A friend of mine has been looking for a new smartphone for quite some time and we got into a fairly lengthly conversation about it which got to the point where I shared the image of the Verizon Droid (above) and he said ‘See, why aren’t we making this anymore?!’ It then occurred to me that my answers of ‘why’ tell a larger story around user experience and expectations.
There are a number of reasons why we don’t have phones like this any more (at scale, that is) and they lead to an interesting development that the smartphone market has driven.
1) Manufacturing Costs. The slider based bodies require hands in manufacturing process. This is a far more intricate production process and requires delicate parts that are hard to mechanise in the production process.
2) Simplicity. As touchscreens got more accurate and reliable (the move from plastic resistive screens to glass captive screens) the physical keyboard began to decline in the overall user experience leading to…
3) User Experience and Expectations. What we used the devices for changed a lot with the introduction of the App Store and then web as responsive design started to find its way in development and design, which ultimately lead to ‘mobile-first’ experiences.
People started using the the devices differently and as such the technology changed. Clicking and dragging to scroll was replaced with the swipe gesture for instance. This then became the expected behaviour and that leads to…
4) Simplicity Breads Simplicity. Or perhaps ‘refinement’ is a more appropriate term. There was a story, many years ago on a tech blog about one of the key engineers at Apple who worked on the iPhone project and he believed the perfect device was one the completely changed what it was depending on user needs. Need a calculator, the whole screen becomes a calculator. So the fewer ‘fixed points’ (i.e. actual buttons) on a device, the easier it is to become anything, rather than one thing, acting as a window into other functionality.
At the end of these points he also added the question ‘what do we want from our phones? Not what do manufacturers think we want.’
This crystallised things for me, as for ‘techie’ people, we want something very different from our devices, but now that the smartphone market is not only mature but fully saturated in most markets, the ‘techie’ side of the market is a tiny proportion of a massive market.
I’d say now a good 99% of the smartphone market don’t want a smartphone. They want a camera to share photos to instagram. They want something they can text their friends on WhatsApp with. They want to listen to music on Spotify. They want to watch movies on the move from Netflix. They want to order food from JustEat.
99% of users don’t want a smartphone, they want services, experiences and functions. That’s the key point with any technology that has become popularised, the simplest option wins out. The experience of a collective group of users should inform your product and the larger that group gets, the simpler the experience will need to become if you want to scale and succeed.