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Old Phones are Better

Started: 2004-06-26 09:47:03

Submitted: 2004-06-26 10:21:49

Visibility: World-readable

On Monday, Gem started working at the Farr Branch of Weld Library District, a short hour away in Greeley. She likes her job (as reported in her recent web content, which I'd link to except for the fact that I'm typing this changelog offline), and is even dealing with the hour-long (one way) commute better than I would. She's currently amusing herself listening to Spanish language tapes; she decided Spanish would be a good thing for her to learn given the number of Spanish-speaking people served by Weld Library District and the other libraries around Colorado.

The only thing Gem wanted to make her life easier was a wireless phone, which would be especially handy being in the middle of nowhere for two hours every day. She surveyed the saturated wireless phone market and decided that Sprint PCS (like me, and my mother) would be a good option. Wednesday night we attempted to visit a meatspace Sprint Store (I suggested that Gem might prefer picking her phone in meatspace rather than guessing online), but I forgot to check the hours before leaving; the store closed at 1900, before I managed to head in its direction. (I guessed that its hours might be an issue, so we called and failed to get any answer. One would think that a wireless phone store would have voicemail with a recording informing after-hours callers of the store's hours, but that was not the case.)

(We also spent Wednesday evening looking at meatspace computer acquisition locales in search of notebooks for Gem. Two weeks ago in Walla Walla, her parents gave her money towards a new notebook for her library school graduation, which pushed her over the point of actually being able to buy a new computer. She's now trying to figure out exactly what to buy with her demanding specifications. We failed to find any of the computers Gem wanted; Best Buy in Westminster had one display model of a notebook Gem would have bought had they had non-display models in stock.)

Yesterday afternoon, Gem went to the Sprint Store in Boulder and bought wireless service. She came home with one of the new breed of wireless phones, albeit without a tiny camera. Her phone is a bit smaller than my phone, features a color LCD, and a lot of confusing buttons. I came to the conclusion that my phone (circa 2000) was the high point of wireless phones, back when phones just did voice communication. My phone's user interface is simple: three main controls, plus a numeric keypad, two volume switches on the side, and a hardware power switch at the top. All of the on-screen menus can be selected using the three main controls. Gem's phone, on the other hand, is horribly confusing, with multi-function buttons and no unifying user interface. My phone has a set of single-tone tune ringers (think the old PC speaker) that could be better, but out of the set of available ringers I can find several I like. Gem's phone, on the other hand, has a far more advanced ringer engine and features a vast set of wave-like built-in ring tones... all of which suck, abjectly. One would think that it would be easy to make some reasonable-sounding ringers with so much freedom in what it sounds like, but apparently making simple phones that do, very well, what they're built to do isn't a high priority.

Has the wireless phone industry reached apogee? Have they followed Microsoft's lead in making flashy products that appeal to the ignorant masses while ignoring their core business of making phone calls easy?

(I will concede that I've used my phone for almost four years, so I have a pretty good idea how everything works, which likely is clouding my judgement as to the ease of use of Gem's phone. I still maintain that mine is objectively simpler to use than Gem's, with the same features we'll actually use.)

The point is that one should never assume that sucky, disgusting software
is written by first year comp sci majors. There are enough professional
programmers out there to cause a far bigger disaster.
- Randseed (132501) on Slashdot, 08 June 2003