[Tinkerphones] Strategies for sustainable phones

Paul Boddie paul at boddie.org.uk
Mon Sep 23 22:55:25 CEST 2019

On Monday 23. September 2019 17.21.38 H. Nikolaus Schaller wrote:
> > Am 23.09.2019 um 16:28 schrieb Paul Boddie <paul at boddie.org.uk>:
> > 
> > But very bad for the planet. As it is, however, people can always be
> > persuaded to upgrade by just making the software more demanding, so as I
> > noted, we have the same kind of upgrade culture as the one Microsoft and
> > Intel cultivated.
> Yes, indeed.
> The key reason is that if there weren't artificial market demand, there
> would not be enough work for everybody on world...

It all depends on how human society is organised, though. Furthermore, we 
start to see more concern once again about the effects of automation and the 
prospect of whole sectors of human employment being eliminated.

These are not new phenomena - the anticipated effect of pervasive computing 
over forty years ago was precisely this - but politicians and governments tend 
to fail to respond to these challenges, let alone anticipate and meet them. 
For evidence, look at this documentary from the dawn of the microcomputer era:

"BBC Horizon: 1977-1978 Now The Chips Are Down"


> IMHO the breakthrough of smartphones was that they are much more intuitively
> operated than feature-phones with menus and submenus.

As technology improved, so did the potential for better user interfaces. My 
first phone had a simple monochrome bitmap screen that permitted simple games 
and multiline menus:


It had followed even simpler interfaces which used effectively two- or three-
line bitmap screens. For example:


And my next phone had a colour screen with the familiar icon grid four years 
before the iPhone:


Naturally, a small joystick (the thing which wore out on mine) is not great 
for navigation, so touchscreens were introduced in higher-end models. For 


We can probably discuss at length how these phones and their successors ended 
up ceding the market to smartphones from other producers, leaving only a niche 
for some of their descendents at the very low end of the mobile phone market.

It might be said that they were not usable enough. More accurately, given that 
simple phones persist at the low end today, it might rather be said that they 
are not usable enough once a certain level of sophistication is required.

It can also be said that smartphones satisfied customers fed up with 
manufacturer and mobile industry arrogance: withholding control from users, 
deleting features, promoting industry-specific technologies. As you note, 
outsiders from personal computing (Apple) and consumer electronics (LG) were 
able to apply a different perspective from their own products.

Together with inflexible legacy software stacks and an inability to embrace 
usability enhancements from elsewhere, established producers were not able to 
respond effectively with the technology they were already using.

So, usability facilitated by a capable-enough software architecture and, of 
course, decent-enough hardware to support the user interface paradigms to be 
employed, are the things that made for attractive products. These things 
combined with convenient ways of obtaining extra functionality and content 
drove the market forward.


> > My phone had e-mail and calendar support, for instance, although I never
> > got to use them to any decent extent.
> Likely because it was too difficult to operate and did not sync well with
> the desktop computer.

I did use various scripts to transfer data from the phone, but the interfaces 
were fragmented: a modem-style interface to access messages, OBEX to access 
pictures and audio, and some other mechanisms to access contacts and calendar 
entries. I put Web front-ends onto my scripts, but such unification should 
have been part of the product.

Meanwhile, cellular Internet connectivity was an awkward thing in itself, and 
even if it could eventually be configured seamlessly, I wasn't really 
interested any more.


> Well, I have a phone with a quite good camera so that I more and more forget
> to take my 24Mpx + optical zoom camera with me. Which is sad if I would
> need the optical zoom...
> So for me it is a good compromise what you can buy. Except that it is not
> open enough...

Nor is the camera! Which brings me back to the familiar theme of modular 
computing and what it might be like if the same computing module could be 
combined with functional units to provide communications, gaming, camera or 
other solutions in an ergonomic fashion.


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