While I love technical gadgets as much as the next person, I am a bit of a refusenik when it comes to mobile communication. While that was all right in the late 1990s when the stuff was only starting to be mainstream, people have regularly been making fun of me because of it since the break of the new millennium.
Of course I don’t have just one but a whole series of reasons for this. The factually most relevant one is that I hardly ever need to be reached urgently. I have a phone at home, I have a phone at my office, I have e-mail in both of those locations as well. If people ‘need’ to reach me otherwise that’s most often related to things like bad planning or irrelevancy rather than some actual urgency. I can see that some people have jobs where they are not at a fixed location and need to be reached. Cab drivers, for example. But for me – and most other people – I think that is not an issue. And the other way round there are phone booths in many places which you can use if you need to call someone while you are not at home.
The second reason is the cost. A mobile phone and a phone contract are more expensive than a proper phone. And from what I have seen and heard the mobile phone businesses contain even more crooks and incompetence than even normal phone companies do. So I am not particularly inclined to sponsor them. Admittedly, prices have come down since 2000 and things aren’t quite as bad anymore. [While mobile calls seem to be 5 (local calls) to 100 (international calls) times as expensive as the same calls on your phone at home, I guess the difference won’t be that huge once you figure in the basic fees you have to pay and assume you are making are reasonably short calls.]
While these two are perfectly good reasons that you can’t really argue with, my main gripe is of course something entirely different: The phones. I like things that ‘just work’ and ‘work well’. And the giant mobile phone hardware industry seems to have severe difficulties with those concepts. While they are making devices that are sold not to thousands, not to millions but to billions of people, they still cannot be bothered to make an effort when it comes to the usability of the devices. The rest of this text will be full of highly subjective and uninformed observations on the topic.
Around 1999 or 2000 everybody suddenly had a mobile phone. Most people I knew had a simple Nokia phone which looked reasonably plain, which was medium sized and could be used to play Snake. It would even vibrate when you bit your own tail while doing that. While Nokia’s numbering scheme easily beats Apple’s late 1990s computer numbering in both the amount of models and the stupidity of the scheme, I think the phone I am talking about may have the number 3310. At least that one looks like what I remember to have seen – and includes a Snake game and wonderfully annoying ring tone called ‘Rocket’.
Around the same time a few people – those who somewhat cared about toys or who were little Asian girls got a phone which was much smaller but otherwise quite similar – model number 8210 I think. And – in retrospect at least – I think that device was quite a marvel. Tiny, light (80g), able to make phone calls and do that text message thing and including the Snake game.
Even back in the days I may have thought something along the lines of
well, if this were affordable and could just copy the address book from my computer, it might be a nice toy even if I don’t really need it. I love nice toys. If they had made an effort to give me one I would have wasted money with them. But that didn’t happen. Instead, everybody started getting their next generation of mobile phones.
And many of the people I know got theirs from Sony Ericsson. Model numbers T610 or T630 I think. While these phones had loads of new features, including a bad camera, a colour display and Bluetooth, they had the disadvantage of being the same size or larger than the phones they replaced.
One reason for their popularity may have been that those phones were fashionable and cheap at the time. But for my Mac using friends, the fact that Sony seems quite good at synchronising via iSync and that people could use tools like Salling Clicker to play with their computers played a role as well.
Otherwise those phones were quite crappy as far as i could tell. It’d invariably be the Sony owners who needed to go outside or close to the window to have good reception. And looking at the – now colourful – user interface in the phone not only confused me but reminded me of Windows (I think not only the ugly icons play a role in this but that the thin ugly font Sony use rings the Windows/Arial bell while the thicker/readable font in those older Nokias is more comfortable to the eye of the Mac/Chicago/Charcoal/iPod user). And I can’t possibly mean that in a small or polite way.
Then Motorola started appearing and my mum got some ugly flip open phone of theirs (V220 or at least looking similar to that one). That phone suggested two things to me: On the one hand it was butt-ugly both in hardware and in the sluggish software. But on the other hand it had better reception and a (slightly) better camera than the Sony ones.
And so on and so on. People got even more phones. Higher resolutions on the bad cameras, more ‘stylish’ designs on those Razer phones, the ability to play music from some little memory card. And all that – that’s my impression at least – with the devices slightly growing in size and becoming harder and harder to use rather than being sleeker and more useful.
Being the type who invariably runs into glitches, shortcomings and crashes in software rather quickly and who is invariably annoyed by them, even those years of development with billions of phones shipped didn’t manage to create a device which would please me by just being non-idiotic, a pleasure to use and possibly even good looking.
And while I can see how the iPhone may move things in the right direction here and may help injecting some actual progress in that market, it’s certainly not a solution for me. I don’t need a phone, so I’m not going to spend hundreds on one. Particularly if it’s made by Apple – which by my recent experiences with their poducts suggets that it will break within a year.
Summary: Either it comes with Snake or it’s a pain to use.
Read the next part of this series on me giving in.
Oof, yes. Your number one and number two reasons for not needing mobile communications are spot on. Those same reasons apply perfectly to me; I’ve been completely happy without a cell phone.
Hope you won’t be too disappointed by what follows, then.
Same here. I never had a mobile phone in my life, and the times I have been forced to use one where painful experiences: couldn’t write SMS messages, the phone felt unconfortable in my pocket, the UI was horrible, etc.
That, plus the cost and the annoyance are enough to make me avoid getting one just yet (even if I could get a company one for free). Let us know how it’s working out for you now that you’re a convert.