Simple Is As Simple Does
By Carlo Longino, Wed May 18 19:30:00 GMT 2005

Vodafone looks to capitalize on some peoples' desires for no-frills handsets by launching a range of simplified devices that can do little more than voice calls and text messages.

The luddite backlash against advanced phones is nothing new. But even as carriers sling all sorts of advanced features and 3G technologies at the wall in the hopes something will stick, some are realizing there's a decent segment of people that have little interest in mobile services and devices beyond the simplest communications. To this end, Vodafone will announce its "Simply" range of handsets later this week -- devices that eschew Net access, cameras, color screens and other features, offering users simplicity and the most basic of mobile functionalities.

Vodafone isn't the first carrier to offer scaled-back handsets, but such devices have usually been targeted at the very young or the very old. Vodafone itself offers such a device in Germany: the "3-tasten-handy", which would appear to translate as the 3-button or 3-touch phone, since it features just three buttons, each preprogrammed with a specific number.

The Guardian provides a more interesting backdrop for the launch, though, but saying the company will deliver some interim results next week that many analysts believe will show uptake of the operator's 3G services haven't been up to expectations. So, while on one hand, you've got some carriers seeing good results from advanced services and content, while on the other you see Vodafone marking off a new market segment and going back to basics.

So is there a disconnect between carrier expectations for new features and services and what users want? The rise of no-frills MVNOs in Europe would say yes, with many not even offering data services and selling inexpensive, basic handsets. But then some services, like i-mode and Vodafone's initial 2G push for Live! attracted a good deal of subscribers with their content, and sales of handsets with the latest features continue to thrive.

Or perhaps it's a reflection of the current state of user interfaces: in the push to build in more and more features on ever more powerful handsets, basic functionality could be getting lost in the shuffle. It could also be that there are plenty of people that don't see any point in shelling out for handsets with features they won't use -- part of the impetus by major manufacturers to develop sub-$50 handsets for developing nations could be a bet that they can sell the simple devices in established markets -- to the same set of users Vodafone is targeting -- at higher prices and prop up their margins.

In any case, there's now a product specially designed for all those people that say "I just want a phone that's a phone."