Simple is better

Want a good indication of how far technology has come over the years? Then compare our cover image of the shiny new flip-phone with the plain, black telephone set you see in the picture on page 30.
In between, we’ve tried to show you everything else, from music-playing, picture-taking phones, to spreadsheet-running, voice-recording handheld devices, to tablets that accept handwritten messages.
We’re calling this issue our focus on gadgets knowing full-well this term doesn’t fully capture the capabilities of these products.(We were going to call this a feature on “serious business tools” but we were afraid nobody would read it.)
With gadgets, though, what you see is not always what you get. Or more accurately, you may be getting more than you can handle.
Is there too much choice? Are you, as an executive, being driven to distraction rather than getting the job done? How advanced does a mobile device really have to be? Are some of these features neat but useless? And what about the organizational challenges. Do you have any idea how complicated managing all these devices has become?
Fortunately, CIOs are stepping up and taking a more critical view of these things. And you can read about it in “A Handful to Consider.” (See story, p. 20.)
At the same time, there’s a growing sense that with gadgets, we may only be seeing the tip of the iceberg. If users begin to download videos, the entire contents of a newspaper, or a database to their palmtop, it will mean rethinking the entire network. Can convergence of voice and data be far off? (See Q&A, p. 8).
There is, however, one thing holding it all back and it seems to happen every time there are incredible advances in technology.
Adding more and more features usually comes at the expense of ease-of-use, and when it comes to choosing between the two, don’t most executives opt for the latter?
So here’s a challenge for the gadget-makers and service-providers as we head into 2006. Rather than just throw countless more features into what is getting to be an overloaded device, maybe the industry could spend some time thinking about how to improve both manageability and usability? Be prudent also. A gadget, especially when it comes to voice or e-mail communications, really is only as good as the service behind it.
Bear this all in mind and it will help keep your CIO happy.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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