Sunday, November 23, 2008

Gadgets and Functions a Cell Phone Can Replace

These articles discuss the various gadgets that cell phones have replaced. I was thinking about that the other day. In fact, I was making a list of the things my next cell phone has to do.

Miscellaneous observations:

Better software is the way to accelerate this. Until the advent of the iPhone and Google Android, you get whatever is pre-installed. And that is usually very mediocre--the cell phone makers definitely have the checklist mentality for features: it just has to be adequate to get checked off as being present, there is no concept whatsoever of striving for excellence in design, a la Apple.

Key features I am looking for:
1. eReader platform. I think cell phones will kill off eReaders before they ever get going. A big-screen cell phone will be adequate for incidental reading. If you want more than that, why buy an eReader when you could have a Netbook, for the same or less money.
2. GPS. I may be hoping for too much--I'm not paying $10/month forever to have a cell phone GPS.
3. Good note-taking.
4. This is a far-off dream: universal remote control.

I think something that would increase useability would be a Launchy-style interface, to get a them quickly. Although maybe with the real-estate of a large-screen phone, you could have everything you use frequently on the desktop.

Note taking has got to get much better; I think the design goal would be that jotting a very short reminder note should not take more than 2x as long as on paper, including time to access the app. Also need good integration with voice notes. That would include develop a user-based voice to text profile that is persistent (doesn't have to be started anew with a new handset). Google would have a big advantage here, with its huge database from Goog 411.

A spin-off article I saw listed the gadgets that would not be replaced by cellphones, along with the reasoning, related to functional issues. Two of them listed were: 1) Calculator 2) Alarm Clock. Interestingly, one of my children uses her phone exclusively for each of these functions, even though she has recourse to the traditional, purpose-built alternatives.

So I think there are two main factors holding back wider usage of cell phones for some auxiliary functions, such as these. One is age, and the habits that accumulate with age. As Steve Jobs famously said, death will take care of that problem. The other is the design factor alluded to above.

I believe with thoughtful design, a modern cell phone can be made to work very well for almost any given function. For the design challenge of the snooze button on the alarm, for instance, the phone could automatically go into an "any key snooze" mode, similar to the any key answer feature. As a bonus, software applications running on a modern phone--which is very much a full-functioning hand-held cmputer--probably can offer features that don't exist on the old technology (such as switching between standard infix notation, and HP-style reverse Polish postfix notation for a calculator).

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