Sunday, January 6, 2013

You probably don't know what a featurephone is, and that's bad

Yes, something about my brain tends to nitpick, want to take contrary positions, etc. I do have a happy side, and am pleased with many things even in the mobile UX realm. But this one here really pisses me off. I have tried to ignore it, but it's really nagging at me. And it won't stop, and a frightening number of people agree.

In summary, a writer for MIT Technology Review is undertaking an "experiment" to not use his iPhone for a while, and is writing about it. Here's a list of my issues:

  • It's not an experiment – I see no hypothesis, or methodology. I don't know what he's using the featurephone for. Voice I presume. SMS I am pretty sure. MMS? Photos? What else?
  • He doesn't know what a dumbphone is – He insists on calling the device he picked a "dumbphone." Yeah. That's wrong. His phone has 3G and a browser and can install apps. It's a "featurephone." Dumbphone has a meaning to people like me who care, and it means little data, no browser, no apps installable. Maybe MMS, but I wouldn't bet on it. Using "Dumbphone" to mean "not iPhone" is insulting, and misses the point.
  • Featurephones do a lot – I don't know if he's not aware, but he never mentions that featurephones have browsers, use MMS, have a perfectly nice Facebook app, etc. His has a browser built in. Does he use it?
  • All smartphones are iPhones – Let's quote him "I’ve been an iPhone user for a little over four years. Like many people, I found it did nothing short of transform my life, when I first started using it in the fall of 2008." Yes, I presume he's one of those who assumes there were no smartphones before this, and despite writing about it, cannot get his head around the fact there is history, or that until this year most of the smartphones in the world were Nokia S60 devices.
  • Feature use is a choice – If you understand that you can Tweet and Facebook and browse the Web from a featurephone, but just don't, then why can't you just not do the same on an iPhone? There's not explanation.
  • An iPad is not mobile – I have seen several folks do this. Use the iPad as your connected device, and not the handset. Sure, it's something, but it's not like you only use a typewriter, or even a laptop/desktop. They are portable. If you get a 7" tablet, you can put them in a pocket (my Nexus 7 handily fits in a jacket pocket so it goes to client meetings). How is this not just a big phone at that point?
  • He is carrying an iPhone anyway – It took a bit, but he's now carrying a data-plan-free iPhone. So, the experiment failed? I have friends who haven't eaten food packaged in plastic for a year, and other people can't avoid carrying around an iPhone for three weeks?

So, why do I care? Well, because it's out there, and people are reading it. So why do you care? Well, because 61% of all living humans in the world (babies, the elderly, very poor people, prisoners) have mobiles. Most of them still have featurephones or actual dumbphones.

Let's set aside my love for things like the N95. One of the more successful smartphones ever, it had no touch and a 10-key keypad, so no iPhone fanboy would ever pay attention to it. Plus, it's old. But lately I have been using a C2 (Nokia S40) for a bit here to try something out for a project. It's pretty much current, and a tiny, non-touch featurephone. It's frighteningly usable as a primary mobile. No, I don't mean mobile phone, I mean mobile device. It has a couple browsers, and you can install others. A very good Facebook and Twitter app. Lots of other things can be downloaded. Disambiguation (you call it predictive) typing is very, very good so it's easy to text and tweet on, even with a 10-key pad.

And there are much better featurephones than this. There are touchscreens, and QWERTY keypad ones with clever music players and Flash plugin support. Or pretty much anything you want.

Being dismissive of everything that is not a smartphone (or more often, everything that is not an iPhone) is the most elitist, rich-white-male thing we can do. I never want to see anyone talk about the social benefits of mobile or greening the world through technology and then assume that everyone better get an iPhone.

And, you are missing out. Happy with a million users, or 100 million? There are BILLIONS of mobile users out there. Something like FIVE BILLION people use SMS. And you can tell me with a straight face that it's fine, we'll just wait until they all get a smartphone to target them?

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