Psst: People Still Want Mobile Phones To Be Phones First

from the kitchen-sink,-second dept

Jeremy Wagstaff makes an important point that is important to repeat every once in a while: for all the fancy new smartphones out there, many people still want a mobile phone to just be a phone that works. Wagstaff makes his point by saying how an unnamed top mobile phone exec told him off-the-record (hence the lack of identification) that despite all the fancy feature-filled smartphones he was out trying to convince the world to buy, his favorite phone was the simple Nokia 1100. It's a simple, straight-forward phone. No camera. No video. No internet. Not even a color screen. But, it works. This reminds me that until only about a year ago, my main mobile phone was a Samsung SCH-3500, which I'd used for about six years or so. Sure I'd tried this or that smart phone, but none of them seemed to do the most basic thing (act as a phone) nearly as well. It was only earlier this year that I finally switched to a smart phone full time, but it still doesn't work nearly as well as that old 3500 for just making and receiving calls. I, like many people, certainly like the idea of the various features found in a smartphone, but if it can't work well as a phone, it's really not particularly useful.

Reader Comments (rss)

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  1. identicon
    Mrrar, Oct 23rd, 2007 @ 8:50am


    Hmm yeah I tend to disagree. I mean, sure, yes, they want a phone first...

    But how many people buy cars without air condition, Radio? How popular are navigation systems and OnStar?

    Making phones as less phones and more portable computers.. makes sense. It's just a change of paradigm which companies are leaning toward.. It just takes time for the technology to mature. Remember that cell phone technology is 25 years mature or so-- smart phones are perhaps.. 10? And smart phones are far more complex beasts..

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

  2. identicon
    Ajax 4Hire, Oct 23rd, 2007 @ 8:54am

    But how many people but a car with

    Air Conditioner, Radio, Headlight, Rear-Window defroster but
    the car does NOT work.

    Car must be a car first.
    Phone must be a TelePhone first.

    First things first.
    If you try to be all things to all people
    you end up being nothing to no one.
    Know what you do an do it well.

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

  3. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 23rd, 2007 @ 9:07am

    I bet it is the RIAA fault that smartphones don't work. You can listen to illegally downloaded music on them. It is all their fault.

    I think that the RIAA might be responsible for the forest fires in California. Have you ever seen a tree buy an album? Just saying.

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

  4. identicon
    DAMINOS, Oct 23rd, 2007 @ 9:16am

    He is totally right, i got a Nokia 2650 which works just fine after a Nokia 9300 that I lost and with it my entire life just because I had everything stored in that phone...which was kind of tricky to use, now is better to have one thing to do what it's mean to be for....making calls...if u want to play musik buy a Mp3 Player...if u want to watch videos...PSP

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

  5. icon
    ECA (profile), Oct 23rd, 2007 @ 9:17am

    Very true

    We did this a few years back on a web site. I asked the features that want on a cellphone, and after allt he comments, I asked, "How about a cellphone that WORKED anyplace?" , they all agreed.

    I live in a rural area, near the main highway in idaho.
    A city 10 miles North of me...and sun Valley farther north.
    Some companies get 1/2 way to the next town...After that town, NONE work. and its 10 miles from the freeway. Past that location upto Sun Valley...the signals ARE very bad. And it ISNT digital if you do get a signal.
    Im not even counting all the dead spots, in cities, and along freeways..

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

  6. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 23rd, 2007 @ 9:20am

    I'll vote phone first. In fact, my next phone will be a "phone only."

    My old phone needed charging once a week. Actually about every 10 days, but I was in the habit of charging it on Friday evenings. Now my smart phone with its plethora of features and big screen takes charging every night. That means I sometimes forget to grab it off the charger in the morning and don't have a mobile all day.

    My provider made it worse by deciding they could make money if I shopped through my phone. So all of the menu's start with shopping and I have to tell the phone "No, I don't want to shop" before I can get to the other phone features.

    I really hope the 700MHz auction goes well on its first round. I would love to buy a phone that has the features I want configured the way I want them.

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

  7. identicon
    Paco, Oct 23rd, 2007 @ 9:26am

    Samsung SCH 3500

    The Samsung SCH 3500 was my first cell phone! I loved that phone, but the damn hinge got messed up and the speaker started cutting out. I loved that phone, and have been through MULTIPLE other phones looking for one that was as good as that one.

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

  8. identicon
    Danno, Oct 23rd, 2007 @ 9:36am

    Y'know, a lot of people might poo-poo me for this, but my iPhone is really a *great* phone.

    And since I actually like having it with me (hated having a regular cell on me since I don't make that many calls, and I don't like the idea of a "Bother me" device), people can actually get in contact with me more frequently (though at the expense of my isolation).

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

  9. identicon
    Alex, Oct 23rd, 2007 @ 9:50am


    I loathe talking to people on the phone. Give me a device with snappy WM06 and 3G/evd0 rev.a.

    Let me browse, email and IM. That's all I want. No video, no youtube, no damn webclipped versions of sites.

    I don't own a cellphone. I don't have a land line at home. I use skype for the 5 phone calls I make a year.

    I realize I am in the minority here, but screw phones.

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

  10. identicon
    AHisham, Oct 23rd, 2007 @ 9:54am

    Very Very true

    I truly agree with the unidentified exec ..... my favorite is the Nokia 1100 ..... it just works, no features ... no problems in these feature to screw up my phone or to destabalize its system, its a known security strategy in IT .... decrease the exposed surface to decrease the attackable areas .... it just the same in mobiles.

    One feature I really like in plain-phones is that they have a looooooonng battery life (the Nokia 1100 can be charged once in a week in light uses .... or you can stay all day long talking in it and it stands up to 2 full days).

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

  11. identicon
    Technophob, Oct 23rd, 2007 @ 10:10am

    As much as I like all the gizmos, I can care less for all the "cool" phone features lately. Especially for the price Verizon charges for SMS, web, video etc... I wouldn't mind using SMS and e-mail, but not for $40 extra per month. And sure I won't pay $2 for a ringtone or wallpaper (if the phone would be unhackable ;).
    At the end, all I need is a phone; I am anxious to get to the day when i can ditch my RAZR and get something more reliable and sturdy.

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

  12. identicon
    sehlat, Oct 23rd, 2007 @ 10:10am

    Give me a *simple* phone

    My wife and I frequently visit and report from venues where photography is not only absolutely a no-no, but the people in attendance would react *very* poorly to having their pictures taken. Given that everybody and his dog is trying to foist off "cell phones with the *GREAT CAMERA FEATURE*" finding an acceptable phone is becoming a nightmare.

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

  13. identicon
    Steve, Oct 23rd, 2007 @ 10:10am

    Re: Disagree

    I completely agree with your disagreement, as well as your analogy.
    Unlike cars, gadgets are getting cheaper and smaller all the time. When I want an mp3 player, I grab my Ipod. When I need to take pictures, I grab my digital camera. When I need to make a phone call, I grab my... phone. The first 2 have one primary function and do it well. The last one has one primary function that it pretty well sucks at, plus a whole bunch of other crap that I don't even want.
    Make a phone that lets me walk from my kitchen to my living room without dropping a call- THEN worry about mobile tv and all that other crap.

    Hell- I went to a concert last weekend and had to leave my phone behind because it had a camera in it- a camera I've used once in 3 years. I didn't even want the damn camera, but I couldn't get a decent phone without one...

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

  14. identicon
    Nismoto, Oct 23rd, 2007 @ 10:59am


    No. No. No.

    I don't want to buy a phone just for a phone, an MP3 player just to play music, a $600 PDA just to send email and check appointments.

    I can see you now walking down the street with 6 devices clipped to your belt looking like Batman.

    No thanks. Just give me one device that does many things "good enough": good enough to get me through the times when I am not behind my computer, which happens to do all things wonderfully.

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

  15. identicon
    Nismoto, Oct 23rd, 2007 @ 11:02am

    Re: Re: Disagree

    Sounds like you completely disagree with his disagreement...

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

  16. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 23rd, 2007 @ 11:03am

    All I want is a cell phone that works for telephoning. Yeah, I'm an old codger, so sue me. I have 2 computers at home and one at work, and don't need to carry one with me everywhere I go. Ditto the MP3 player. Just let me make the call I need to make, not have the service drop out and I'm a happy old geezer!! :)

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

  17. identicon
    Chuck Norris' Enemy (deceased), Oct 23rd, 2007 @ 11:11am

    Next feature

    Somebody came into the office wondering if we had an oscilloscope. We didn't, but somebody made the comment that it should be on the iPhone soon. {: )

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

  18. identicon
    MEoip, Oct 23rd, 2007 @ 11:15am


    The phone makers and sellers are hoping they can out run the computer market. An iphone does most of what I use my computer for. If you could add on a a USB ports and sell a dock, for mouse, keyboard and printer and a monitor I would have all I need for a computer; a place to type, and save documents and a place to surf the internet.

    It's only a matter of time and shrinking tech until we carry our computers and at this rate it's going to be made my Sony Ericsson and Nokia not Dell and Gateway.

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

  19. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 23rd, 2007 @ 11:31am


    That's what you think, but everyone I've ever had a phone conversation with who's been on an iPhone sounds like they are either underwater or in a windstorm.

    The sound might be great for you, but it sucks for whoever you are calling.

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

  20. identicon
    UniBoy, Oct 23rd, 2007 @ 11:37am

    All I want is a typewriter

    "None of these crazy PCs and word processing software work worth a damn. Just give me a simple manual typewriter and a bottle of whiteout, and everything is so much simpler." :)

    I think you are missing the point here. Five years from now, smartphones will be a whole lot better, and probably just as "indispensable" as our PCs are today.

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

  21. identicon
    D Mac, Oct 23rd, 2007 @ 12:11pm


    The problem isn't that your phone has a lot of extra features, it is just that, either:

    A. You want something simple because you are confused by technology

    B. You are buying crappy phones.

    There are plenty of phones that work great as phones And have tons of features. You just need to do your research before you buy.

    Is it really surprising that a telco exec wants a simple phone? He is probably 60+ Most older people that come into my store want a simple phone (because they fit into reason A), but just about everyone else wants the features.

    Accept the fact that it is progress. Yes, your car's dashboard is now more confusing because it can do so much more than it used to. Yes, your computer does way more now and it probably more confusing for you. Same with your phone. If you don't want all those extra features buy a basic phone and don't use the extra features, but Most people Do want all the extra features.

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

  22. identicon
    SRNissen, Oct 23rd, 2007 @ 12:17pm

    What *I* want is a phone that runs on AAA batteries. My last phones batteries finally died, and since that model had been discontinued, I couldn't get new batteries and had to go without cellphone until last Christmas when I got one as a gift. It's working out for me fine - And unlike the rest of you, mp3 capability in my cell doesn't bother me :P - but I'm not looking forward to the day when I'll have to throw €200000 at a company to get a new phone when this one dies. Much rather a AAA phone - those won't be taken out of production before the sun grows cold.

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

  23. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 23rd, 2007 @ 12:19pm

    Mostly I just wonder why there cant be a market for classy simple phones. I would pay as much as an iphone for naught but a phone if it were well thought out and good at what it does. and if it had a black and white display.

    cell phone designers cant be trusted with color like children can't be trusted with guns

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

  24. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 23rd, 2007 @ 12:24pm

    Re: Progress

    Oh for crying out loud. This is a tech blog. Give us some credit--I dont think we're confused by phones. I think we're bludgeoned over the head repeatedly by their asinine designs which seem to prioritize shiny veneer and tricks to getting you to buy content from the provider over simple streamlined designs.

    Also it is hard to judge an individual phone in a vaccuum. We compare each new phone we're forced into to the one before, which we invariably preferred.

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

  25. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 23rd, 2007 @ 12:58pm

    blah blah blah

    This whole anti-smartphone bit is pathetic.

    Do some googling and look at smartphone sales/usage in Japan and Europe.

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

  26. identicon
    Nilt, Oct 23rd, 2007 @ 1:06pm

    Geek who just wants a freaking phone

    I'm a self employed geek. In my case, I need a phone and I need a computer. Is is convenient to have both in one like the iPhone? Sure! Are such devices cool? Yeah!

    Here's where is gets inconvenient and decidedly uncool, though. If my cell phone breaks, my business is inconvenienced but not down. If my mobile computer breaks, my business is inconvenienced but not down. The issue is this when both happen to break at the same time and/or I am without them for longer than a day or two.

    Now, that's never happened but to simulate it I tried not using either a while back, mainly out of curiosity. I was almost completely unable to conduct business. I spent so much time working around the problem that I discovered if I was without one or the other longer than a day (two at most) my business virtually shuts down. That impacts my business for the next week at least because I've got to catch up. What if my clients that I can't handle in a timely manner go elsewhere? This is even worse!

    So here's a geek (and I do mean geek ... I a basement full of gadgets and they spill into the rest of the house) that will not have a combined device. I need a phone to be a freaking PHONE. If it does some basic GPS and text messaging, fine. If not then so much the better. I need a mobile computer that is mobile yet functional. The UMPC market is catching up to that need but it has a bit more to go.

    What it amounts to is convergence is a good thing for many but it cannot serve all aspects of the market with a single device. When a company marginalizes potential customers, they will go elsewhere.

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

  27. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 23rd, 2007 @ 1:35pm

    Re: Progress

    ...but Most people Do want all the extra features.

    And I bet most of those people want all the extra features and the basic phone to work as well. That is the reason why I refuse to get caught of in the hype of mobile content this and mobile tv that. Perhaps when the quality of these all-in-one devices gets to the point where all those extras AND the basic phone works worth a damn more people (myself included) will invest in them.

    Yes the dashboard of a car is more confusing with all the new doohickies and whatnot but at least the ability to download the latest Family Guy episode while getting directions to the nearest theater on your GPS and having your OnStar tell you movie times won't come at the cost of your car suddenly stopping while driving down the freeway.

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

  28. identicon
    James R. Taylor, Oct 23rd, 2007 @ 3:14pm

    Re: Geek who just wants a freaking phone

    If you're THAT dependent on those technologies. If your BUSINESS is that dependent on those technologies, then I suggest you buy some "insurance".

    Translated. Have an extra phone available for use when the first one is dropped getting out of the car or when the waiter pours coffee all over it. Transfer the SIM and keep on going.

    And don't say you can't afford it, as such things are 100% tax deductible.

    BTW, I have an iPhone and a notebook. If the notebook dies I can still check and respond to my email on the phone. (Which I do from time-to-time anyway when my notebook is at home.) And if the phone dies I can still do email, text, chat, and VOIP with the notebook.

    You see, in my book convergence means that you're automatically carrying around a backup...

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

  29. identicon
    Mike Walters, Jan 14th, 2009 @ 3:17pm

    Back to a basic phone

    I agree. I am switching from a Blackberry Bold back to a Blackberry 7100g. The Bold does nearly everything well but the one thing I want it for-a phone. I don't need a camera, I have one already, I don't need an MP3 player. I have SanDisk Fuze that I love. I am convinced that all the stuff they are cramming in to the phones are worth more trouble than not. First Bold fried after six weeks. The warranty replacement is already locking up periodically. I just can't count on it.

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

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