by Carlo Longino

No, That Phone Isn't Broken, It's Just Unusable

from the how-do-you-turn-this-thing-on? dept

From the "Not Surprising At All, Really" file comes a new survey out of the UK that's found nearly two-thirds of the new mobile phones returned to a major retailer there as broken aren't broken at all, it's just that apparently they're so difficult to use people think they're broken. The poor usability of increasingly complex devices is symptomatic of the mobile industry's usability problems as a whole -- particularly with the mobile content and data services that are supposed to be driving its latest renaissance. A survey of people who used data services for the first time during the World Cup found that half of them won't use it again, citing poor ease of set up and use as significant reasons, while other content providers report embarrassingly low response rates to content-delivery messages, something largely blamed on, again, setup and usability problems. The sad thing is that these exact same types of stories and surveys have been published for many years, but very little meaningful action is taking place, particularly from mobile operators, who must bear a lot of the responsibility for ensuring users devices are set up properly when they get them, but also from handset vendors, most of whom don't devote enough resources to software and user-interface design.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. identicon
    Max Headroom, Jul 13th, 2006 @ 10:44am

    Apple, duh.

    Now tell me this isn't a big fat opportunity for Apple to do something great in this space and combine it with iPod. Yum.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    WirelessGuy, Jul 13th, 2006 @ 10:44am

    They already did that

    But the profit mongers limited the music count to 100 songs, the form factor was eh and the sound quality ehhhhh. See ROKR phone from moto/apple. The problem people don't realize is that there is a lot that goes into making a phone work well, meet the FCC SAR requirements (Health/Safe power limits) and be able to make calls. You just can't slap a radio in an iPod form factor and get it to work. If it was that simple, it would have happened 3 years ago.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Riddelin, Jul 13th, 2006 @ 11:12am


    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    Ritalout, Jul 13th, 2006 @ 11:18am


    So what has happened that everybody on techdirt thinks the first response is peak of their lives. It is easy to have the first post. All you have to do is have no life. Grow up and write a real response.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    Riddelin, Jul 13th, 2006 @ 11:19am

    I got a Motorola Pebble when they first came out. It occasionally acts buggy, so far nothing a restart won't fix. Everyone I tell says that's what happens with the first editions Motorola phones and I should send it back. My guess is they really are broken, sure some people are dumb, but it's a cell phone, how complicated can it be? Surely not as much as trying to figuure out the bill.

    My first first!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    Hey Now, Jul 13th, 2006 @ 11:30am

    Another Example of how media drives development

    If you pay attention to any media, especially Internet based, everyone wants their phone to be a tech marvel. Real people (Disclaimer: majority vs. minority, not discounting geeks as not being real people. The use of the term real people is just used as a classification method. I know how you blog posters like to take one word and then start an assault on the intelligence of the poster. The other default used by the attack people is typos and spelling. Those are always thrown in the face of the original poster as if proof reading a stupid post that was written in seconds is a sign of intelligence) just want to use the phone. They may think a feature is cool in the marketing material, but find it is a pain in the ass to use. I am a tech pro and want my phone only to ring (on vibrate no stupid downloaded tones please) so I can answer it. I have tried most of the other crap they add to these things and find it to be a pain in the ass. There are a small percentage of people who want all these fancy features on a phone, but the manufactures should not be surprised when they get low adoption and usage of them. I think the problem is they are using tech sites to see what features people want in phones instead of researching real people who use computers only for email and shopping as well as those who don't use computers at all. Regardless of what the geeks say, a lot of people still don't use computers and they get along just fine in life.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    The Angry One, Jul 13th, 2006 @ 11:33am

    Everyone will ONLY whine

    Once again, like everyday, here is another snippit about some MEGA corp that is feeding us garbage technology, or "forcing" us to live by their bottom line (anyone heard of RIAA or MPAA). STOP whining and do something. Write your, and several other "Congressthieves", vote for someone different next time, write to the corp. and complain. AND DON"T BUY THE CRAP. I bought a Treo 700w, the entire package is garbage, so I returned it. THERE IS STRENGTH IN NUMBERS!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    RC, Jul 13th, 2006 @ 11:38am

    Treo 700w garbage?

    Explain? I have a treo 700w for work and it is by far the best handheld device I ahve owned. Then again, I use it for business purposes only (logging inot sevrers remotely to fix things) and a phone

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    Jimmy Bear Pearson, Jul 13th, 2006 @ 11:38am

    Not really surprising...

    Small personal electronic devices (music, phone, PDA, etc.) must be easy *and* intuitive for them to be used fully (and popular for purchase). Cost of service is also a factor - even for early adopters.

    My little family has 4 cell phones we all use quite a bit. NONE of us use data services.
    Here's why:
    Using browser-based data requires VERY LONG periods of time just connecting the browser to the world;
    Data transfer (with our provider and phones) is EXTREMELY SLOW;
    Data transfer is OBSCENELY EXPENSIVE on our cell accounts;
    Beyond simple text messages, data transfer requires a jillion screens, OK buttons, and key clicks.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    Markus Gonis, Jul 13th, 2006 @ 12:05pm

    Problems with mobile devices

    I'm not surprised by this article. In addition to issues with usability, many of these devices do have initial problems whilst new. These are manufactured and flashed with the OS image en masse. Many times they are in a whacked state brand new out of the box. The fact that they have all these bells and whistles makes them even more prone to odd behavior. Working with mobile devices here at Microsoft, I always push for users to hard-reset their mobile devices first before setting anything up. This allievates many potential problems and frustration. Usually this information can be found in the manual after some digging.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon
    mmichaels, Jul 13th, 2006 @ 12:07pm

    Broken is in the eye of the beholder

    As a tech guy I love my Treo 700w. I have to soft-reset it every 3-4 days because it ocasionally decides it doesn't want to connect the internet. To me, this is a small price to pay for the features I receive.

    On the other hand, if I give this exact same device to an executive in my company (a normal user), he says "Why has my email stopped coming?". I soft-reset it for him (which he knows how to do) and it starts working fine again. Eventually, he grows tired of coming to me to reset his device every week (which he really really REALLY knows how to do himself). So he decides that his phone is broken, reads an article about a "better" phone and decides to buy that, only to experience a different set of "minor" problems.

    In summary, the Treo 700W works great for me and is "not broken at all". The same Treo 700W has problems for my company executive and is obviously "broken" and needs to be returned (or stuffed in my cardboard "broken phones" box to be reallocated to someone in my company who will better appreciate it, at a later date).

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. identicon
    Wolfger, Jul 13th, 2006 @ 12:19pm

    Re: ???

    So what has happened that everybody on techdirt thinks the first response is peak of their lives. It is easy to have the first post. All you have to do is have no life. Grow up and write a real response.

    So what has happened that everybody on techdirt thinks complaining about the first response is peak of their lives. It is easy to complain about the first post. All you have to do is have no life. Grow up and write a real response.


    P.S. Please add the words "first", "1st", "post", and leetspeak derivations to the spam-flag list. :-)

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. identicon
    Topher3105, Jul 13th, 2006 @ 12:32pm

    What the UK should do

    Ban stupidity, they can do that after they ban the standby mode for electronic devices, and raise their island because of the melting Arctic ice .

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. identicon
    Scott, Jul 13th, 2006 @ 12:36pm


    Tell ya what....I use a blackberry for phone and email...it has a browser, but wtf am I gonna see on a screen that small?!?!? Hell, I barely can get email out, let alone browse pr0n, or spend any time reading anything!! Forget about making an "Everthing" device, and make the ones we have work well, including phone quality.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. identicon
    Can't Stand it, Jul 13th, 2006 @ 12:50pm

    Brain Growth

    The real problem is the user and their expectations. These devices aren't the greatest thing, but people want them to make the breakfest, lunch, and dinner. Then when the device does something they don't understand, which could be something as simple as ring, they flip out. And lets face it, the more you pack into a small package the more that can go wrong. I don't care if it's Palm, Windows, or some other OS, it can and will go wrong.

    These devices are for people that can handle the basic tech fuctions. Not for people that think their cool and just want them. Those vast majority of people need and phone that will make and call and that's it. DUMB IT DOWN - Just look at broadcast TV and you will see the DUMB IT DOWN at work.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. identicon
    Prescott, Jul 13th, 2006 @ 12:58pm

    Like Apple or not..

    This is why the I-Pod is what it is. It is easy to use. I, being a gadget junkie, think it is plain and boring but the I-pod does what it is supposed to do simply.

    ps I do not own one and yes it is because i am not a member of the Steve Jobs fan club.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 13th, 2006 @ 1:13pm


    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18. identicon
    Apple13, Jul 13th, 2006 @ 1:41pm

    Apple will make it happen...

    Just give them some time to develop... finally a company that gets it!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19. identicon
    SmokeABowl, Jul 13th, 2006 @ 2:32pm

    Re: ???

    ??? by Ritalout on Jul 13th, 2006 @ 11:18am
    So what has happened that everybody on techdirt thinks the first response is peak of their lives. It is easy to have the first post. All you have to do is have no life. Grow up and write a real response.

    I'm just gonna bitch because I can! - What a great mentality!

    Maybe you should smoke a bong and calm the ph00k down before you open a web browser...


    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20. identicon
    Scott, Jul 13th, 2006 @ 3:07pm

    Stupid people.

    The problem is not really useability of the phones really.
    It is just that there are so many dumb people. I don't like that devices have to constantly be dumbed down to accomodate stupid people. It makes them less useful for smart people.

    For example. There was a time when running everything on a computer through a command line interface was acceptable, normal, and very easy and fast for anyone with at least half a brain.

    Then Microsoft came along and decided that all the people with less than half a brain needed computers and we got Windows. Now look what happened. Dumb people have infiltrated the internet and made it less useful by posting "first!" in every entry they can on my favorite tech blog.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 13th, 2006 @ 3:10pm

    What I want is for cellphones--and consumer electronics in general--to mature as an industry along with the consumers and start providing products that arent designed for mental infants. At some point we will all be pro enough cell phone users that we dont need a fucking animated icon to tell us we're scrolling through a menu. Until then I will wait impatiently and scornfully but I wonder--when that time comes will they still be giving us children's toys?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 13th, 2006 @ 3:11pm

    Seriously, I would pay $500 if I could use my old black and white kyocera flipphone on a new network. its the best phone I ever had. Indiglo baby!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23. identicon
    Mike J, Jul 13th, 2006 @ 3:30pm

    Keep it Simple

    I want a cell phone that makes and recieves phone calls with a bell ringing sound. THATS IT, I dont want email on my phone, I dont want to pay $5 per milisecond to surf the internet, if I want the internet I will find a computer.

    Why do they have to make everything do everything. Dont they know there are people out there that want a computer to do games and surf the web, a cell phone so they dont have to have a land line, a video camera that records on a VHS tape, and a tv network without the sell you crap networks.

    I knew the world had passed me by when they stoped selling camcorders that recorded 9 hours on a single VHS cassette. I got a new camcorder and if Im lucky and use the longest setting I can get a whopping 90 minutes on a single tape oooooooh Im soooooo happy!!!!1!1!!!1

    I know its possible for companies to produce high quality SIMPLE devices just based on the advances in tech. But they never will..... PROFIT $$$$$$$ the new controller, if they cant make a billion on it they dont make it. I am so sick of people not doing something because they wont get rich, life is not about getting rich its about having fun. If lifes not fun your doing something wrong.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24. identicon
    I, for one, Jul 13th, 2006 @ 4:20pm

    HCI Failure

    According to my profile I should love mobile phones and keep the very latest model. After all, I'm a computer expert who works in the tech sector. I can afford it. I understand it.

    But I actually keep a scrappy old phone I bought in 1998.

    It's probably one a very few examples of its kind left because it had the battery moulded into the casing to make it non-replacable (designed obolescence), however I used my electronics skills to remove and replace it.

    Why do I keep a phone that is almost 9 years old?

    There are side issues like the fact it never got stolen because it is unattractive and obviously old. But the main reason is ease of use. It only has about 10 functions on it.

    I graduated from my computer science degree in the late 1980s. One of the last subjects I remember taking was a unit called HCI. Human computer interfacing was a buzzword at that time and the subject was hailed as the latest all-new important research direction. We studied all sorts of cognitive egonomics, workflow analysis, interface layout....

    Well it seems like I was the only one. Fully 10 years after I sat in that lecture hall I went out and bought a mobile phone and noticed that it had the text buttons labled like an old style 1950s telephone...


    and so on.

    Only a complete fool could have made that design decision.

    Letters used for text input should be arranged in frequency order, like morse code. The first key should be e, a, s ... with q appearing next to z on the last key.

    I mean, does anybody use those 1970s mnemonics like dial
    08000-123-PIZZA anymore?

    I would love a job at Nokia or Erikson just to show those dimwits how to design a proper interface for an electronic gadget. Good interface design is an art, and the current developers haven't the first clue about it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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