Blog  |   Puzzles  |   Books  |   About

Curse of the giant thumbs

I guess you know your blog has arrived when people start offering you free stuff.

Sprint contacted me a week ago to tell me that they wanted to give me 6 months free service and a free phone. This is part of Sprint’s “Ambassador” program, in which they are giving phones to bloggers. I assume they are hoping to generate some buzz in the blogosphere.

Sure, I’ll take a free phone! Thank you Sprint! Anyone else wanna give me some free stuff?

Sprint: Here’s your buzz. Buzz buzz.

This is good timing actually, because my daughter put my last cell phone thru the wash, damaging a switch in the recharge circuitry so that it constantly thinks it is recharging. That phone now belongs to her.

What Sprint doesn’t know is that when it comes to portable communications technology, I’m a neo-luddite (despite my overall high score on geek aptitude tests). I have never been capable of remembering my own cell phone number, and I dislike telephones of all kinds, as a matter of principle. I’m a big believer in email on desktop computers.

I am also incapable of operating the buttons on most cell phones one-handed, because my thumbs (like my giant brain) are about the same size as snow shoes. Curse you, giant thumbs!

The phone arrived yesterday, and I’ve been playing with it, as you can see. It’s a Samsung A-920, an attractive phone with two LCDs and lots of flashy animations and sound effects. The first thing I did with it was ugly it up a bit, by taping a piece of paper with the cell phone number on the back. I don’t like having to do wade thru 7 keypresses to find it, and if my prior cellphones are any indication, it will take me approximately 6 months to memorize the number.

The free service includes Sprint’s “Power Vision” network, which basically means I can download and watch videos & music. This might be amusing, except that the choice of videos thus far is pretty paltry. Lots of pop music, “infotainment,” sports and other crap. The only thing offered that really appeals to me are the Bugs Bunny cartoons. Most of the music and entertainment-related offerings (not to mention the ringtones and wallpapers) are obviously aimed at a younger demographic (with bad taste) and not of much appeal to me. At some point I will figure out how to change my ring tone to something I actually like, like Terry Riley’s “In C.”

I think it would be kind of cool if there was a video channel that offered vintage silent movie clips, or old 16mm porn reels from the 50s. The size of the screen seems appropriate for “vintage low-fi” – but I don’t think such goodies are likely to appear any time soon. I think this kind of service would take off if Sprint provided the ability for people to broadcast their own collections of video, rather than using the “walled garden” concept, which I’ve always hated.

But honestly, there are very few times during my usual week in which it actually makes sense for me to be watching video on a cellphone. Not when I’m driving to and from work, not when I’m working, not when I’m home (and have access to a comfy chair and a regular tv). So mainly, the service seems to be more of a novelty than anything else. I tried to interest my daughter in watching a video on my cool phone, but she was busy with her i-pod.

The feature I *am* enjoying is the camera, since this is my first cell phone with a camera, and it allows me to create,
rather than consume content. I wish, however, that the EXIF data for the images that I send to myself via email included the GPS data, so I could automatically geotag my photos. If I had that, I’d probably get busy and write some cool software to exploit it.

I also wish the GPS map feature was a bit more “real time” – the phone-to-server interaction that is required for each new map view is time-consuming. I think GPS and cameras on cell phones is a great idea, but this particular implementation feels incomplete.

In general, I think cellphones are suffering from “convergence crisis.” They are trying to be cameras, but they’re not as good as cameras. They’re trying to be GPS devices, but they’re not as good as standalone navigation aids. They’re trying to be web browsers, they’re trying to be television sets, they’re trying to be i-pods, they’re trying to be game-boys. Nix, nix, nix, nix.

The only thing they truly excel at is being phones. In almost every other area, the tendency towards miniaturization and generalization does horrible things to the user interface. I tell you what I’d like – a larger (say palm sized) flat, flexible device that folds into my pocket without making a lump, and can be operated one handed with giant thumbs. Something about the same
form factor as my wallet, that could actually *replace* my wallet. Maybe it holds my money and stuff too.

Anyway, it’s only been a day, and I’m too cynical by a mile and a half. I’ll keep you posted if I find any new amazing tricks to do on my free phone.

2 Responses to “Curse of the giant thumbs”

  1. Easy Spirit Says:

    Your cynicism would make for a good drama critic. Nicely done! The large palm, folding phone of which you speak could be like that new foldup keyboard for a pocket?
    Why not invent one? I think you could.

  2. jenna_b Says:

    Actually– it was MOM who put it through the washing machine.

    Also, I lost your old phone literally the same day that you told me I could keep it.

    Your Daughter (Junior-Bum)