Monday, January 16, 2012

Why Apple is bad for the Mobile Industry

If you read this blog or follow me on Twitter then you will know that I am no fan of Apple.
I do not buy into the myth that they are interested in what the consumer wants but rather feel that they are very good at marketing compared to their peers.

The current focus on lets make everything a slim as possible is not a benefit but rather an obsession in controlling component manufacturers and in doing so setting prices. Why is Apple's management of the supply chain OK and Tesco's controlling of farmers wrong when they are both the same thing?

Recently I have been using my old Ericsson T68i and the ergonomics of the phone makes it a joy to hold and use. More importantly put the handset down on a surface and the rubber back means that it does not slide around. OK I am use the T68i as a PHONE and so was interested in calling and SMS rather than web based apps but then I was working rather than looking to fill dead time.

Because of Apple's lead as the trend setter other makers of Smartphones are all attempting to make handsets that look and function in the same way as an iPhone. I had hoped that design at Nokia had not been sacrificed on the "burning deck" of re-engineering the Firm undertaken by Steve Elop but unfortunately they seemed to have lost all their corporate intelligence. Nokia Engineering had grown too big but at one time they had people who were concerned by the response a user got when pushing a button and attempted to make the experience better.

What concern does Apple have for the user? I fear that it is more akin to IKEA than Georg Jensen. After a while as consumers learn more about how to use products that they own they understand the failings of low cost mass design and production and are willing to pay more for a better experience. Yet what improvement do we see with the iPhone in terms of industrial design?

If Jonathan Ive is a Design Hero then he needs to demonstrate such by following the actions of Dieter Rams rather than just mouthing kind words about his ability. Rams with Vitsoe and Braun was capable of designing products that function on a higher level than Apple has ever done. If you want to learn more then get yourself a copy of As Little Design As Possible.

Others are starting to realise that Apple's business practices are bad for the sector as a whole they do not seem to be in the UK or US but rather Germany and France where the company has a smaller impact as a whole. I have long been a advocate of the fact that most people do not seek to converge to a single device but rather are happy to carry a number of them. Sit on public transport and you can watch people switching between phone, MP3, e-reader, tablet rather than using a single device. Apple has benefitted from this divergence getting people to buy iPhone, iPod, iPad yet when it comes to the phone they offer one single device in terms of form factor.

If I want to create something then a touch screen device does not make it easy. Yes I know David Hockney makes art on his iPad but he also uses a Hasselblad and very large canvases and paint for his large public works. A keyboard with good design allows faster typing than I can do on an iPad even if that is a simple one such as on my T68i let alone a QWERTY design.

Then how about Apple giving a screen that is better in bright light that is also capable of falling three feet without breaking? My observation of others on Public Transport usually allows me to spot two or three broken iPhone screens. I do not see any broken Sony Ericsson, Samsung, HTC, Blackberry or Nokia screens.

If an iPhone is about wonderful User Interface design the can't I expect more of a physical interface than a single button?

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Thinking about Mobile Handsets

Over the last few weeks I have been looking at upgrading the handsets of my three daughters and so have reviewed what is on the market and what they wish to do with there phones.

This will be the fourth handset that my Twins have owned. At the moment they are happy users of a Blackberry Bold which are starting to show signs of age. They are not heavy users of either text or voice but they use BBM and Facebook with a little email. They are thus happy with the QWERTY form factor and when asked if they wanted a Blackberry Touch they declined as the find the lack of keyboard slows them down. They are looking for something that is robust enough to live with the knocks of life in a teenage girl’s pocket and bag that means it has to bounce before it breaks.

The youngest wants her second mobile phone to have a few more features that the basic candy bar she currently has. She does not want an iPhone as “the girls who have one at school are bullies and they all seem to be broken within a few weeks.” I have been looking at a number of Android handsets but she seems to like the Nokia Lumina 800 I have been playing with because it does not look girlie, has a good camera and the battery lasts.

When you look at the shelves in a phone retailer at the moment if you take the Blackberries away what you see is a Smartphone format that is almost uniform. It reminds me of the mid 1990s just as the industry was about to under go massive expansion and all you could have was a black brick, then Nokia launched the 5110i with snap on covers and Motorola and Samsung decided that we might like silver clamshells.

Perhaps we can pause for breath on the development of Operating systems and start to look at form factors? For a number of years I have thought that mobile users are unlikely to carry just one mobile phone when they are able to purchase devices and looking at fellow travellers on the train it does now seem that time has come. Not everyone wishes to carry a device with a 3½ to 4½ inch screen as a phone, so why not have some devices that don’t have a touch screen but rather a simple keyboard?

The interesting thing is that none of the three seem to be demanding a wide range of Apps with which to “personalize” their handset. The number of people they “chat” with on Facebook is a subset of their “Friends” with whom they are social both in the real and virtual world. They do want a device that gives access to YouTube. A VPN which would give access to catch up TV from both the UK and US would be very welcomed. But if that was not available no problem as they can do so via Laptop or Tablet.

When it comes to an upgrade of my handset, something that I can quickly synchronise with my car, laptop and headset would make life easy. As I tend to use my phone whilst driving something with very good voice command would be welcomed. I would love to get rid of the touch screen as too often I put my current phone in my pocket after use and the discover that because it was still active I have played audio books, surfed the web and changed the keyboard, theme etc. . Over the last 14 months my favorite handset has been my Vertu Ascent because it does what I want it to do and when I need something I just use the Concierge service.