One Billion Phones

Since the beginning of podcasting and videoblogging, I have heard this received wisdom about how important the cellphone market is to new media. “There are a billion cellphones out there, so you have to pay attention to them.” Now, I got a new phone the other day, a Motorola RAZR. I picked this model specifically because it can play videos and music. It was the best option at the low end of price scale (and the first time I ever got a non-free phone.)

And you know what? While it does play video, the interface on the phone really really sucks. At least, it sucks to play the video that you don’t buy from Sprint. The fact that it has two entirely different video interfaces – one for what you buy from Sprint and one for the video on your memory card – is indicative of a deep problem. There’s a third interface for music and maybe even a fourth. I haven’t really played with it, since the microSD slot was already broken within 24 hours of opening the box. Not an auspicious beginning with a new gadget. Via JD, here’s a story about how media on phones is underperforming expectations. Note that everything they are talking about is Big Machine Media, which I also have no intention of watching. I’m wanting to watch Strong Bad Emails and Ask a Ninja and Tiki Bar TV on the phone, not pay for bullshit from Fox that I don’t watch for free on my television.

Even though I’m not in the market for it, I know the excitement for the iPhone doesn’t come from nowhere. It comes from the fact that using cellphones should be easy, and for any task other than making a call the experience is routinely horrible. The iPhone buzz is an indictment of the usability of cellphones. We are sold these laundry lists of extra features our phones can do, and almost all of them are unusable in practice. I want a phone that I can believe the engineers actually used on a daily basis. I refuse to believe that anyone inside Motorola ever tried to use the alarm clock function in the V180 to wake themselves up.

In summary, I’m officially choosing to ignore all the cell phone proponents about how necessary cell phones are to new media until I see a model where one playing it is a better experience than having a tooth pulled.

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Dave Slusher is a blogger, podcaster, computer programmer, author, science fiction fan and father. Member of the Podcast Hall of Fame class of 2022.

5 thoughts on “One Billion Phones”

  1. Dom Barnes says:

    I think I’d agree with you Dave. I’m quite choosey when it comes to cellphones. I know what I want and I want it to work properly. I’ve used a few Motorola phones and have been completely uninspired by the interface. It seems to lack the logical thought that should’ve been put into it. I find that Nokia’s (Series 60, not 40) are good phones to have, are quick, feature full, and don’t often get bogged down with network branding. Sony Ericsson phones are also good. I had a T610 before, and then moved to a Nokia 6630, and on to a Nokia 6280. They all had bluetooth, GPRS, if not 3G, had a good interface for SMS, calls, apps, music and video and synced easily with iSync.
    I’m changing my handset soon as I’ve had all sorts of problems with the 6280 and I really don’t like the child-like Series 40 interface, let alone the lack of non-java app support. I’d also like the iPhone. I love the navigation of Apple devices and it seems really simple to use without being childish. Unfortunately, being in the UK it will be late 2007 till I get the chance to buy mine.
    I think until high speed networks, good HTML rendering (not WAP), and a decent RSS reader interface are commonplace, I’ll still be looking for something better, and new media won’t be able to take advantage of this sector.
    The only decent things so far on my phone is the Gmail app, and Google Maps app I downloaded. I am hoping for a gCal and gReader app too.

  2. mike dunn says:

    concur – cellphone media services/devices aren’t there yet, mostly i think because of the gatekeeper mindsets of telcos/providers…

    while i do listen to music and podcasts on my cell (while expecting a call usually) i have to go through multiple mundane steps to get what i want on it – painful compared to my various mp3 devices…

    i however don’t think we need a single device to do everything we desire, just the ability to have a few that do what they do well, w/out need of klug-factor 🙂

  3. Dom says:

    Good point. I think a multi-do-all-device might be too much. Its just asking for more functions that have to be hidden behind menus so all the main features can be shown. Saying that, as I said before, I like the iPhone. I can’t say it would replace my iPod but it could mean I can leave it at home when I go on short trips and I might not use it often. I would like to see a smaller charger though, because I don’t wanna carry a small brick of a charger. That may not be avoidable but I can hope. I would use the phone, the ichate style sms-ing sounds interesting, as long as you can turn it off. I tend to send long messages often, rather than short ones. And I would only use the internet broswer every so often. I would hope for AJAX support though for google sites (gCal, gmail, gReader)

    I did just realise this post is also about new media and how its coming to my phone, so I would say that it can come, just don’t force it on me, and don’t make it a cut down version of the real thing.

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