- The Washington Times - Monday, March 21, 2005

Some have said that mobile phones are like the ankle bracelets worn by convicts under house arrest: You hate it; it’s a nuisance, but you have to have it with you at all times just to keep in touch.

At the same time, the Cellular Telephone Industry Association reports that Americans spent an average of 6,095 minutes, slightly more than four days straight, talking on their cell phones last year.Many of us don’t really like our phones, but we seem to need them and often rely on them.

So what can be done to make mobile phones better? I’d like to suggest several things:

Get in sync: It’s almost criminal that there isn’t an automatic way to synchronize mobile phones with desktop computer address books. You usually must buy extra software and cables to make the connection. The few mobile phones that offer their own synchronization are combo devices with either a personal digital assistant built in or a PDA operating system, such as a version of Microsoft’s Windows Mobile software.

However, most mobile phone users don’t carry a Palm Treo or the Motorola MPx220. They carry other phones that have enough brain power to handle some form of synchronization. So why don’t makers recognize this? Yes, carrier T-Mobile offers a Web-based service for this purpose. I tried it with an early version of the Sidekick and it works quite well. However, it can be hacked, as Paris Hilton found out, to her sorrow.

The solution: either an industrywide data exchange standard or more Web-based services.

Get the data to me more easily: There might be more frustrating things than trying to surf the Web from a cell phone — such as getting season box seats for the Washington Nationals baseball team — but I don’t know of too many. Unless you are going to pre-defined Web sites that are configured for your particular phone, be prepared for a lot of involuntary teeth grinding when you try to find a Yahoo listing of restaurants or something similar.

It shouldn’t be this way. Phones are getting larger screens, networks are more capable, and there have been plenty of technologies that should make it easy to enter Internet addresses.

Web surfing on a wireless phone is a pain. Part of this may be a lack of meaningful competition once you are signed up as a wireless customer: to get the really good deals, you make a commitment to a one- or two-year contract.

The solution here, for now, is very careful shopping for a phone and for a service plan. Long term, the solution would be to make data more accessible, perhaps by mandating that cell phones with Bluetooth connections must function as wireless modems.

Get over yourselves, cell phone makers: Quit designing phones to be cute, and start making them usable. Make it easier to enter numbers in a cell phone address book. Beef up your computer connections; an overwhelming majority of cell phone users, it seems, have computers or have access to one, so let us use this power.

In short, while cell phones are no longer the huge “bricks” of 20 years ago, they are not yet integrated fully into our digital world. Make a cell phone as easy to program and manage as an Apple IPod, and the world will beat a path to your door.

E-mail MarkKel@aol.com or visit www.kellner.us.

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