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April 9, 2012

Open letter to mobile manufacturers

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Birth of a geek

I have been a gadget freak since as long as I remember. I was pagerprobably the first to buy Motorola Pagers when they launched in India and switched to Cell phones with Hutchison Max (Orange, Hutch, MaxTouch, Vodafone..) and have ever since stayed with their network. My first phone was Nokia 1011 (hammer) and incoming/outgoing was Rs. 32/min. Since then I have gone thru a lot of handsets. In late 90s I also got a Windows PDA (PPC) Philips Nino which was a B&W PDA with stylus and limited memory. Many iterations later I was on Pocket PC + Nokia 8210 which I used to pair using IrDA to access internet on my PDA (Awkwardly holding Nokia 8210 upside down over the PDA to align the IrDA ports).

 

Birth of Smartphone

When Smartphones arrived I was the happiest, as I could let go of one device and yet be connected to the net.

Windows Mobile

wizardCompaq iPaq was my handset of choice initially and it served me well over GPRS. Later I had an HTC Wizard with Slide-out keyboard and I was in connected-heaven. I was enjoying my Windows Mobile 4.x on it and was ready with wish list for future versions (which I did send to Microsoft Mobile team, that’s another thing that they didn't even acknowledge or respond). I stayed with WM till as long as I could (WM 6.x) and saw that there were hardly any improvements from 4.x to 6.x version.

 

Blackberry

The next wave I caught was Blackberry.. Got myself a Curve andcurve quickly discovered 2 things – One, There is something like Push Notification. Two, Blackberry Internet Service costs and arm and a leg. I was paying 10 times of what others were paying for their GPRS service . When I subscribed to just mail/messages pack, to my horror I realized that I cant even use some of the app over Wi-Fi UNLESS I subscribe to their exorbitant service and THEN use Wi-Fi. I was quickly off the platform.

 

iPhone

iphone4Then the expected happened – Apple launched iPhone. No, I didn't rush out to buy an iPhone (in fact, the first iPhone I bought was 4S and not 2, 3G or 3GS). In fact, I skipped the iPhone bandwagon initially as I wasn’t convinced with screenful of icons as my primary display.

 

Android

The Android revolution – I was hooked. I got myself an HTC Desiredesire running Froyo. First of all it had the operating system which I grew up learning computers on – UNIX (Well, Linux but its kinda same thing). And it didn’t have just a bunch of icons (sometimes with a red count badge). I could place widgets and information on the screen the way I wanted it (somewhat like Windows Mobile’s “Today Screen”). It was geeky but good.

Windows Phone

lumiaI loved my Windows Mobile and was using it for almost a decade so when Microsoft launched Windows Phone, naturally I was excited.  However, I already had an Android as well as an iPhone4 so didn't want to rush out to get a third phone. Also, I tend to wait for at least 2-3 versions of a software till it stabilizes. This year when I was asked to speak at TechED, I was asked what topic I would like to speak on and I chose Mobile UX. Naturally, the platform would be Windows Phone (although what I spoke about applies to any mobile platform), I went out an got myself a Lumia 800.

Having used almost all Smartphones in the market, I began to realize the good features of each of them and started dreaming of mixing the features into a single phone – my dream phone. Like that is going to happen Sad smile So, I am doing the next best thing – Listing out what should go into my dream Smartphone here and hoping that some of the mobile companies might read this post and evaluate if my suggestions (and DEMANDS) are valid and they may incorporate it in their next version.

So here goes….

Dream Phone

Don’t force me to use two hands on a mobile phone

I believe that phones should be a one-handed device which I can glance at and operate while I am having tea or reading a book or even typing with one hand on my laptop. If I have to use both hands I will use a laptop, thank you.

onehandAnother thing is that I don't have long fingers (thumb) to reach top edges of the screen. Some phones (like iPhone) usually have all the buttons on top and I find myself stretching my thumb to reach them (at times I had dropped the phone trying to do this). Android on the other hand seems to understand this better. It has a menu button at the bottom which pops up a menu near the bottom edge of the screen. Most apps too provide navigation and buttons at the bottom (unless they have been ported from iPhone – e.g. Whatsapp, Viber etc.).

Don't make me switch on just to see if there are notifications

Why oh why so many phone manufactures don't put a notification LED anymore? (That includes iPhone, Samsung series, Nokia Lumia). Is it not fashionable anymore? Guys, I hate it when I have notificationto switch on my phone, unlock it, slide down the notification bar or check the apps to see if there are notifications. ARRRGH! I am NOT going to look at ANY phone in the future which doesn't have notification LED and doesn't allow me to display different colours for different types of notifications.

Don't make me hunt all over the place for notifications

androidnotificationsLife was simple with simple phones.. Either you get a call or you get an SMS. Well, I want my phone to be smart, which includes showing me ALL types of notifications in a central place instead of scurrying all over the place to collect my notifications. Android had this feature from day one and Apple got smart too. Windows Phone however hasn't implemented a notification centre yet (I hope they do). What’s worse is that if you miss a notification in WP, it doesn't even show as a count badge in AppList (unless you have placed the app in a tile. c’mon, I cant add ALL my apps as tiles just to see missed notifications).

Don't make me run apps just to see quick information

twc

That's soo un-smartphone, to show just a list of apps (Nokia did this with its DumbPhones oops.. feature phones too). When I switch on my phone, I don't want to see a list of my apps.. I want to see information (and not just how many unread SMS). I want to be able to quickly glance and see whose SMS are pending, who has mailed me (at least the subject line?), what's the weather like and how posted recently on FB. All this without having to open apps or slip and slide all over the place. Windows Mobile had this as “Today Screen” and Android took it to the next level by allowing “Widgets” to be places anywhere on the screen.

Android-Pro-Widgets

Thanks to this, most of the time I am not even running apps but just glancing over the info and deciding if I need to take an action. iPhone has continued with the old-fashioned idiom of showing screenful of apps. Windows Phone did go in the right direction with tiles but unfortunately due to limited size of the tile, its difficult to show meaningful information (most tiles still show count badge – 2 unread mails or 3 unread SMS, instead of showing me names of people who have mailed/messaged me and subject line/preview of message).

Don't make me do tuk tuk on a tiny keyboard with fingernails

Mobile typing has always been a pain since the original cell phone. Earlier it used to be alpha-numeric keypad with multiple press of a button to get the 2nd or 3rd character. A mail would take forever to type on it. Windows Mobile came up with an onscreen keyboard which, while it was an improvement, it still was cumbersome to type with a stylus. iPhone supposedly “revolutionized” mobile typing. Well, it did not. All it did was make the screen a big bigger, keyboard a bit more spaced out and lost the stylus so that we could type with our tiny(?) little fingers. I don't know about you guys but I have fat fingers which press 3-4 keys at a time. I find myself resorting to using tip of my fingers carefully to press one key at a time. Sometime sharpening my fingernails to click that tinnnny URL on a webpage.

swype

The real revolution happened in mobile keyboard was with Swype. I just love it! I don't have to be accurate, I don't have to go tuk-tuk on a tiny keyboard… I soo wish that iPhone and WP include a Swype like keyboard in their next version (as they don't allow 3rd party to integrate keyboards). This is one thing I just cant live without on my mobile and which is probably why Android is my primary device (You can download Swype for any Android phone and many phones come built it in with Swype (Samsung) or Swype-like keyboard (Sony Xperia).

Don't miss the 1+ billion market

hindiI have to hand it to Apple. I have always been amazed at their support for international languages and fonts. On my Mac, it not only allows Hindi and other Indian languages, it actually transliterates things typed in Hindi. So typing your name as “संजय” will automatically prompt your username as “Sanjay”. They have carried this to iOS too where it not only supports display of Hindi but with iPhone 4 also has a Hindi keyboard. One of the grouse I always had with WM was no support for Indic and this continues into WP. Microsoft should wake up and realize that the next billion devices sold will be in India and other Asian countries. Android has flaky support for Indic as I believe it doesn't have that in the core OS but manufacturers like Samsung and Sony had Indic fonts for display (although no built in keyboard).

 

hinglishI recently came across a feature in Android phone (Sony Xperia S) which literally blew me away. It has HINGLISH support!! I can actually switch the keyboard language to HINGLISH and swype “kya kar raha hai” and it not only recognizes Hindi words in English fonts but also suggests word correction. Wow! Just wow! Most people in India type SMS and other messages in Hindi, and this feature will really go a long way in selling to Indian crowd. They should add Tamlish (Tamil English), Kannadish (Kannada English)… get my point?

 

Electronics and water are arch enemies

There are at least 3 phones I ruined by either dropping into water or due to sweat seeping into the phones. I mean, its a known fact that electronics don't “gel” with water. How difficult is it to make the phone waterproof? Swiss and Japanese did this with watches long ago, so I am sure they can learn from watch makers. Its not that it hasn't been done. I remember a Nokia feature phone which is totally water proof and more recently Sony too, so why cant all Smartphones do this?

waterprrof

Smartphone have dumb batteries

 

androidextendedbattery

I agree, as the capabilities of smartphone increase, the need for higher capacity battery will also go up. I am not asking for battery to last for months or even a week, but c'mon.. you cant provide a battery which can last even for 24 hours if I am using Wi-Fi, GPRS or watching videos?

I am out in the sun, can I charge it please?

That brings me to the next point.. Ok, so you cannot provide enough battery power to last me 24 hours but why cant you provide me with a built in solar panel (maybe the back cover?) or a reasonably priced external solar charger to charge my phone in emergency situations.

solarpanel

If I discharged my battery watching videos without realizing, at least give me someway to charge it a bit and make that emergency call?

Stop concealing things and making them pricey

I loved those times when everything was open and replaceable I could get an SD card of my choice and insert it or maybe get extra batteries which I would charge and keep as backups before taking off on a long journey. Apple came in a ruined everything. Now batteries are concealed and the manufacture provides different “capacity” phones with exorbitant differential pricing?? Guys, we know the difference between 16GB and 32GB SD card is not that much. Stop trying to fleece us.

What? I cant stop jerks from calling me?

callblockI hate this.. really! Its a connected world but that also means that many unwanted people connect to you (telemarketers, stalkers..) Why cant we have a simple call/sms blocker built into the phone app? Is it that difficult? On top of that some phones don't even allow 3rd party apps to do this unless you jailbreak them.

 

Conclusion

All in all while Smartphones have made rapid strides in many areas, they still lack a lot of basic things. I hope people making these phones read this post and decide to do something about them.

What do you think of your Smartphone's features? Are there any features you just LOVE or just HATE? Post your thoughts in the comments.

6 comments:

  1. Very visionary sir. You have taken the pain of making a wishlist for an ideal smartphone off me back. You are genius. When I was reading it, it was that feeling of 'Awe' ... and my heart was going 'Yess thats what we want!!'

    After reading tonnes of articles already, none comes close to clarity of actually visualising what a smartphone ought to be. Most end up only being critical and not analytical or present and comparative study. In fact not many of them have even tries the broader variety of phones you have tried and under even more broader conditions of operations.

    Thank you for a wonderful article.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Sanjay, Well said!

    I would also love the phone to be smart enough to go silent when I am in a meeting that the phone knows is on my calendar. My HTC used to have this, unfortunately, no body else seems to care ...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sunil - This exists on my Nokia phone since last 5 yrs .. not sure which 'smart' OS you use :-P

      http://bit.ly/HKbEYK
      http://bit.ly/JnpSde

      2 more Apps also worth looking into are Nokia Situations and Nokia Bots.
      http://betalabs.nokia.com/apps/nokia-situations
      http://betalabs.nokia.com/apps/nokia-bots

      It has become easy to bash Symbian bcos of its old-style UI and Nokia's mistake of sticking with Resistive touch-screen till 2010 or so, but its hard for iOS / Android to sometimes match the simple usefulness of good Nokia smartphones.

      Delete
  3. What a wonderful piece of information what most of us as mobile user have gone through and would want it to be that way. I hope the message reaches to the right audience and Thanks again for sharing, not only here but suggesting such eventful experiences always.

    PS: Enjoying the Transformer Prime!!

    ReplyDelete
  4. Just like a central notification center, we should also have a central control pannel for handling all kinds of logins. Today in smartphones, you must be logged in to at least 8-15 apps. To logout or login to them, you will need to open each of these apps seperately and then act. A central control pannel can help.

    Similarly a central control pannel for all kinds of sounds. Sound management is also key. Each of the alerts are so different. To set these alerts, you will again have to go around opening each of these apps and then configuring them. A central pannel can help configure them easily.....

    ReplyDelete
  5. Most of the smartphones are lacking these features out of box. I hope these problems will be sorted out in near future. It would be better, if they can provide option to change the system font size, that is available in Android mod cyanogen.

    ReplyDelete