today's NYT reports about how cell phone manufacturers design their phones more careful these days (for some weird reason, the article is not listed in the NYT's
today's paper section). in a way, it is encouraging to see that manufacturers now get a little more sensitive about design. i can still remember how puzzled i was to buy motorola's v3 razr when it was brand-new (2004): very nice hardware (finally a metal phone!), so-so software specs, and a user interface nightmare that just made you cringe every time you used the phone.
astonishingly, the article mostly centers on design of device hardware, not so much on its usability. many people still don't understand how important it is that the design does not stop at the hardware or user interface level; in order to design the true
user experience, it must include the design of access to the information sources and services that users expect from a networked device. the article totally ignores the fact that cell phones are increasingly becoming appliances that are supposed to provide access to networked services. some manufacturers try a little bit like that (such as nokia's ovi), but they still mainly see themselves as device manufacturers, not as companies building service appliances. and of course, the carriers are doing everything they can to protect their walled gardens, trying to lock in customers as much as possible.
the first company figuring out how to build truly networked phones with well-defined interfaces and open access to networked services will take off pretty spectacularly (and yes, it would not hurt if the phones themselves were not too ugly). Apple has a good shot with its iPhone, but it still remains to be seen which limitations and features will be built into the SDK, so that their carrier partners are not getting too angry. imagine skype running on an iPhone with a flat rate data plan, that would not make carriers very happy...