It’s fun, in a perverse sort of way, to watch the industry swing back and forth between complexity and simplicity.

Both hardware and software endlessly vacillate between the elegant and easy to use and the feature-packed portmanteau.

Right now, KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid) is dormant,

knocked out by the ever-growing trend to stuff as much functionality into as small a device as possible.

The result is gadgets bearing lots of teeny buttons with multiple functions, many of which will never be used. It’s all-in-one devices that run their users’ lives. If they break, instant paralysis ensues.

No wonder Palm has floundered for a while. It was born in the KISS days, when a straightforward device that did its job well was celebrated, not sneered at. Now the only contraptions that meet analyst approval fit into a secret decoder ring and do everything but your laundry.

As you might have guessed, my vote, for the main part, is for simplicity. Aside from usually being easier to run, if a simple device malfunctions, you still have your other toys to fall back on. If a multi-multi-function dies, you have nothing but a badly frayed temper.

I use a Palm. It does nothing but function as a PDA — no phone, no radio, no dancing bears. My elderly BlackBerry just does e-mail, and I wouldn’t have it any other way (well, maybe a Web browser would be nice).

I’ve tried the spiffy new BlackBerry/cellphone/Mike (PTT phone), and I admit, it’s lovely, with its colour screen, but it gobbles power. I’ve tried the Treo as well (at least, an early model), and various Pocket PC-based units. That’s not to say that I don’t indulge in multi-function gadgets, when it makes sense. While my husband juggles several remotes, for example, I prefer my programmable all-in-one remote. Complexity has its place.

But my basic devices have something the fancy new ones don’t: Good battery life. I charge my Palm once a week, whether it needs it or not. Ditto the BlackBerry; battered and cranky though it is (the thumbwheel is slowly dying), it still holds a charge very efficiently. The new models, on the other hand, need charging every day or two. They conk out at embarrassing moments, and when I’m on the road, I have to haul AC adapters along, adding to the weight of my already-hefty briefcase. I’m willing to sacrifice the enhanced functionality for battery life.

Many of my colleagues are of the opposite opinion. To them, it’s the more functions, the merrier. It’s become a sort of contest with their peers, determining who has the tiniest, busiest device.

This, too, will pass. Some day, someone, somewhere, will rediscover the joys of simplicity, and it will again become the latest and greatest. Then we simple-minded folks will be trendy, and can roll our eyes at the function-happy — until things flip again.

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