Dear Nokia: a plea for simplicity. Guest post by Mike Pepperday


Dear Nokia,

I hear you have fallen on hard times. I have two product suggestions:

1. Make a mobile that is purely a telephone
2. Make a phone in the shape of a pen

The two could well be combined.

1. Pure phone

There are countless millions of older people who would appreciate a mobile phone but they can’t manage the complications. If they were offered a phone, which was just a phone, they might be interested.

You could promote it as “SMS-FREE!” “CAMERA-FREE!” “INTERNET-FREE!” “MENU-FREE!” “Like phones of old: you talk on it!” You would have to invent a generic name. Purephone? Cleanphone? Straightphone?

It would have no alarms, no recording, no FM radio, no messages, no answering service, no “settings,” no adjustments.

The unique, unalterable ring would be an advertisement for the phone every time it sounded. This could be the notes of an advertising jingle. If Toyota made a phone it would ring the notes of “Oh what a feeling, Toyota.” Perhaps Toyota would pay you to install its jingle. If there is a volume control make it a physical switch or knob.

The screen could be a numerical LCD display as on calculators. That should be a cost-saver. Even better would be no screen at all. Traditional telephones have no screen. “SCREENLESS!” you could boast, emphasising the simplicity and purity.

None of its buttons should work while you are talking and to receive or end a call you should have to do something very distinct such as push a sliding switch.

You could consider offering a deluxe model with an advance over a traditional phone: a teledex. Everyone knows what a teledex is. The downside is that a teledex would require letters on the keypad and a screen to read them. (Many of these customers would have arthritis and poor eyesight.) Still, providing its incorporation does not require a “menu” or any other complication not seen on a traditional teledex, some might judge the usefulness outweighs the inconvenience.

In twenty years or so the market for a purephone may vanish but right now it is alive and wealthy. I do not suggest that the extras on modern phones are not useful. Millions love them. But many people are not interested. For them, the complications of batteries and charging and sim cards are bad enough. The clever features of modern mobile phones are such a disincentive to these people that they decline to own one.

2. Pen phone

There was once a tendency for mobile phones to become smaller and smaller but in recent years the trend has been to make them bigger and bigger. A lot of people like it but some don’t. Even the smallest phones are a noticeable weight and bulk in the pocket.

So make a phone shaped as a pen with a clip to hold it in the shirt pocket and a clip for a lanyard around the neck. As for a generic name: smartphone is taken and the Germans have appropriated Handy. Penphone? Slickphone? Neatphone?

It would probably be squarish or rectangular rather than cylindrical and might have to be a bit fatter than a pen. I suppose it could be up to 20mm by 15mm and 150mm long. In volume that is just smaller than my three year-old phone.

The screen could be split onto two sides if necessary. If it were also a purephone, dealing only with numbers, there would be no need for a screen.

* * *
I expect that the thinking is that the marginal cost of fancy phone features is insignificant so why not include them? My point is that there might be a very large hidden marginal cost. People in the computing business get used to their jargon and their conventions and think they are normal. This is a marketing mistake. When made aware of it, they tend to assume the customers are stupid. That is another marketing mistake.

Hard as it may be for phone designers to comprehend, to some telephone users SMS is a pest and menus to perform unwanted functions are ridiculous.

I leave it to you and wish you every commercial success with a purephone and a penphone.

Yours faithfully,
Mike Pepperday.

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8 years ago

Nokia is now Microsoft. It will never make an uncomplicated product again.

8 years ago
Reply to  Sancho

And looking at Windows 8, nor will they make a product that most people actually want or like, and they’ll be willing to destroy their own market (and every other maker of PCs excluding Apple) to prove it.

8 years ago

I suppose it could be up to 20mm by 15mm and 150mm long

Almost: 144.8*31.5*14.5mm.

Mike Pepperday
Mike Pepperday
8 years ago

Thanks Desipis.

And if they did away with the pen, the laser, the radio, the MP3, the recorder, the camera, the Bluetooth, the phonebook, the calculator, the calendar, the torch, the languages, the screen, and some of the buttons, it probably really could be pen-sized.

8 years ago
Reply to  Mike Pepperday

Most of those things don’t take space, but I also have imagined that a “phone phone” would be a good invention.

In my mind it would be a flip phone, because they are the smallest anyhow and answering the phone by flipping it open is a very natural action, completely unambiguous, easy to explain to people, and easy to get exactly right at 03:00 when you get a support call. Trying to remember whether to zig, or zag or touch various parts of a flat screen while carefully not touching other parts, all while the phone is ringing and in 10 seconds it drops to voicemail (but you spent 8 seconds searching for the phone, now you only have 2 seconds to figure out how to answer it)… all that really pisses me off. Flip phones never, ever, ever call someone from your pocket, ever.

The screen does take space I agree, chuck away the screen. Keep the keypad, keys are a really neat invention, you know where you are with keys because they feel like something. Twelve keys is enough, that should dictate the size of the device — just enough space to fit twelve keys of finger size.

Cameras are tiny these days and don’t take space, but without the screen kind of useless so chuck that too. I would say, have a USB port and upload any personality you want into the physical device, then it can be good for people who want extra features (like bluetooth, radio, audio menus, etc) and also good for people who want all that disabled.

Believe it or not, the volume knob is probably the most expensive feature… if you could live with volume mapped onto the twelve digit keypad (I know, I know) you would keep the hardware cost down.

Oh yeah, and make it run off just one AAA battery, that could easily be popped out and replaced with any battery from any shop (including a rechargeable battery, if you want to re-use it, or a non-rechargeable if you don’t).

Maybe a small coloured LED would be good to flash brightly when you have a call because it makes the thing easier to find in a hurry. The Korean schoolgirl phones have that, and it’s really helpful.

While you are at it, make the back magnetic so you can stick it to the fridge or to the A-pillar on your car for that built-in hands free kit that doesn’t need fiddly wiring. When someone calls, you just reach across, flip the front down and drive normally.

They do actually make phones designed for old people already, and those tend to have bigger keys, fewer keys, smaller screens, and fewer features.

These ideas are all commercial in confidence, so I can patent this later BTW.

Mike Pepperday
Mike Pepperday
8 years ago
Reply to  Tel

Maybe the flashing light is on Korean schoolgirl phones to help the teacher pinpoint the brat.

It was the virtues of flipping I was trying to achieve with a slider switch. A folded phone is chunky and I was after a slender shirt pocket job. I shouldn’t think the switch would cost more than the flip mechanism. If the trend before the iphone had continued they’d now be toothpick size.

I have a flip phone and in the early days there were occasions when people would apparently hang up before I had time to fish the thing out of my pocket. Eventually I read the 32 page manual and found out that it was set to stop ringing when you wave your hand over it—while closed!

I suspect that the AAA battery wouldn’t provide much talk time but yes why not have the lithium battery in that shape so you had the option. My ancient 3meg Ricoh camera works like that.

It is probably right that the fancy features don’t take up any significant physical space. But features have to be found via menus and with that the purephone is lost. There are plenty of fancy smartphones; surely there is room for a dumbphone. With no software options there would be no hacking it to change the ring/advertising melody for example.

The smartphone is a market success because you don’t need to carry a separate camera, MP3 player, and GPS. But if the phone were reduced just a pen in your pocket it would be irrelevant to whether you wanted to carry any of those other things.

Mike Pepperday
Mike Pepperday
8 years ago

I agree Conrad. I would like to replace my six year old machine running XP but reviews of Windows 8 are lukewarm and when I think of the aggro it would cause for the first few months, I can’t bring myself to do it.

But Apple has now caught the Microsoft disease. Its shares went down with the latest iphone releases and Android is leaving it in the dust in terms of sales. There’s a very interesting article on the development of the iphone at:

Mike Pepperday
Mike Pepperday
8 years ago
Reply to  Nicholas Gruen

Thanks, Nicholas, for the photo you put with the piece. Most appropriate.

I enquired in a shop and was told I can’t have Windows 7. The pictures in the ads for computers always show the Win 8 home screen. It is quite boring but they all show it so that must be a condition imposed by MS.

The salesman said that I could have the traditional desktop (I think it is possible he might have been asked about this before I came along) and he demonstrated it. It was, like everything to do with computers, extremely easy – just a few clicks.

Well, I suppose I might buy a secondhand machine with Win 7 on it.

8 years ago

Candy bar design is best design. Stylish, functional and durable.

Every three years or so I get sick of short battery life and use a basic Nokia phone for six months, then get sick of the poor functionality and buy an iphone.

Plus ca change, ra ra ra.