Sunday, January 21, 2007

Rethinking the UI - Jitterbug Cell Phone

While thumbing through a copy of Good Housekeeping Magazine, I noticed an ad for the Jitterbug Cell Phone. It's a phone targeted to seniors, and as is immediately obvious, rethinks the UI of a typical phone.

As I just mentioned, I'm always interested to see when folks redesign a commonly accepted UI.

Now, of course, I've never actually played with a Jitterbug Cell phone. But that doesn't stop me from guessing what they did right and wrong with their new approach. So here goes. First, what I think they did right:

  • They ditched the number pad. Gutsy move, but one I like. With fewer choices, the phone is clearly easier to use.
  • They added in a dial tone. Somewhere along the line, a dial tone went from being a necessary part of the phone infrastructure to an important cue. It means, everything's good to go, start doing stuff. By adding something as simple as a .wav file of a dial tone, they are sending the same message. Camera makers do this all the time with digital cameras. They add in that familiar shutter click. Do you need that click? Of course not, but again, somewhere along the line it went from simply a mechanical side effect to actually meaning, poof, photo taken.
  • They give one button access to a human. With call centers being so global, and cheap, I can't imagine it's that expensive to have a bunch of operators standing by, ready to connect you to your own phone book. Who cares if it's not the most direct way to make a call? It gets the job done, and requires only hitting a single button. As a bonus, the operator is again a well understood metaphor.
  • They ship the phone pre-programmed with your contacts. Brilliant! Think about it. The first thing you do after you open up the box on your new cell phone is to do the one of the hardest tasks possible: program your phone book. Why not skip that step altogether by delivering the device pre-configured. Hopefully the device is connected enough to the main office that the operator (see above) can add stuff to your contacts for you after the fact.

And what I think they didn't get right...

  • They don't appear to be integrated with a service provider, like T-mobile or Sprint. If I were T-mobile, I'd be all over this. They would be the only cell phone provider with a senior friendly phone. That means that the kids buy the phone for their parents, and then have to join the plan to get free talk time. Seems like a no-brainer.
  • The phone is a bit too targeted to seniors. What about kids, or even just technologically skittish adults? This should be simply targeted to everyone who can't bother to interrupt their busy lives to learn some newfangled device.

Overall, I think the Jitterbug folks are on to something. I hope it works out for them, and they continue to break all those well established design rules.


  1. Anonymous12:46 PM

    I have a Jitterbug phone, but mine has a normal keypad, so that I can dial any number. I ordered it because I can get service for only $10/month. I make few calls, and I don't need to pay somebody $45 a month.

    Their advertising says that they will send it pre-programmed with up to five numbers. But nobody talked to me before they shipped the phone, and it arrived with no numbers. And they've disabled the feature that lets you use the phone's keypad to add numbers. So your only recourse is to use the Jitterbug operator or their customer support. Calling the operator costs air-time minutes.

    So I've been emailing customer support to have them add a couple of numbers. They keep saying that they are sending them, and I keep seeing .... NOTHING.

    The phone itself is fine, I like it. The combination of crippling this function of the phone (the function is fully described in the manual, but it doesn't work), and the non-functional "we'll send numbers to your phone" is a major PITA.

  2. Anonymous3:15 AM

    Have very nice Jitterbug cellphone...