Inspired by a rant I refrained from posting in this thread. Google may be in the process of developing a free cellular phone service. That’s great and all; I like Google and I love what they do, but y’know, my primary issue with cell phone carriers has never been about the pricing. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again here, and I challenge any cell phone company to call me on it: I would pay well upwards $100 a month for a no-frills, 500-minute, single-phone plan, if they could give me a phone and a service that actually fucking worked.
What do I mean by “actually fucking worked”? I mean that I want to be able to take out my mobile phone when I’m, you know, mobile, anywhere from Roanoke, VA to Mobile, Alabama to the middle of the desert in Nevada to Washington state – maybe even the mythical uncharted lands of Canada and Mexico – and have the thing, well, actually fucking work! Like, so that I could call people and stuff! On my phone! Wouldn’t that be amazing? Hell, it might even routinely work outdoors in cities where the carrier is heavily advertised, which it certainly doesn’t do now!
I maintain that the reason we’re seeing so much cell phone “feature creep” is because the major carriers have given up on making phones that actually fucking work, creating a silent mutual agreement not to bother even trying anymore, and instead competing on the basis of whose goddamned telephone has the highest-resolution camera, or the most advanced MP3 playing software, or, best of all, the sleekest design to ensure maximum breakability. Far easier to add and refine those things indefinitely than to attempt to design a phone service whose customers can make phone calls from places they might happen to be.
And you know what? I can’t really blame them, because it’s working! Nobody’s even asking them to make their shit work anymore! Look at the brouhaha over the iPhone…very shiny, very feature-y, very intuitive user interface (well I would hope so, it’s a fucking phone), MP3s, Wi-Fi, Safari browser…but can it call people? Who the fuck knows! I have yet to find a single review of the damned thing that mentions it. I know that it doesn’t have Bluetooth or 3G support; I know that the call clarity when it can make calls is decent; I know that a few people don’t like the earbuds for extended use; I know that the phone interface is easy to find and to operate (wow, I can find the phone part of my phone AND use it too? I’m sold already!)…I know all these things, but I do not know, and cannot find out without extensive research, whether this $600 pinnacle of human technology actually fucking works in its primary capacity.*
Clearly, the focus of the masses is elsewhere. We currently don’t care if our phones are functional as long as they’re sufficiently cool. That’s where the market has gone, and the carriers see no reason to try to buck the trend.
Now, at this point I’m going to go out on a limb, and posit a theory of what it would take the break this pattern of thought (or perhaps “lack thereof”, or “compliance with marketing techniques”, but I digress). I submit that all it would take is one new competitor – a company that knows how to keep it simple and functional, one that knows how to appeal to people in a commonsense manner, one that’s famous for disregarding the norm and presenting people with clear, unadulterated, “why-didn’t-we-think-of-this-before” alternatives – a company like Google – to step up to the plate and present the idea that, hey, perhaps a cell phone should actually function as a phone at the times when we’d like it to do so…and all of a sudden, we’d see the spell break. All it would take is one good smack upside the collective consumer head for people to say, waitaminute…all these years, I have been paying fifty bucks a month for the ability to use my go-anywhere phone in 40-60% of the places I actually go! I’ve never questioned it before, because I never really had any alternatives, but now that I think about it…why the hell am I doing this? Fuck that shit, I want service that works!
So, Google, my question to you is this: you can make us a phone that’s free, but can you make us a phone that works? Should you accomplish this, I, for one, would be prepared to reward you for your troubles…and I theorize that, once the word spread, I would be very far from alone.
*I could extend this rant to technology reviews in general – I’ve complained here before about the difficult time I had trying to assess whether various digital audio recorders actually recorded audio competently, rapidly becoming lost in a sea of included software packages, microphone support, USB connectivity, compression formats, range of speaker volume (…the fuck?), and other miscellania I cared not a whit about – but that’s one for another time.