Saturday, April 07, 2007

Why one device can't do everything

Trying to pack to much into one device ...

"I've been working on mobile devices and systems for more than 25 years, with a short break in the middle to spend a little time with workstations and supercomputers. My first project was the Grid Systems Compass Computer, which was also the first laptop computer.

This was an incredibly tough engineering project. Every morning, there'd be a new challenge waiting for us. The power supply wouldn't fit. The modem cost too much and was taking too long. With no vents or fans, cooling was a constant issue. Nonetheless, we solved every problem, but always with numerous compromises along the way that had to be made.
Designing and engineering any mobile product is an exercise in compromise, even to this day. Consider the range and number of issues that face product designers and marketers -- size, weight, cost, shape (PDA, candy bar, flip, slide, etc.), display, user input, processor, memory, time to market, cost, ruggedness, software environment and did I mention cost? I like to draw an analogy to trying to solve a mathematical problem with more variables than equations - there will be many possible solutions, and it's often hard to tell which is optimal in any given case.

To make the problem of designing and marketing mobile products even more difficult, the shelf lives and overall lifespans of these products tend to be short. Styling is a major concern and is difficult to evaluate (with a major impact on cost). The competition can be fierce, and the market is filled with a large number of products that are poorly differentiated and have poor documentation and support. Since mobile products often have poor returns on investment, due to competition driving down prices, vendors and carriers don't want to invest in documentation and support, which are often poor as a result.
A good counterexample to all of this is Research In Motion's BlackBerry product family, which has been around for more than 10 years and has a loyal following. The BlackBerry does just one thing very well - mobile e-mail - and is largely unsuitable for broader applications. The BlackBerry browser, for example, is just awful, as are the other applications that ship with the device. The browser is not very up to date with regard to modern Web standards, so it doesn't do a very good job with many Web sites. Its ancillary applications, like address book and calendar, are primitive when compared with those on other smart phones."    (Continued via Techworld.com)    [Ergonomics Resources]

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