Too Stupid For My Mobile Phone
By Mike Masnick, Thu Nov 18 01:30:00 GMT 2004

A new study suggests an awful lot of people believe that they're "too dumb" to understand mobile data applications. Is this a call for simpler devices, better education, or more compelling applications?

A company that makes input systems for electronics products has released a study saying that nearly 85% of people consider themselves "too dumb" to understand how to use the mobile data features of their phones. The number seems quite high, and you'd be forgiven for questioning the motives behind the study -- since the company obviously sells components it believes make data use on phones easier. However, it does raise some questions. Assuming that users really do feel stupid in the presence of their own phones, what's the real solution? The company that did the study says the solution is to make the phones simpler so that users don't feel so dumb. That seems like an obvious response -- especially from a company in its position.

A second potential solution would be better education. If people feel dumb, why not help clear that up by making them smarter? Mobile operators have been struggling with this from when they first started offering mobile data services. Some of these efforts have been more successful than others, but there's obviously a big hurdle: subscribers actually have to want to learn for the education campaigns to be at all effective.

That point may be the really big issue brought out by this study: who wants to educate him or herself for no good reason? There needs to be a compelling motivation to learn about something. There are many things that are confusing and difficult to understand about technology. Many adults felt too dumb to understand computers when they first encountered them. While simplifying the interface helped a bit, the main interface of GUI machines has not changed that much for quite some time. The real thing that convinced many people to educate themselves and overcome their own "stupidity" on computers was that there was simply too much to gain in learning. Computers and the Internet became too compelling not to learn.

This is a problem for the mobile data world today. Everyone is so focused on how to make sure they can make money, that not much effort is being put towards creating the compelling apps that get people to feel they absolutely need to get over their initial fear of how to use the device and service. Operators like NTT DoCoMo have figured this out, and created an environment that had the right incentives to encourage developers to come up with compelling applications and services.

There are plenty of things in this world that have steep learning curves. It's always a good thing to try to ease the climb, but if there's nothing worthwhile at the top, no one's going to climb the curve, no matter how steep it is. Setting up the incentives to make it easier for developers and providers to offer up compelling service and applications, while designing the pricing so that subscribers aren't punished for experimenting will help to ease many of the issues for those who really feel too dumb to learn how to use mobile data.