Jitterbug and the Cellphone Simplicity Derby 28 Sep 2006
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“The movement for simpler electronics is still alive and well; after all, life is complex enough already,” according to David Pogue’s Simplicity Derby for cellphones.
Software Simplicity Score
To judge each phone’s UI, he created a Software Simplicity Score which counts the number of taps needed to 1) turn off the ringer 2) open the phone book 3) open the recent calls list and 4) see your own phone number.
(Is this is the best way to test a phone’s simplicity and/or usability? As Steve Krug explains, it’s not necessarily the number of clicks that matters, it’s how much thought each click requires that matters. Still, it’s nice to have some metric for comparing relative simplicity.)
The winner of the tap test was the LG Electronics VX3400 (Verizon). Ringer off: 1 step. Phone book: 1. Recent Calls: 1. See your own number: 4. Speakerphone: 1. The Motorola C139 (Cingular), on the other hand, requires 7 (!) steps to turn off the ringer.
Interesting phone features
Other noteworthy items: The Motorola V195 (T-Mobile, pictured at right) has a neat button layout…if you only dial numbers with 2s, 5s, and 8s — those keys are almost twice as big as the other keys. Wtf? On the bright side for T-Mobilers, Pogue points out the coverage maps at the company’s site shows the reception at individual street addresses, not just vague blobs of the country like you get at competitor sites.
The Samsung A420 (Sprint) turns on with a quick tap, instead of a long press, of the Power button. (Pogue asks: “What’s the point of the press-and-hold requirement on a flip phone, anyway? It can’t get turned on accidentally in your pocket.”)
Most interesting though is the Jitterbug phone (pictured below), available from greatcall.com. It’s billed as “a totally new cellphone experience.” (I refuse to include the exclamation point. I’m opposed to exclamation point inflation.) “Jitterbug is designed to be the best telephone a cell phone can be. Nothing more. Nothing less.”
Interesting backstory at the company too: Its first product was an SOS phone for seniors. It was an oversized, three-button phone powered by a AAA battery that could connect a customer with 911, a towing service, or an SOS operator who would place calls for customers. “We gained 25,000 wonderful and loyal customers and we learned a lot about what they liked and didn’t like about wireless service,” says Arlene Harris, now CEO of GreatCall. (Btw, don’t miss this adorable photo of the company founders. Wilford Brimley has gotta be just off camera cooking up some soup.)
The Jitterbug is also made for an older crowd. Or, as they put it, “the ever-growing baby boomer/mature market, those who want a simplified cellphone experience.” Old people aren’t the only ones who want a simple phone but, hey, gotta start somewhere.
What’s different about it? It’s big — “so big that when you’re on a call, the earpiece and mouthpiece are right next to the proper orifices of your head.”
The phone also has huge illuminated buttons, gigantic type on the screen, a dedicated on/off key, Yes/No buttons, the number printed on a sticker underneath the screen, and, when you open it, you hear — get this — a dial tone. Remember those?
As for the UI, there’s no branching menu system. When you open the phone, the screen says: “Voice Dial?” If you press the Yes key, you can say “Call Jeff” to place the call. If you press No, you can scroll through the phone book and hit Yes to dial.
The phone does not have a calculator, games, text messaging, Internet, headset jack, speakerphone, on-screen status icons, or a carrier logo.
Obviously this phone is not for everyone (no text messaging ain’t gonna fly for most people I know and a headset jack is something I could never live without). But kudos to Jitterbug for going in a different, less direction. I’m sure there is a huge market of people who are dying — er, maybe that’s not the best way to put it — people who are excited for a phone that lets them make calls easily and then gets out of the way.