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Telecommunications - missed opportunities

I have long thought that the mobile telecommunications industry has left out several vital segments from their market. By making handsets and other devices that are increasingly smaller, more fiddly and laden with features, they are in effect disenfranchising huge numbers of people from ever being able to effectively use their products. Why is it inconceivable to make a simplified, easy-to-use phone with an big, clear display, large simple keys and an intuitive way to work it? Such phones could be targeted at the elderly, technological neophytes – even technophobes! – and children.My whining has finally been mirrored publicly – in a recent Business Week article (Stephen H. Wildstrom – ‘Kinder, Gentler Cell Phones’ in the September 19, 2005 isssue – page 24) Business week’s tech writer also laments the fact that complexity is on the increase in mobile phones. Stunningly, the best solution to complexity that a tech writer for one of America’s leading business publications can suggest is a phone designed to make emergency calls for very young children (the Firefly mobile handset) or to go and buy a used phone created before companies introduced a lot of the bells and whistles that make today’s products so complicated.

So why does a whole industry neglect to serve people who have a different appetite for technology than the mainstream? Part of the answer was explained to me last week in Finland. Operators, note one of my Nokia contacts, dictate what features they require in their phones. One global player has 714 required features, another over 800! So even if the hardware manufacturers want to introduce a simpler phone, they are pushed by their primary customers to offer complicated features, most likely because operators believe that these will drive increased services revenue. I wonder if anyone has bothered to do a cost-benefit analysis of making handsets that would bring new customers hungry for simplicity into the market, as opposed ot making complicated phones. Now that would be MarketBusting thinking!

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