Simple Cell Phones
There are plenty of people that complain about the lack of “simple” mobile phones out there. They exist, but they appear to be mostly sold and marketed outside of developed countries. I’ve seen a few in the US: the Nokia 2651, which EDGE Wireless sells, and Nokia 1100 come to mind. There are certainly others, like this one I found out about called Firefly.
The Firefly is somewhat creepy to me. The main reason: the target market for this phone is pre-teen children. While I suppose it is inevitable, I’m still not entirely comfortable with the idea of kids having their own functional mobile phone. I’ve given both of my kids one or two of my old mobile phones as toys. But it’s not like you can make calls on them, except to 911 of cours.
(My 17-month old daughter is smart enough to realize when the phone is not functioning or has the keys locked and gets rather angry the phone doesn’t “do something.” I’ll have to try out the Mobile Baby Toy on my wife’s old Nokia 3650 and see if that entertains her or not. But I digress.)
The Firefly phone is GSM-based and has a grand total of 9 buttons on it: five on the front, and four on the sides. The five buttons on the front are: a button to call mon, a button to call dad, a call button, end/power button, and the phonebook, which stores up to 20 numbers. The phonebook is password protected so only your parents can add numbers to it. Two of the buttons on the side are volume control, one will set up a 911 call (have to press Talk to make the call), the other causes the phone to give a light show.
Between the inability to randomly enter in any old telephone number and the fact the phone can be set to restrict incoming calls so they can only come from people in the phone book, it’s certainly a step in the right direction as far as simplicity and cost control goes. No SMS. No GPRS. No worries about what numbers your kids dial. Of course, an enterprising youth could easily remove the SIM from his phone and put it in a different GSM phone.
So why don’t the handset manufacturers make “simple” phones? Quite simple, the handset manufacturers don’t make handsets for consumers, they make them for the carriers. It’s the carriers that want all the fancy features. Most people in the US barely use SMS, let alone picture messaging or data services. The carriers, particularly the CDMA carriers, have a great deal of control over which handsets can work on their network. A Nokia or Motorola cannot product a CDMA handset to be used on, say, Verizon’s network unless Verizon specifically approves that device for use and puts the ESN of the device in it’s database. GSM doesn’t have that issue, of course, but the majority of mobile customers in the US are not GSM.
The other issue: carriers heavily subsidize handsets, up to $200 or $300 in some cases. Most people are used to free or cheap phones as a result of this. I doubt the American public would be willing to pay the unsubsidized price on a mobile phone unless the mobile phone manufacturers can get the cost down to under $50. I know the manufacturers are working hard to get cheap handsets that can be sold in your favorite, economically poor, developing nation. Why not sell them in the US to cheap bastards who just want “a phone” and not “a phone that does everything”?
Oh well, I’ve rambled enough for one evening.