Why we hate the modern mobile phone

Phone fury (and carrier cringes)

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Letters After my piece lamenting how Nokia's high end phones had lost their ease of use and reliability, we got a letter from reader Brendon McLean. "It's not just Nokia!", wrote Brendon - "but an industry-wide problem". And he encapsulated his complaints very succinctly. So we invited him to expand a little, which he did here yesterday.

It certainly struck a chord. Here are your emails:

Just wanted to thank you for an extremely interesting article. Was a good read. Gibran

Oh Brendon, what a perfectly crafted piece! And I thought I was the only one in despair at this dreadful industry. I've given up with my operator (Orange) after THIRTEEN YEARS as a customer. The only thing they could do competently was give me a PAC code to leave.

And the phones. Ugh. I'm driven to despair.

Ken Tindell

Nicely provocative article, although as the proud owner of a shiny new N95 (which does lots of things very well) I don't agree with you all the way. Just one teeny-tiny point of order regarding, "...SMS, was initially thought to be a novelty for socially handicapped geeks and teens..."

Um... SMS is, indeed, a novelty for socially handicapped geeks and teens.


What can I say but this story is absolutely spot on.

Jon Schneider

Brendon, you have definately hit the nail on the head. I seem to change handsets quite often and the reason being the poor quality of the handsets both in terms of reliablity and functionality. UIs become slower by the day and the handsets are packed with features no one uses..and the ones we would like to use (VoIP) are disabled by scrupulous network providers waiting to screw you over! Nick

Brendon - very good article. Less in indeed more - you echoed what I've been thinking for a while about the state of play of the mobile market and how detached manufacturers have become from consumers.

It's worth noting that the Nokia 6300 is a fair stab at a 'back to the roots' handset, and it's being very aggressively marketed. The operator-friendly stuff is still in the handset - the 'MMS at every opportunity' built-in shortcuts, the Nokia.com bookmarks that can't be deleted - but the phone does the basic stuff well, with minimal bleeding edge features in a good size with an acceptable battery life (2 days).

The iPhone won't redefine the industry, but if it really can bring together what has become a fragmented set of mobile features, coupled with video/iPod functionality, into an easy-to-use interface, it will give Apple a good foothold in the market. I'll hold out for an iPhone nano which does all of the above minus the video (who really needs it?) in a truly pocketable package.

"That Nokia still has the market share that it does today can only be explained by dark art of "brand psychology"."

You dismiss the inconvenient truth of Nokia's market share (because it completely ruins your claims about them losing the plot) as being entirely due to their brand and nothing to do with their products, but then go on to praise Apple to high heaven. This is a bit like criticising the Spice Girls for being shallow and then saying Bananarama are great. You also completely misunderstand what the mobile phone market is, you think it's sexy gadgets for rich consumers. You concentrate entirely on expensive phones that nobody buys and ignore cheap phones that everyone buys.

You talk about phone companies losing users, but the developing world is where almost all the growth is coming from, and developing countries make up 85% of all new mobile connections: [BBC link] Hyper-expensive gadgets like the iPhone (which costs about 20 times the price of the cheapest current mobile) will have no impact at all on the developing world, so they will have almost no impact at all on the phone industry either. The technological phone race that wins the most users is quite simply the race to produce the cheapest handset, a million miles from anything you mention in your article.

The Nseries is complicated, but they're high end phones and hardly anyone buys high end phones. Using Nseries' shortcomings as a way to criticise the whole phone industry is like using Ferrari's shortcomings to criticise the whole car industry: sexy but completely unrepresentative. In fact, hardly anyone buys iPods either: just 100 million (1.6% of the world's population) sold after five years. Mobile phones sell at a rate of over 1 billion every year, they're in a completely different league to any other bit of electronics and cannot really be compared to luxury items like the iPod.

The average sale price of a mobile phone is about 80 to 90 euros, so the vast majority of models sold are the cheapest ones available. If you're going to try and discuss the phone industry, you have to concentrate on cheapie phones, not $600 monstrosities that altogether only make up about 5% of total sales.


Top article.

I own a Samsung E720 - a small, clam-sell phone that I've had for over 2 years. Normally, I'd change mobiles at least every 12 months, but there is *nothing* to replace this phone in terms of size, features, battery life etc. Naturally, my provider (o2) is trying to get me to have a new phone and sign up to a new deal, but I don't want a bigger phone - which rules out most of the replacements - and I don't want a phone so fragile that it snaps in my pocket. Frankly, battery life, battery life and battery life are the most important features for me and I suspect most users.

A camera is nice but hardly essential - not interested in MMS and before mobiles, how many of us carried a camera around everywhere we went ? If I want a walkman, I'd rather not have music on the go at the expense of not having enough charge for the phone when I need it...and so on. Nokia aren't the only ones to lose the plot - Samsung have come out with nothing in the last 2 years worth upgrading to. Even my 19 year old daughter, the upgrade queen, has stopped bothering for the last 12 months. Now, can anyone sell me a replacement E720 for when this one wears out ?

Ben Smith

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