The Japanese author and philosopher Soetsu Yanagi once wrote that “Man is most free, when his tools are proportionate to their needs” (The Unknown Craftsman: An Insight Into Beauty).
I upgraded to a (at the time, now almost two years ago) new smartphone, the Nokia® Lumia™ 920. Now, I’ve been using mobile phones since the mid-eighties, when they were still meant to be installed in cars rather than carried around. Not very practical on the go, but it certainly improved customers’ ability to reach me while I was on the road.
For the most part of the time using the Lumia I was actually not sure, whom this phone was designed for. I spend a lot of time talking on the phone and it actually seems fair to me to say that it was originally not designed specifically for that – although I’m sure the folks at Nokia had designed an excellent piece of electronics with fantastic specs!
So, it had to do with the user interface of the phone, in other words, mainly the operating system. This defines many key features – simple ones like volume settings (listen to a podcast with your earphones and miss the next incoming phone call, because the ringtone volume was then set to be too low to hear it!) – and in this case also apps like the calendar. I can’t believe someone had designed a calendar function without a weekly view! Yes, this could be obtained with a 3rd party app, but why would I need to pay extra for and trust such an app with my critical business information? Do you really know, what all these apps do in the background? With this calendar looking for a free slot on your phone calendar was a pain. Not worth even trying, when on the phone with someone – you’d just get frustrated.
The one single volume control that affects the volume of everything is in my view a really bad idea. At least I’m not the only one that has answered the phone in the car using the Bluetooth hands-free function, only to realize that pushing the car volume setting to the full will not help you hear the person who called you – because the phone’s volume setting for Bluetooth is all of a sudden at the lowest level!
Things are getting better
However, some things changed, when Microsoft® recently introduced the Windows® Phone 8.1 update to the phone. I had been seriously thinking about getting a new phone with some other operating system, but now I have decided to give its creators another chance. But not all is well yet.
It seems the only way this device can be professionally used is by connecting it with Microsoft Exchange™. In that way you can – among other things – avoid the very slow process of adding your new business contacts to the “People” application. In that application, a good example of what I mean is that when you want to add one of the most important pieces of information on your new business contact, their job title, you have to go to the last option in the menu down below called “Other” to add it… Not to mention that the default value for email is “Private”, not “Work”.
The calendar function is now much better and it includes a weekly view that is actually quite snappy. On the other hand, it seems absolutely impossible for Microsoft to synchronize the categories set on tasks in Outlook® so that they could be used for maintaining category-based lists on the mobile phone as well. This functionality is really needed by anyone using the GTD® system (“Getting Things Done®”) developed by David Allen. This functionality would – as an example – allow you to view your @CALLS list on the phone while on the go and having extra time to make those calls…
The volume control issue also got a solution in the new release, although setting the various notification tones got a little more complex. Well, from the productivity point of view it is actually a better idea not to turn the notification for incoming emails on during the day – and this setting got a bit further down in the menu structure of the phone anyway.
Well, what about the other platforms then? More often than I care to mention I have seen people struggle with their handsets, trying to get a phone call answered, but with the touchscreen ignoring their intense efforts! I have been using the original iPad® since it was made available and it works well for the kind of applications that it has been designed for. For some time now it has, however started to show severe signs of instability and some new apps will not even run on it – the newer version of the Microsoft OneNote® being one of them. Now that Apple® introduced their new software release for the iPhone®, many have noticed their phones have started to work much slower… Which is nothing new in this business of course, although – I have to admit – in the case of the Lumia 920 the upgrade to the newest release did to my amazement not slow down the phone too much.
So what now?
Coming back to Mr Yanagi, I should have thought about this at the store and not let my weakness for flashy, high-end gadgets get the better of me. A third of the functionality of that phone would be sufficient to help get my job done efficiently. And yet, the phone itself is not on a functionality level to totally replace my notebook to create, edit and review presentations, proposal or contract documents or work with project planning tools. Worse, the large touchscreen makes it hard to use the phone with a single hand or without looking at it.
So, for the time being, my old collection of mobile phones will stay as backup and one of those might well come back to action one day. Who knows – perhaps getting a second SIM would be a good idea, splitting the functionality between two devices… But then again, I still would need my trusted notebook with me, too…