Wireless Is Great. Complexity Isn't

Unwired. Untethered. Mobile computing and communications, the next iteration of the information technology revolution, is here. We are migrating away from big computers sitting on desks and fixed-line phones to portable laptops and cell phone-PDA hybrids that link us to work, friends, and families anytime, anywhere. E-mail, voice, video, photos, data, chat are all becoming instantaneous and ubiquitous (page 121). This is all to the good. But the same design problems that plagued early VCRs and computers -- too many features, too many buttons -- are creeping into some of the new mobile information tools. At the risk of sounding curmudgeonly, we have to say that simplicity and ease of use are more important to consumers than complexity and technology for its own sake.

Take Wi-Fi. Setting up a home network can be a nightmare, with computer and router firewalls battling one another. The new cell phones are packed with all kinds of features, but try instant-messaging a friend on one with a tiny keyboard. And the quality of cell-phone service remains dismal in too many places. Having three standards instead of one (as in Europe) makes matters worse. Unless they share the same service, people snapping photos with their camera phones can't even send them directly to other cell phones. They have to send the image to an e-mail address, then call to tell the other person to retrieve it. Come to think of it, does every cell phone really need a built-in camera? Techies of the world, we have work to do.

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