INSIDE MOBILE: Why Ease of Use Matters in Mobile Computing

The mobile computing world has changed with the introduction of mobile devices such as the BlackBerry, iPhone and Centro, according to analyst J. Gerry Purdy of Frost & Sullivan. These wireless devices offer improved interfaces, greater ease of use and more functionality, ranging from GPS to Wi-Fi. But there's still a long way to go.


I'm really impressed with all the new wireless handsets that have come to market in the past year-from the iPhone to the latest BlackBerry to the new Centro (as well as many others). All higher-end phones are getting more features and are able to do a lot more than just a year or two ago.

But, even with all these advances, there are still major issues regarding ease of use that have not been addressed. I currently have three phones: an Apple iPhone, a RIM BlackBerry 8820 and a Palm Centro. Each has some advantages but also some disadvantages when it comes to ease of use. Let me point out some of the ease-of-use issues involved to give you a better idea of why ease of use matters so much in mobile.

The RIM BlackBerry has a wonderful new 8800 series with a stylized shiny surface, improved keyboard, integrated GPS and Wi-Fi. However, the BlackBerry user interface is based on a very basic menu system that evolved from early renditions of the BlackBerry. It's solid as a rock technically, but not nearly as easy to use as the Palm-based Treo and Centro or the iPhone.

I have included some companion figures in this column to demonstrate a number of key ease-of-use features side by side. It may appear that I'm picking on the BlackBerry, but it's simply not as easy to use as the Palm Treo and Centro or Apple iPhone. RIM clearly needs to update its entire UI with a more robust, easy-to-use environment that will compete better in the market-perhaps using Linux as a core.


The Palm Treo and Centro have been stalwart when it comes to ease of use for the past five years. Palm has always focused on requiring the minimum number of keystrokes to complete a task. The entire menu system is very intuitive and the speed dialing options are better even than those of the iPhone. Notice also that Palm-based devices color the numeric key pad differently on the alphabetical keyboard to assist in dialing, but more important is the display of a standard 10-key numeric keypad. Apple does this as well on the iPhone, but RIM doesn't on the BlackBerry-or, if it does, I couldn't find it.