 years.

Arochone (user link) says:


I don’t have a cell phone, nor do I want one. It’s quite pointless actually. They still have payphones almost everywhere, and those are generally cheaper at $0.50 a call than most cell phone plans! lol

They’re trying to make cell phones into mini computers, but the problem is, while they can do a lotta stuff, they can’t do any of it well! If I want mobile music, videos, pictures, or games, I have my iPod nano (with Linux). If I wanna take pictures, I have my 5.2MP digital camera. If I wanna make a phone call, I pull $0.50 out of my wallet! Sure, all that is a bit bigger than a cell phone, but still easily all fits in one pocket, and it’s a hell of a lot cheaper.

Unanimous coward says:

Re: Bah!

@Arochone – 1985 called… it wants its payphone back.

I have a cell phone for convenience, not because of the bells and whistles. It is easier for me to get a hold of people and people to get a hold of me, instead of me trying to find a payphone and praying that it works.

Seriously, a cell phone should be just that… a phone.

Dustee says:

Re: Bah!

As a Lady, I’m thankful that there are cellphones. I’d hate to be stranded, walking down a dark and lonely (country) road looking for a payphone (that works) if my car breaks down. I see it as a necessary part of life- – -for emergency only. Also, I use only a pay-as-you-go cellphone that has roll-over minutes. My Cingular GoPhone serves that purpose and I have friend and relative that have it too…meaning I can talk to them for free, and 911 call cost nothing. I don’t need all the other bell’s and whistles that they have on my cellphone. It’s for emergency only.

Where I live, I see very few pay phone. They’re going the way of the dinasour.

MEoip says:


I have a Sony Ericsson which I find user friendly, it allowed me to program my buttons to do what I wanted them to do. This was a huge selling point for me since I didn’t have to learn new buttons since I often operate my phone while driving (shhh don’t tell) and try not to stare at it while I use it.

P.s. the cell phone complication is purposeful IMHO. If I as your Cell phone provider can make your phone complicated to use you are more likely to access a pay feature on it. Remember when the download menu was buried in the phone now it’s the big colorful button. They hope we are lost on the phone and turn down a pay road. They can make money from confusion so don’t expect it to get easier. OR you could call your cell phone company and say that you wish never to receive anything but a bloody phone call on your cell PHONE and if you do you will never pay for it, then they will block everything but phone service and you cannot get lost

william says:

there getting there

Newer phones have 1.4 MP (not bad) cameras. and they are getting better all the time. But I’m still waiting for that one perfect device that is a Phone, Camera, Mobile audio player, Video recorder, Email, And PDA all in one that is easy to use. But Motorola hasn’t done it yet. I think it will be about 5 or 6 years till we see a device that does all those things well. Till that time I’ll keep the phone I got free from Verizion.
And to people that still don’t have a mobile phone sorry but you are way behind the times.

claire rand says:

Re: there getting there

having recently got a k800i with a 3.2 mega px camera i’m happy.

not got a clue how to make a call with the thing (joke) but it looks the part.

ok its not the easiet thing in the world to do but at least ‘predictive text’ was turned off by default on this one. this has a usable phone, very good camera, audio recorder is ok (limited by the mic), video recorder is good too. email works.. pda? depends what you want it for.

all it lacks is a decent keyboard, but then thats going to be true of any device that small.

oh and with 750 texts and 300 anytime/any net minutes for 30ukp a month i’m happy enough.

could it be better? of course it could but it works. best bit. the office *don’t* have the number 🙂

Susan says:


Though I work in an IT position, I’m a luddite when it comes to some electronics. Personally, I want my PDA to be just a PDA, like wise my camera simply a camera, and my phone to make calls on and that’s about it. I don’t want to have to replace my PDA/cell phone/iPod/camera gadget if the camera quits functiong. Plus, all of these technoloiges don’t progress at the same pace so I may want a new camera when my current cell phone is stil perfectly adequate to me.

I just view this latest trend of “let’s see how many things we can mash into one device” a way to sell more at a higher $$$ and do it more frequently. I seriously wonder how many people that buy these devices use *all* the features.

tehdirtaddict says:

Re: Luddite

I just view this latest trend of “let’s see how many things we can mash into one device” a way to sell more at a higher $$$ and do it more frequently. I seriously wonder how many people that buy these devices use *all* the features.

I do. I certainly use the MP3 player (for both streaming and miniSD playback), calls, outlook sync, and to records video/ take pictures. Cost? $0 T-Mobile SDA with new contract.

Certainly cheaper than buying separante devices, and of course, fits in my pocket.

Anonymous Coward says:

What annoys me most about new cell phones is the fact that new models may incorporate new functions but completely do away with previous ones. I just got an LG VX8300 that is a stunning phone really, mp3, bluetooth, camera, yada yada…But Verizon did away with the feature of an alarm clock that powers the phone on automatically…why would they get rid of this feature? Now I have to leave my phone on all night to make sure the alarm will go off because it is what I use as an alarm clock.. I think someone should start a company that does nothing but take old tried-and-true phone designs with the features users want and upgrade the internals so they get better battery life, signal, clarity, and so on, but still get the functions and usability of the original phone. They could make millions.

will says:

Nokia N80.. good and bad

Just picked one of these up for myself.. I have to say I really like somethings about the new symbian OS. The webbrowser is excellent, and makes some great strides in usability for mobile browsing.

It has a sort of Expose` (mac osx) feature that allows you to zoom out a page, then navigate to the portion you want to look at and zoom back in. Then it has a visual history where it cycles through cached pages you have visited in one session. It makes mobile browsing very enjoyable..

Until you realize how Symbain and its browser deal with access points. As far as I can tell, there is no way to set a global default access point for all your phone applications (i.e. Wi-Fi hotspots, UMTS, or GPRS settings for your operator). Every time you have to change access points you not only have to change the access point in EACH individual application.. but in the s60 browser every book marks stores the access point you used when you bookmark it.. that overrides the browsers access point settings. How braind dead stupid is this? Makes mobile browsing completely unmanagable if you want to browse the net for different locations.

I’m a tinker by nature, so I dont mind playing with this stuff, but things like this would definately prevent a casual user from seeing this as worthwhile.

Tin Ear says:

Why do I need one?

I have one cell phone. Currently, I don’t have any service for it, nor am I likely to sign up for any. I have a landline to my house that I use for business or pleasure as the mood suits me. My cell phone resides in my glove compartment for one purpose only. I keep it charged for only one phone number, to dial 911 in the event of an accident.

Sure they are ‘convenient’ and even ‘trendy’, but I like to be able to get away from being in ‘constant contact’ with anyone who would want to call me any time of the day or night…

Jordan says:

Not enough features

With all of theese Phones running windows mobile, you would think there would be one out there with every feature, but no. Somebody should make a PhoneGPSWIFIIRdARFAMFM RadioTVCameramp3 player all in one. Sure it would be expensive, but not as expensive as buying all the devices individually, or using a payphone…ass…. Sure you have the UMPC, but they lack tv ,radio, phone, and probably other features. Somebody please make a ipodumpcPPCPDAPhone killer.

Beck says:


I think this is the key quote from the article, all the way at the end:

In fact, the Chocolate’s multimedia features are really designed mainly to encourage users to buy songs, pictures and videos from Verizon’s online download and streaming services… not to let you use your own content. The phone works much better with $2 songs you buy from VCast… than with free songs you load onto it.

Keybored says:


I’ll tell ya. A phone is a phone. I need and use my phone a lot during the day for business; couldn’t live without it, but that is all I need -a phone. Oh, I’m technically savvy but just give me a GD phone! Thank you. No camera, no movie maker, no music, no stupid ass ring tones, no walkie talkie, no shopping and to-do lists, get my drift? May I just have a phone?

Anonymous Coward says:

phones are already hard to use, then Verizon restricts the phone capabilities on top of that. It took me a few hours to get my Razr V3m to sync with WMP to transfer songs. Then, it is very picky about file endcoding; it dumped 15 of the 20 songs I transfered without warning (i found out the problem by reading user posts on various websites.

Sanguine Dream says:

How long before...

will it be before some company gets “innovative” and offers a phone “with no features”? I personally think that providers know that there are lots of people out there that just want a basic phone and they are releasing these crappy features on phone to butter them up to the next generation of phones that will be “the basic phone you’ve always wanted”.

oforealz says:

its simple...

just get a phone that suits you. they have the children phones that come with 3 buttons…..3 calls…..cant be no more simple then that…no one buys a car with all the bells and whistles unless they want it.

I’m sure people didn’t understand or comply with the transition from radio to TV back in the days. “my radio entertains me just fine” =)

david rawheiser says:

cell phones are not there yet

i have an lg 9800 and while it does a lot and some of it well, it does have some kinks, quirks, and ‘features’ that i can see not see would be useful.

I think all this all is just part of the maturation process, where a technology tries to be all things to all people and it finds where it fails and where it works, and gets back into the zone where it all make sense and just works right.

The problem is nobody has gotten to the point to take features out, and they just keep on loading them up.

what I need the phone to do (and i can only speak for myself) is:

1. make and receive phone calls (duh),

2. send text message that doesn’t need a 2 way communication ( be there in 30 min )

3. load up GPS and Map to find where I made the wrong turn, and how do I get where I think I need to be.

4. remind me when I need to take the dogs to the vets or have yet another meeting scheduled.

5. let me keep lists of contacts and some other post it type lists (rx #’s, passwords, etc…)

The movie stuff I don’t think I need but a better camera is sometimes useful … (take snaps of documents and signs that I want to return to later, instead of writing it down).

Mike J says:

Phone only please

I agree with the phone only people, a phone should be just that… a PHONE, you know what it should sould like when it rings? A PHONE.

end of rant, please Ill sign a petition for a phone only cell phone like my nokia100 that I had back in the mid 90’s it was great till they stoped making batteries for it. it made calls recieved calls and rang like a phone. It was analogue but it sounded the best, better than my wireless phone I used to have back when I had a land line for dialup.

Hell, id buy a phone only cell phone even if they called it the featureless old fogey phone just to have a phone that I can use without spending an hour memorizing a manual.

Also the turn off the phone and watch tv pretending I’m not home to answer the phone rules.

leslie Diedrick says:

Complicated phones

Mobile phones like most technology marches on but if you want a brick there are plenty out there. You will still only use 5% of its capabilities but that goes for most technology.

My N90 does everything I want but the software & usability is poor (not to mention its weight) but a year is not to long to renew & move on. The added bonus of only carrying one power lead for a multi function device is worth its weight in gold

sam says:

phones should be phones

i agree that cell phones should do one thing really well, make and take phone calls. it seems like every cell phone i buy gets more “features” but less reliability and useability. its bad when your cell gets better reception in a roaming area than in the town you bought it in….

btw i carry a dedicated pda (palm tx), dedicated thumb drive (sandisk cruzer 2 gb), an mp3 player (ipod nano 4GB black), a seperate digital camera (kodak easy share 5MP), and a seperate cell phone (nokia 6820) so i don’t want or need an all-in-one device that excels at nothing. if my phone dies, i still have my contacts and music, if my ipod dies i can still make calls or play solitaire, etc..

Bobloblaw says:

PDA Phones rule

I’ve always thought cell phones were clunky with stupid interfaces until I got my Samsung i730 from Verizon, running PocketPC 2003. I’ve had it for almost a year and I still love it. The interface is easy and you don’t always have to pull out the pen to use it. I will never go back to the “old school” cell phones now.

I also loaded up a 1 GB SD chip with my favorite MP3s and I can listen to music through the stereo headphones that came with it, all without the hassle of the DRM crap that we all hate so much. Also the tight integration with my Exchange Server is wonderful, if I create or update a contact in my Outlook, it appears on my phone within a few minutes, and my inbox is always with me. The newer models are probably even better.

I always laugh when someone shows me their new “Razr” or “Chocolate” or even the Crackberry, my phone blows them all out of the water. Well worth the $500 I spent for it…

Name says:

rolled into one

things like the raz0r and other fancy phones are just for looks…i fell into the trap as well and bought a Moto Razr. it just does anything a normal phones does…call people. and it doesnt even do that right. Fewest droped calls of anynetwork…ya right.

i got two phones (dont ask y) the razor gets 2 bars while my LG get 5 IN THE SAME PLACE. razor just sucks and i expect this for just about all cool looking phones.

Bob Jonkman says:

Struck a chord with this article!

Boy, Carlo! You’ve hit a nerve. With this many comments this article deserves a follow-up.

Don’t forget the other side of the coin — those of us who DO buy a phone with all the features intending to use them, and then finding the carrier has crippled those features.

For example, last weekend I bought a Samsung A920 from Bell Mobility, complete with camera, MP3 player, Bluetooth and a USB cable. Now I find that the Bluetooth can only be used to transfer ONE contact at a time, and not for transferring pictures or sound files. And the USB cable is even more useless, it can only be used to connect the phone as a modem. No transfer capability at all. Why? So the customer is forced to transfer pictures and sound through expensive airtime. And there’s still no way to transfer contacts or calendar data. The phone goes back this weekend. If Bell can’t make it work properly they don’t get my business.

Maybe just a plain ol’ phone is better after all.


Nate K says:

Time for the Startec to return

Until recently, my StarTec was still in service… This phone is that old black one, one of the first flip phones, .. best damn phone I’ve ever had.. It called people, that and the address book was about all that it did… FUnny thing is though, this old ass phone had awsome battery life, got better signals than some of my buddies with the new phones, and never had problems with locking up etc. etc. like my new phones seem to have… It was also tough, I’ beat the crap out of this thing.. I was upset when I lost it, and if they made another phone like it, I’d buy it in a heart beat.

As for Verizon, I”ve been a loyal verizon customer since around 1998 (was a company which merged into verizon at that point) … I’m seriously considering changing providers now, Seems that my buddies are having better luck with Cingular phones now, and they are not so crippled either!

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