March 23, 2006



October 2004
From the Desk of Michelle Maisto: Mobile for the Masses
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I donít live and breathe mobile technology. ThereóI said it. Iíve come clean. Sure, I have 802.11g in my apartment (via an Apple AirPort Express plugged in under the hanging clothes in my closet) and Iíve come to find dial-up intolerable; until recently, I never went anywhere without my cell phone; and I canít imagine life without my laptop (I have no patience for sitting in one place). But Iím hardly what you might call tech-savvy.  

By Michelle Maisto

As long as what I have works, I don’t check out the latest products. And like some people around this office, I don’t jones to spend a night downloading software or working through the various layers of a device, investigating every menu. Certainly there are days when I wish I had this desire in me—wish I longed to curl up at night with the operating system manual. But I don’t. And I’ll tell you why that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

In this publication we often write about user buy-in and the importance of deploying solutions—particularly in the service industry—that the users will actually, well, use. Of course it’s great that devices are capable of performing so many tasks, but if the design isn’t equally fantastic—which is to say, more or less intuitive—I don’t think the product can be considered a success, and I think anyone deploying it would be smart to worry about how heartily it’s going to be received. In this regard, I consider myself a gauge of how a product or feature will register with the masses.

Case in point, my new cell phone debacle. For four years I was the proud owner of a Samsung SCH 6100—and I mean proud owner. I loved that little phone. It was slim enough to fit in an evening handbag; it weighed 2.7 ounces; the screen looked like Atari should be played on it, but it was clear and uncluttered; I never gave a second thought to the keypad; and I could turn the volume up, down or to vibrate with the quick press of a button on its side. Plus, the design was brilliant—due mostly to its clean lines, it was best-looking phone I have ever seen; and when flipped open, the mouthpiece was actually positioned (imagine!) beside my mouth.

Since the phone was stolen a few weeks ago (let’s not even get into who steals a four-year-old cell phone—a phone so old and outdated that my carrier called every few months, encouraging me to upgrade), I’ve tried three other phones, and none have endeared themselves to me like that old Samsung. Phone number one and I had a cool, though respectful, relationship. It was nice enough, but it was thick as a deli sandwich, and the keyboard—though easy on the eyes—was slippery and difficult to dial. The backspace button and I became intimately acquainted.

Phone number two was the least expensive model in the manufacturer’s lineup. On the literal face of it, phone two was fairly straightforward. Even the menu was so matter-of-fact that I admit to taking a certain comfort in it. However, it bothered me to have to tediously scroll through the many options in its menu—regardless of how straightforward—to simply set the phone to vibrate.

Phone three resides in the $400 range and does some very exciting things. It has a camera of an impressive resolution, a videocamera, I could read e-mails, Word and Excel documents, surf the Web and more. But I could barely dial the thing. Its keypad is itty-bitty and scrunched at the bottom; and in order to get my thumb over it, the rest of my hand fell into a position that made me feel as though I was about to drop the awkward phone (which looked exactly like the twin thugs in “The Triplets of Belleville”: tall, slim at the bottom, and so broad and flat across the top, candelabras could sit on either sides of their heads).

This is also a good time to mention that I am 5’ 4” in heels—if anyone’s fingers should fit on this keyboard, it’s mine. Good luck to those grazing 6 feet, or anyone who can palm a basketball. (Enter: the stylus.)

At Mobile Enterprise’s Mobilize 2004 show in Las Vegas last month, Bob Egan, president of Mobile Competency, said that if he can’t figure out a device in five minutes without using the instruction manual, he throws it aside. I couldn’t agree more. I am an intelligent person. I have an Ivy League education. I have been a cell phone user for six years: There is no reason it should take me 20 minutes to adjust the ring volume on a new phone. (And, I’m embarrassed to admit, I didn’t even figure it out. I handed the phone off to my fiancé—who has the annoying habit of easily handling the things I fumble with—and both of us were shocked by how long it took him to eventually figure out.)

What is going on here? Why is functionality suffering in the name of more functions? While I’m glad to perform more sophisticated functions on a phone, I don’t want those benefits coming at the cost of complicating what used to be simple.

I think the pharma reps and field service workers are people like me—people who are comfortable with wireless, who use these devices every day, but are hardly about to spend a good hour with an instruction manual. So if I’m finding these new formats cumbersome and a little difficult, I have to imagine that others are, too.

Sound the alarm.
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