Since most of my friends and ex-colleagues work in either IT or networking, gadgetry is a common conversation topic, so I've been conducting a highly unscientific survey in our heavily Microsoft-oriented culture here in Portugal, asking them why they had bought (or were constantly asking me about) Microsoft-based smartphones (which they all know I pretty much avoid).
Here are the top 5 reasons I heard this last couple of months:
- Painless sync with Outlook (and now with Exchange, OTA).
- They are (usually) not SIM-locked to any specific operator.
- They are not crippled in any way (i.e., you can send contacts, appointments, etc. via Bluetooth or IrDA, you're not forced to go through the operator's portal, you can use any audio file as a ringtone, and the UI is not customized - except by Microsoft, of course).
- They have MSN Messenger pre-installed.
- They have an HTML browser that lets them access whatever pages they want.
And it's interesting to note that not one of them mentioned MMS - for this sort of folk, cameras are useless frills, and images are meant to be sent via e-mail, not "something that mangles them in transit" (their words, not mine - content adaptation to handsets is not something they care for).
Not living in an ivory tower, I wasn't surprised at the above. Nor that MSN was seen as more useful than SMS during office hours, since "everyone has it" (only the other day a story ran in the local papers - actual non-geek, "serious" press - mentioning MSN pretty much dominates the local IM scene).
The interesting bit for me, however, is not the increased emphasis on connectivity - it's pretty much a given and it's a moving target, as my Microsoft-oriented buddies tend to ask me more about 3G-enabled PDAs these days.
No, the really interesting part is that sometime around last year (when I was playing around with my Pocket PC, getting my e-mail via Bluetooth and our brand new 3G network), the third reason was the last one - or wasn't mentioned at all.
If I remember correctly, HTML browsing was usually the third topic - now it's pretty much a given, and it's dropped down the ranking. And this past week alone, I've had several mentions of all the topics I've bunched together at third place.
I don't know if it's the competition hopping on the "mobile office" bandwagon (and aggressively advertising Pocket PC phones), the fallout from 3GSM in Cannes or the flurry that precedes CeBit, but there's definitely something there, to the extent that I wonder if this year's emphasis throughout the industry on pushing DRM and adding service-oriented UI customizations to handsets won't play right into Microsoft's hands in segments like these.
Realizing that people that I would call savvy users would shun operator-branded handsets using these arguments was kind of depressing - despite the usual FUD around "operator crippling" of handsets (which is often unfounded and publicized with ulterior motives), there are reasons for tuning handset UIs and making it easier for people to access the operator's services. Yes, besides earning a quick cent.
Being a stickler for UI consistency, I actually like picking up a new handset for testing and finding the exact same icon set and menu layout that the last one had. Saves me time and brain cells, and I would think the average user would appreciate that.
Unless, of course, the average user is also coming around to my friends' views...
I guess that time will tell which of us has been assimilated.