November 22, 2005, 9:49 AM — Dave Johnson recounts annoying handheld features submitted by readers. This is the transcript of Dave's audio commentary. Listen to it here.
Let's face it: handheld gadgets have been living amongst us for over 15 years. The first gadget that we'd recognize as a modern PDA was the Apple Newton MessagePad, which made its lumbering, dinosaur-like debut back in 1991. Then handhelds evolved quickly. PDAs got smaller, quicker, and smarter, while an entire subspecies branched off and evolved into mobile phones. It's been a glorious thing to watch, really, like seeing the brontosaurus evolve into a peacock right before your eyes.
So why do we continue to see a constant parade of hit-or-miss gadgets that, like the guy from the movie Memento, seem to totally forget about any clever advances in last-year's models? Why aren't manufacturers retaining anything they've learned about what it takes to make a great handheld? Why do they keep making the same mistakes with every new model?
Readers share my perplexity with this phenomenon. Chad, writing in from California, says, "A ring volume key should be a ring volume key should be a ring volume key. It shouldn't be a ring volume key when you are on a call and the phone is open, and then a call volume key when the phone is closed and not ringing, and then sort kind of global volume setting when the phone is closed and ringing."
Geoff in Michigan complains about backlighting. "If I'm using my cell phone in the dark," he says, "I hate it when the keys stay lit only long enough to dial the phone." I don't know, Geoff. After all, who would ever need to see the keypad to call voice mail or send a page? Sheesh. It's like the engineers never actually use the gadgets they design.
Then there's Paul, from California, who lambastes semi-functional features. He writes: "The Bluetooth headset on my Motorola phone crackles if the phone is in my pocket. It clears up if I hold the phone in my hand." Yep, I gotta wonder how good a wireless technology is that can't quite penetrate a 32nd of an inch of nylon?
Other readers point out what I have come to call Dracula displays -- gorgeous color screens that disappear in anything that approaches daylight. But if you only use your gadget at night, you're all set. Then there are voice commands that have the attention span of a six-week old kitten. How many times do you have to say "call the office" before it's just easier to navigate to the right entry in your address book? And Michael writes in from Germany to complain that most synchronization software doesn't seem to understand that the purpose of syncing is to resolve conflicts, not just create duplicate entries.