February 26, 2008

Cellphones are For Calling... Things

While I’ll give the iPhone a pass because it’s pretty cool and the battery actually holds up nicely, by and large I feel like cell phones are made for calling people. I don’t need it to play music–I’ve got an MP3 player for that. I don’t need it to get on the internet–I’ve got a laptop for that (and before anyone says “But it’s not as portable,” I carry my little 8″ Fujitsu Lifebook just about everywhere I go). All I really need from a cell phone is the ability to make and receive calls, and the ability to send/receive text messages. What’s the point of this micro-rant?

I was playing pool last night for a few hours in a pretty large pool hall over in Santa Clara. There was a Juke Box there, one of those modern numbers that’s all-digital instead of shuffling discs around (as a side-note $0.50 a song on the Jukebox makes iTunes look a lot more reasonable…). There were two payment options on the thing–either insert 1/5/10/20 dollar bills, or log in to your “whatever the name of this jukebox is” Account (I’m assuming it was hooked up to the internet). This seems like such a wasted opportunity to me. While I’m sure the jukebox makers would just LOVE to have some demographic data and email addresses to try to sell things to, who in their right mind is going to sit there and sign up for a profile on a jukebox interface? More importantly, who even wants a jukebox account?

The idea is solid–the fact that not all people carry cash with them, and being able to pick a few songs even if you don’t have any ones handy is nice. But the hassle of registering for anything is just too great to make it a worthwhile proposition. Enter the cell phone.

I guarantee you that 99.9% of the people at that pool hall had cell phones on them. When I was at Georgia Tech, the mobile guys had this one interactive display setup that featured fish floating around in an aquarium. Each fish had its own phone number, and you could dial in on a cell phone to take control of it–moving around with touch-tone presses as a joystick. THAT would actually take some programming chops to set up. You also see things on TV all the time saying “text in your vote for $0.99 to ######.” If the jukebox operators really want to make some money, they need to get in bed with the cell phone carriers and figure out a way to text in how many song credits you want to buy.

Let’s see… scrounge around for a few one-dollar bills or text “5″ to the phone number written on top of the jukebox? I know which one I’d rather do. The sad thing is that people are spending millions and millions of dollars trying to figure out how to make cell phones do more, and no one seems to be focusing on what they already do well–call things.