The father of the cellphone offers some hope to befuddled users of his baby. Simplicity will eventually overtake the industry's fascination with new powers, says Martin Cooper, who headed the team at Motorola that developed the first cellphone in 1973.
First, he says, the industry will increasingly specialize. It will design handsets with different capabilities for different groups. "There are too many phones that are trying to be all things to all people," Cooper says. "You end up with a phone that doesn't do anything optimally."
Second, the software itself will catch up with the hardware power. It's much easier to add capabilities, like cameras or media players, to phones than it is to make them easy to use. Don't be fooled into thinking that a simple-to-use device is itself simple, Cooper says. For ease of use to be possible, the technology and systems often have to be more sophisticated.
It takes work to hide complexity from users. "Good technology is always invisible," he says.
Cooper is laying bets on both approaches. He and wife Arlene Harris, herself a wireless pioneer, are behind the Jitterbug, a phone designed for seniors. It is stripped of the cameras and media players that are typical of most handsets, and innovative software makes it one of the easiest phones to use.
The combination appears to be working. Harris says their private company is meeting its growth targets, and it recently raised $38 million in new venture capital.