Earlier this year, I had to spend a week or so with a 2004 vintage feature phone. For connoisseurs, it was one of the early 3G models from LG that 3UK launched with. This was an interesting experience.
The first thing that comes to mind about it was that simple wasn’t simple. iPhones are simple; this was not particularly simple. Neither is simple easy to achieve or technologically undemanding.
It wasn’t as if the user interface was not rich and expressive. Here is a list of all the ways I could act on it.
The clamshell had a switch to tell the device if it was open or shut. There were two configurable softkeys below the screen, Nokia style. There was a permanently assigned back button and a permanently assigned cancel button. There was a five-way arrow pad. There were SEND and END keys. There was a standard 12-key numeric pad. There was a rocker volume control, a hardware trigger for the camera, and the camera itself could be turned on a roller relative to the rest of the device.
Unsurprisingly, a lot of this was hardly ever useful, and the software made very poor use of it. There were a lot of badly organised menus, most of which couldn’t be searched or scrolled with, say, the rocker or the rolling cam, which was positioned just below the screen and therefore looked very much part of the GUI workflow.
A lot of the hardware controls spent time mapped to various operator-provided, paid-for services, all of which were provided as WAP sites that don’t exist any more. It did do things like taking photos, playing back media, and browsing the web – just none of them very well. And we used to think this stuff was acceptable.
When I finally got rid of it, I was reminded of a story about Doug Engelbart. Struggling to explain the idea of augmentation and the Augment Lab, he hit on the idea of de-augmentation and asked someone to try writing with a pencil tied to a brick and then remove the brick.