Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Communications Breakdown

Mrs Stevie and I have just about had it up to here (*makes inverse horizontal karate chop-like gesture on forehead*) with T-Mobile's "service", which includes lousy signal strength at work (though I suspect that was more the fault of the Motorola phone than the service, as a comparison with Ted's T-Mobile Nokia showed great differences 'twixt their reportage of signal strength), lousy reception even when signal strength is good and more holes in the network than my underpants.

Any call made on the train home would drop in three or four locations and the Commack Road (which features large in our breakfasting and warehouse outlet shopping lives) had several whopping dead spots too. We decided to switch to Cingular.

Mrs Stevie went and sorted out new phones (in consultation with me) for us and added the Mrs Steviemom and the Stevieling (who had recently successfully lobbied us for a phone of her own) to the account.Mrs Stevie, The Mrs Steviemom and I ended up with Nokia flip-phones and the Stevieling got a Sony-Ericksson because she "didn't want a black one". So far so good.

Last night Mrs Stevie picked up the phones and had the SIM card contents transferred to the Cingular/Nokia SIM1. I arrived in theater and Mrs Stevie suggested decamping to IHOP for dinner and phone phiguring-out. I figured out the Stevieling's phone and paged through the tones until she found one she liked and we set it as the default ring tone. Total time spent - 5 minutes and a brief look at the manual. The interface was different to the Motorola I was used to, but it made sense. Then I tried to figure out how to play the ringtones in my Nokia, since the default one sucked mightly. And tried. And tried. Eventually, the only thing I figured out was that the earpiece (not required for ringtone sampling of course) was broken.

Once we got home I exchanged the SIMS in my phone and the one we were going to present the Mrs Steviemom2 and began an hour long voyage of discovery with intense and repeated reference to the manual, which was very poorly written I might add). I have had many discussions with people about the intuitiveness of various User Interfaces, but in this one Nokia have engineered the finest example of a truly impenetrable UI I have seen in over 30 years in the UI business. This thing could truly be the answer to thwarting Al Qeda, since it is all-but impossible to figure out even when you know what you are doing and have the manual in front of you.

In order to select a ringtone and play it you must:

  1. open the phone & click the center button to bring up the main menu
  2. locate and click the spanner/wrench (so far, so obvious)
  3. tab down to "Tones" and click on it
  4. Tab down to "Tone" and click on it
  5. Click on "Open My Stuff" (WARNING! Do not click on "Tones" or you will be in the "Download Ringtones" submenu system)
  6. Tab down to "Tones" and click on it
  7. Tab down to "Tones" and click on it (WARNING! Do not click on "Alert tones" as his will bring you to the ring style selection submenu)
at which point you will be presented with a selection of ringtones that can be played by tabbing to them. No, I didn't inadvertantly duplicate any of the steps. That's really what has to be done and really what the rather stupid selections are named that will certainly cause one to go wrong at least once during the rather obviously important step of finding an acceptable ringtone. Even the outer design is dimwitted. They have doen away with the green and red phone sigils for "answer" and "hang up", replacing them with green and red angles at the corners of the square multi-function button. It looks really nice with the two blue angles in the top corners. I imagine if one has red-green colourblindness (the most common kind, I am told) this phone moves from being just incredibly annoying to figure out to damn-near impossible. A triumph of form over function. The Nokia engineers must be proud.

I am moved to wonder why the phone designers don't use the same vision as arcade video game designers, who abandoned displaying instructions twenty years ago on the grounds that if a game was so complex to play that people couldn't figure it out by watching it, no-one would spend money to play it. Look. It is a phone. It may well have an FM radio, camera, IM client, games and Azathoth knows what else but the primary use for the thing is to make and recieve phone calls. The phone functions should be easy to use and get-at-able without recourse to a manual as thick as a bible and as user-friendly as income tax instructions. I need to be able to figure out how to add an e-mail address to the phonebook without the manual, like I could with the Motorola. A learning curve is unavoidable (assuming the phone manufacturers never do the obvious and put their heads together and come up with a standard way of approaching menu-driveldriven phone features), but the Nokia guys have built a learning wall in this little beauty. Four mushroom clouds for design from Consumer Stevielabs.

1: And here was I under the impression that the whole point of SIM cards was that they would work in every phone for every network as a benefit to the consumer. Silly me. 2: I pity the poor woman if she ever needs to do anything halfway clever with this bloody phone. She finds anything technical not involved with food preparation to be problematical, by which I mean that although she struggled with the DVD player she has no problem with the controls of a microwave oven that I find all but impenetrable.

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