Thursday, December 29, 2005

Simplicity Rules

Read two interesting articles today, both dealing in some way with simplicity. One was from November's Fast Company called The Beauty of Simplicity. Theme was how there are lots of people out there trying to make the products we use less complex.

The other was Walt Mossberg's column for today, Computer Makers Cater to Big Business, Slight the Rest of Us. Walt's theme isn't simplicity per se, but he does make the point that PC makers have made PCs more difficult to use by optimizing for companies that have IT staffs as opposed to consumers or small businesses which don't.

Today I spent some time with Mobilcast and our competitors' products, thinking about simplicity. I think we've done a good job keeping our stuff simple, but there's a lot more we can do. Our competitors' stuff varies in simplicity. I don't want to comment much more on that other than to say they can greatly improve as well.

The one area where each of us is challenged is getting the application onto the phone itself. The processes are good. The phones and the carriers have made it harder than it should be to deliver an easy solution. Let's break that down:

In terms of phones, our stuff runs on higher end phones. These phones are designed for more than phone calls, and thus have more advanced features. At the same time they are phones, which means they have limited screen real estate and few keys. These phones are designed for experienced users. Never mind what application you're trying to run. The phone manufacturer assumes that if you own one of these phones you are more savvy and can deal with complexity. A buddy of mine was extolling the virtures of his Treo yesterday, saying "once I got it figured out, which included a 1 hour support call, it's great." The point is that he shouldn't have to go through a lengthy figuring it out stage. But that's just what the phone manufacturer has forced. The worst offender is Motorola, who can't seem to design any two phones the same way. Nokia is probably has the shortest learning curve, but even they are starting to fall into the complexity trap.

When you talk about the carriers it gets worse. I've had to configure and reconfigure half dozen phones to run on Cingular's MEdiaNet network. It's hard. T-Mobile isn't much better. Granted if you buy a phone directly from one of the carriers there's a higher likelihood it'll work just fine out of the box. Assuming you purchased the data plan at the same time. If you add the plan later the chances are you will need to do some manual configuration. That's not something the average user can easily do. Again, it seems the carriers assume only experienced users who are OK with some pain will have data plans so they aren't worried about making it easy to configure the phones for web access.

So what's the point? The point is that this need to simplify permeats more than just traditional software and hardware companies, which is the focus of the articles above. The cell phone manufacturers and carriers need to take a hard look at themselves and follow suite. Particularly considering the growth of cell phones each year.

I promise you we're doing all we can to keep Mobilcast simple.

Tags Mobilcast Wall Street Journal Nokia Motorola

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