At TiEcon, Stewart Alsop indicated that usability is simply not something venture capitalists look at in the wireless space. Anil Kripalani, a senior vice president at Qualcomm Inc., indicated that the company can provide direction but has no control over usability.
This went a long way toward explaining why usability is so bad on the emerging class of wireless devices. It is interesting to note that both John Oxaal at Sevin Rosen Funds and Mike Parks at Virgin Mobile were focusing on usability, which I hope will bring improvements in usability.
Mike Honda, speaking as a user, said he is generally dissatisfied with the usability of the current crop of devices, and I think he spoke for most of us in saying that a dramatic amount of improvement is needed before the devices, and related services, will meet the market expectations set for them.
Across both panels, this felt to me as a moderator that we are clearly still struggling with what remains an emerging market. People are having trouble identifying important new technologies, concerns are being chased by tools that remain both important and obscure, and the voice of the customer is not being effectively heard.
And while the government wants to help, it is being hamstrung by requests for assistance and by the conflicting knowledge—based on experience—that generally when the government gets involved, it is a bad thing.
There is no apparent leadership driving the market at all, and without that leadership, the market is thrashing around looking for direction and meaning.
Until this leadership is found and user needs are better targeted, this market is likely to miss the expectations of users and buyers.
The market needs a strong player to articulate a future and drive the market toward it; clearly, there are companies that could do this.
It seems to me that we are simply waiting for one of them to step up, step away from the technology rhetoric and provide a direction that vendors and customers can get behind.
Rob Enderle is the principal analyst for the Enderle Group, a company specializing in emerging personal technology. Full disclosure: One of Enderles clients is Microsoft as well as Advanced Micro Devices, Dell, Gateway, Hewlett-Packard, Intel, Transmeta, VIA and Vulcan. In addition, Enderle sits on advisory councils for AMD, ClearCube, Comdex, Dell, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Intel, Microsoft and TCG.