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Things that never go away (and should)

13/9/09

Sleeping with an ex is always a mistake, yet there is a dreadful compulsion to do it. Assuming that neither of you  are with anyone it should be harmless, but there is a reason why the ex has that status and it remains so.

The same is true of oh so many ideas for mobile phones. One of them is the distributed device. The phone which has a radio module, a headset, a numeric keypad and a qwerty one. Ask people about the idea and they like it. But focus groups are fickle. You need to understand how to ask a question. Perhaps the best example was a company which had a range of products in bright colours alongside the normal black and silver. The interviewees all said they liked the bright ones. At the end of the long session interviewees were told that as a reward for their participation they could choose one of the products to take home. They all chose the black one.

 What people say they will buy and what they buy is very different.

The distributed handset sounds like a good idea but experience has shown that accessories like attachable cameras, the Ericsson Chatboard or the Zeemote just don't get used that much. They sound like a good idea and might be great at selling a phone as a value add but usage tails off. Particularly when one of the components runs flat. Keeping all the bits charged is too labour intensive.

Even more common an idea is the watch phone. Every eighteen months someone launches the 'first serious watch phone'. There have of course been watch phones for years, a Google of Chinese phone web sites will turn up an armful of designs, but no-one has ever taken any of them seriously which is what allows each new launch to claim to be the first in some way or other. The mobile phone has killed the utility of a watch and doesn't need to be turned into it. Watches as jewellery, particularly watches with cogs and springs, or to steal from the second greatest writer ever “all done in hardware”, are a different things.

The next one that won't go away is the kids phone. Typically with four buttons to call their parents or someone with some authority,  and GPS so the kid can be found when lost.  This fails to understand kids. By the time they are old enough not to be under adult supervision they know phones. Say “chocolate” to a 12 year old and they think LG not Cadburys. There have been lots of attempts. None have succeeded. GPS is rubbish for finding people because it doesn't work indoors or in pockets and runs down the battery. Cell ID and a good idea of where within that cell a particular child is likely to be is a far better mechanism.

So if you are a product planner don't fire up PowerPoint and propose a kids phone that is a wristwatch with separate models for other functions. And don't sleep with your ex.

Special favour: Nicky Hickman of Inglis Jane Ltd  is looking for opinions on voice for the mobile UI and is running a survey with a competition prize of £50 of Amazon vouchers. Please help her by taking the survey here.

Cat Keynes publishes her thoughts on the mobile phone industry every Sunday at www.catkeynes.com you can read the column  the previous Friday by subscribing here. Follow me on Twitter here.

She is really sorry about the Mobster/Twitter thing and won’t do it again.

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