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The October 31, 2004 Issue Provided by System Dynamics Inc.
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Choice vs. Simplicity: Can We Have Both?

Too Many Choices

In “the old days” we all knew what a telephone looked like and how to get service for it; there weren’t a lot of choices. As the number of ways to make telephone calls and to buy telephones continues to multiply, consumers may be facing too many choices.

In many places, consumers already have many ways to buy telephone services. They can

  • Buy "long-distance" telephone service from what used to be called the "local" telephone company;
  • Get "local" service from their "long distance" carrier;
  • Get both services from their cable company;
  • Get both from any of several competing mobile carriers;
  • Go to the neighborhood 7-Eleven convenience store (in the US) and buy a ‘Speak Out’ Prepaid Wireless Offer with a Nokia 3200 phone (along with the morning cup of coffee).

But that's only the start. If they subscribe to high-speed Internet service, they can cancel their "fixed line" local and long-distance service and

  • Subscribe to a "voice over IP" service from companies like Vonage, AT&T CallVantage and Broadvoice; or
  • Subscribe to Skype and "start calling for free all over the world".

Monika Gupta of Broadcom showing protoype IP phones --> Click for larger picturePrototype VoIP phone from Broadcom --> Click for larger pictureSome upcoming phones are designed to work thru voice over IP--at home with your wireless network, at a hotspot, or in your office. Some of the newest ones will work part of the time with VoIP over Wi-Fi (VoWi-Fi), and with your mobile carrier the rest of the time.

Blackberry with VoIP --> Click for larger pictureSamsung Pocket PC with Phone Addition --> Click for larger pictureThen there's the question of "What is a phone anyway?". Is your BlackBerry 7270 handheld with VoIP and WLAN support, delivering both voice and data, a phone? How about Vonage's XPRO SoftPhone--software to make calls over broadband connections from notebooks and PCs? You can buy it from the hotspot network Boingo as well as from Vonage. And there are more.

Time for Simplicity

Although the goal is to make much of this complexity transparent to the end user and seamless, it sounds like there's a big job ahead for our industry. It requires designing for usability, educating consumers and finding ways to support them. They are going to need it!

We've written several articles on this theme beginning with our very first issue and were pleased to note that our concerns are shared by The Economist, a publication we greatly respect. Their October 30-November 5, 2004 issue focused its information technology survey section--called "Make It Simple"--on "the conquest of complexity".

We can't go backwards--our lives depend on these devices. We wish we saw more progress with the very difficult task of making technologies simple for the user. The Economist article concludes on a hopeful note: "Like other technologies, IT and telecommunications seem destined to gradually recede into the background of human activity, leaving more time and energy to get on with the infinite complexities of business, and of life in general."

We haven't seen it yet, and we only hope it happens soon enough for us to enjoy it.

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