“For the 1 million techheads who will buy one this quarter, Apple's luminous new iPhone represents pure bliss. It takes photos. It plays YouTube videos and uploads songs. It boasts a calendar, an address book, a map navigator--it is an all-purpose digital wingman.

“But if you can't handle that much juice in your pocket, consider the Jitterbug. Startlingly simple, it handles just one task: phone calls. Sold, says Jitterbug fan John Foy, age 61. ‘I believe a phone should make phone calls,’ says the Hoboken, N.J. wine critic and former chef. ‘Cameras should take pictures.’

“The Jitterbug even gets a premium for its single-minded simplicity. It costs $147, when for just $100 and a service contract at AT&T, you could get a feature-rich Samsung BlackJack laden with full keyboard, camera, MP3 music player, e-mail and Windows Office applications. In this case less costs more.

“‘The more functionality they put in single devices, the more savvy you have to be to use them,’ complains Arlene Harris, founder of GreatCall, which launched the Jitterbug late last year. She confesses that four times in the past year she found herself unable to set the alarm on a souped-up digital clock in her hotel room.

“Some customers similarly are fed up with features they can't or don't use, and makers are responding. Philips, the Dutch consumer-electronics giant, sells a line of digital photo frames that play a slide show as soon as you pop in a memory card. It's less complicated than doing the same thing on your laptop.

“At a Best Buy store in Manhattan, store salesman André Sam says, ‘Some consumers walk in and say, There are too many features. Give me your bare-bones product that's really easy to use.' Best Buy sells them such spartan digital tools as handheld TVs (no satellite, no cable, no DVR), pure-play CD players (no radio, no MP3 downloads) and AM/FM radios. The petite iPod Shuffle is so featureless a listener can't switch among playlists; it lacks a screen. Yet even among Apple's tech-fetishist faithful, the Shuffle has sold an estimated 30 million units since its January 2005 launch, according to Shaw Wu, an analyst at American Technology Research.

“Another victory for simplicity has emerged in e-mail. Small e-mail printers that work without hooking up to a computer at all are sold by a coterie of startups, including Presto, Celery and CaringFamily. Connect one to a phone line and it downloads e-mail and photo attachments from the Internet, spitting out a printed version…

“Making things easy isn't easy at all. Donald Norman, a tech-usability consultant, says stripping down devices to make them simpler to use is a blunder: ‘The real trick is not to get rid of the features but to make them effortless.’ He laments the size of the Jitterbug's instruction manual. Printed in large type for faltering eyes, it runs 70 pages.”

(“One-Trick Pony.” Chana R Schoenberger. Forbes: September 17, 2007. Vol. 180, Iss. 5; p. 60)

IN A WORLD OF SPIRALING COMPLEXITY, go where they ain't; focus, and remind us once again that R&D is for the customer.

1 comment:

Blenda said...

Well said.