Monday, October 24, 2016

building the next new killer phone

So we want to build the best mobile phone ... ever. How would we go about doing this? To think through this problem, we go through all the basic features users want or like, then all whiz-bang technology that would make our phone the best out there... for now at least.

"The future is already here. It is just unequally distributed. " -- William Gibson

So, what do users want? The below might be the "big 10".

  1. A very high resolution screen - the Apple Retina display or better would be nice.
  2. High (12+ megapixels anyone?) front AND back facing cameras
  3. Battery that lasts very very long - for Android, crossing one full day is a challenge on most devices even today, even with mild "energy-sipping" use. This is really one of the most disappointing things for users. Charge quickly, retain charge longer. Apps should sip, not guzzle, battery.
  4. Good quality network coverage on both up and down links (some might consider this a feature outside the phone, but of course it relates to the quality of the radio within)
  5. Environmental safety of the device - gives out less radiation while remaining completely impervious to being dipped or (gasp!) fully immersed in water. Add shatter-proof (not just shatter-resistant) glass, and you'll have a winner. And yes, the phone shouldn't become a supernova, double as an iron, or be usable to boil water just because you use it for a while - being unable to hold a device because it might burn your fingers, ... or worse, precludes it becoming popular or liked.
  6. Responsive UX (user experience) that is upgradeable (think base OS) to new releases offering fresh skins without requiring a complete hardware refresh every year or two would be good.
  7. (Stretch) Ability to upgrade the device piece-meal. This will help with being able to isolate and swap out damaged, under-performing, or obsoleted components while keeping device integrity intact. Besides, this makes the case for easier, more seamless integration with upcoming technologies like AR/VR (Google daydream anyone? Oculus Rift?) or ... What would be really cool is if the whole PC vs phone vs tablet debate just went away, with the core of the phone BECOMING the PC, with plug and play adaptors for screen and keyboard. (If your screen was made of fold-able material with a provided electronic pen, you'd just carry it everywhere, unroll it onto a table, plug a micro-USB wire into it and your "phone", plug an unrolled (or IR keyless) keyboard into it, and voila, you have a computer and a tablet. Even better, imagine a portable, cigarette lighter sized holographic 3D display - then your computer would be the size of 3 cigarette lighters - one for the core compute part, one to generate the IR keyboard on any flat surface, and a third to project a 3D holographic display - sure, maybe you'd carry a special pair of glasses so only you could see the encrypted display so you have some privacy akin to how people can't see through your laptop screen today).
  8. Seamless connectivity options: 
    1. Phone/cell network - GSM for the most part, since this is the most widely used in the world, though of course, Verizon (CDMA) has a wide subscriber base in the US as one of the two largest mobile service providers here.
    2. Same as (1), but for data (4G/LTE and above?)
    3. Wifi connectivity
    4. WiMax connectivity where available
    5. AirDrop (Manet?), IR, or Bluetooth connectivity for easy filesharing
    6. A micro USB or other expandable slot and ability to connect with external computing devices to load up different things onto the device relatively easily
    7. The ability to ramp up and down in technology seamlessly when communicating with other devices or networks as one roams.
    8. Casting - not sure why they still make dumb (as in not-"smart") TVs. But once we make the leap to all smart TVs, this obviates the need for dongles like chromecast, but still retains the need for the casting function that comes with youtube and the like apps.
  9. Software - lots of apps for free, with intuitive controls (the equivalent of frustration-free packaging for hard goods)
  10. Lots and lots of memory - so you can keep all the rich media you create (remember the high-pixel camera?) and receive from friends you interact with. Sure, things are moving to cloud, but to move this much stuff around, you need a good network and a plethora of connectivity options, both of which are not fully in the control of the phone manufacturer today.
Things that peeve: 
  1. Why do different phones and laptops have different charging adaptor configurations? Why can't everyone settle on a single micro-USB type? OK, if power ratings are THAT different, there could be one type for all tablets and another for all laptops. This leaves me feeling that manufacturers try pointless differentiation to try to keep you locked, and this only fuels user frustration - carry along a big jumble of power cords if you travel with laptops in a group - few people can share a charger.
  2. Why does every manufacturer insist on loading their device with proprietary apps or some tweaked version of an OS? Tweaks should be "untweakable". The user shouldn't feel she is renting the device from you - it belongs to her. In some cases, the proprietary devices lead to more laggy performance than you'd otherwise expect.
  3. Why does software get more bloated with time? Less efficient memory management, and what is really irksome, developers requiring more and more "permissions" especially in Android, that in many cases have no direct bearing on what the app does.
  4. Hardware devices seem not to be designed to last as long these days. Makes sense from a manufacturer's perspective. After all, if planned obsolescence didn't exist, who'd buy their next generation of device?
  5. Why do some service providers still insist on selling/leasing locked devices? It's 2016 - get with the program. Making people work harder on jail-breaking their new phones and risk bricking them only makes them mad. Walled garden models work well in some environments - this doesn't seem to be one of them.
I tend to think the best value in phones today comes in buying mobile devices new, but one release behind with the lowest memory configuration (much cheaper), so long as they have the specs you need, the right kind of radios, and expandable memory capabilities. But I think a device that meets the above  desired features while avoiding the pet peeves (at the right price-point of course) has a good shot at satisfying users.