Every designer will tell you that the job is basically about changing your ideas to suit the technology available, the ergonomics of the end user and the general “usability” of the final product.
You try to compromise on the form and features and operation of a design to make the best solution possible to a few BIG problems (rather than half arsed solutions to all the little jobs to be done).
Sometimes Marketing, Finance and the politics of the client/organisation will get in the way and demand things – MORE FEATURES to sell – LESS features for cost (or the boss wants it to have a wooden case…) You’ve got to steer a course through these choppy waters to avoid all the pitfalls and at the end of the day, you may have something good!
But the problems start with identifying the features that are important. And who decides? Those decisions made, and the times they are made, completely change the outcome.
Take the new Galaxy S3 Smartphone.
Problem: LTE high speed network and screen take a LOT of power at the moment.
Solution: Bigger battery.
Problem: Bigger battery means bigger device – do we make it a lot thicker?
Solution: Naaa. Bigger screen – that can be a feature…
Problem: Big screens need even more power?
Solution: Even bigger battery, even bigger screen… Features ahoy!
Like calculating the fuel needed to launch a rocket carrying the rocket + the fuel itself into space, you’re deep into a loop of faux techno-rocket science that seems to be getting you places. But you’ve failed to make the crucial compromise at the start of the process. Some of the technology isn’t ready – YET.
So you go on – and now the compromises get weird!
Problem: A bigger phone is a bit heavy and expensive.
Solution: Use some cheaper/lighter materials.
Problem: Big screens demand two handed operation.
Solution: Ignore that one. That can be a compromise. And big phones are, erm… cool
Problem: Big phones are not that “pocketable”.
Solution: Not a problem. People need to get bigger pockets.
Problem: The Apps need to work on this big screen …and all the other smaller screens.
Solution: The devs can deal with that.
And on it goes… That early decision to compromise on the size has led to all sorts of strange decisions and odd deferrals of responsibility to other parties to make your product work. Now you mightthink about software and marketing:
Problem: What about actual honest to god software features?
Solution: Erm… well… hang on. Right here we are… i, I mean S-Cloud, S-tunes-Match, S-Play, S-Store S-Express. All great, erm, integrated stuff.
Problem: Marketing wise, the phone does look a wee bit… erm… big and a bit… odd?
Solution: Great! look how it dwarfs the competition (also, we changed it to not look at all like an iPhone – you can’t even get it in black, see?)
I would have LOVED to see SAMSUNG take that last step in the “lets copy APPLE” path and make some ballsy design decisions and compromises with the S3. Smaller but REALLY thin; really high quality materials; no LTE (or a go all out to get the damn LTE chips to be more energy efficient). But instead they make a bleeding tablet phone and throw in some xeroxed iCloud/iTunes stuff. I have never been more dissapointed in a major phone launch.
At the end of the day the Marketing/Finance/Legal Dept. won. A bigger phone is easy to sell. Easy to find a niche among BIG HANDED tech writers. Easy to get out in the shop and dwarf the other phones. Easy to spout the stats and show off this lovely BIG screen, just like a big LCD TV all dressed up with an over BRIGHT and CONTRASTY display to stand out in Comet (but you can’t make the damn phone smaller when you get home the way you can at least change the TV settings!)
With all the iPad wannabee tablets failing so miserably, it seems the only way Android is getting tablet-sized devices to sell is to call them phones and sell them through the usual channels.
Now if they had changed those first decisions… “No, we need to keep this a small and beautiful device; the battery can be better, perhaps not changeable, but still small and we could try new materials; and let’s wait for better LTE chips”
…you would see a completely different and exciting path of product development (that really would have worried the iPhone).
(I won’t even try to go in to the different S3 versions, with the model that lacks LTE (for proper-4G-less bits of Europe) coming first, but still being so god damn big – that’s just odd)