Handset Buyers Warming Up To Feature Creep?
By Mike Masnick, Mon Nov 29 23:30:00 GMT 2004

While demand may be rising for cheap handsets, it appears a growing number of users are judging phones by more advanced features as well.

With so much effort being put into feature phones and smart phones, there's always the ongoing debate about whether these features are being put in place because of end-user demand, or in the hopes of jumpstarting such demand (the "build it and they will come" mentality). Both sides make valid points. There are some features that people don't recognize as useful until they actually use them, but there are also plenty of cases of "feature creep," where devices get way too many features just because it's possible.

So, how should companies judge which features make the most sense, and which are destined to simply be listed on the box, but never used? New features, generally, have to fit into what people are using their phones for, but still offer them some real or perceived benefit beyond what they did in the past. That is, they can't be too distracting, but they have to enable someone to overcome a previous barrier.

With that in mind, it's interesting to look at what features users say they want in next generation mobile phones. The higher end phone supporters will be happy to see the demands include ringtones, SMS, email and cameras. However, many other "features" relate to the phone's original purpose: making phone calls. The number one feature that people would like to see? Longer battery life -- one of the major issues for phones that still faces tremendous hurdles.

The good news, though, is that these other features have clearly hit the mainstream. Phone buyers, increasingly, are specifically looking to make sure new phones offer such features before purchasing. This means that things like ringtones and messaging are no longer relegated to the "oh, cool, look what my new phone does" pile, but are actual selling points. In fact, the same study notes that 28% of buyers are specifically planning to use their phone to access the Internet in some manner -- though, a little more details on the study's methodologies would help. Plenty of people would say they want to access the Internet on their phones, but whether or not they actually do so is a function of simplicity, usability and price -- three things that may not conspire to help the situation right now.

While none of this may be that surprising to people living on the cutting edge of mobile phones, it's sometimes easy to get lost in the fact that not everyone realizes phones have all these additional features, or that newer phones have access to the mobile Internet. Seeing evidence suggesting that these features are established in the mainstream suggests that the really useful services and applications, built on top of these features, should be coming down the road soon. When users don't have to first learn how to take a cameraphone photo or to send an SMS, they can more easily see how various advanced mobile applications can fit into their lives.