Do Cell Phone Users Really Want Myriad Features? The Apple iPhone is also a camera, an MP3 player, a Web browser — and it has a touch-screen keypad. Competitors are promoting phones by highlighting the features of their cell phones that the iPhone lacks. How much is too much?
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Do Cell Phone Users Really Want Myriad Features?

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Do Cell Phone Users Really Want Myriad Features?

Do Cell Phone Users Really Want Myriad Features?

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If you're willing to wait for an iPhone and spend at least $500 for it, Apple has promised a ton of features. According to the company, it will be a music player, a calendar, a contact book, a photo album, a video player and much more. Oh, and you can make phone calls on it, too. All those extras raised a question: do customers really want all that stuff on a phone?

As NPR's Laura Sydell reports, not necessarily.

LAURA SYDELL: The iPhone is supposed to be so great that the hype has even penetrated into the jungle. When it was announced in January, a friend of mine heard about it while traveling in a remote area of Central America. My friend may want to take an iPhone next time he goes to the jungle if it really has as many features as people think it will. A mock commercial on "Late Night with Conan O'Brien" made it sound more versatile than a Swiss Army knife.

(Soundbite of TV commercial)

Unidentified Man: It's a camera. It's a movie player, a remote control, a bottle opener, an electric razor, a blow dryer.

SYDELL: Not everyone is joking. Today, one newspaper seriously asked, can the iPhone change the way we live? Conan O'Brien's producers simply wondered if it could actually make a call.

(Soundbite of TV commercial)

Unidentified Man: It's also a hard-to-use cell phone. The iPhone…

SYDELL: This past weekend, a random sample of cell phone users in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park revealed that what people want is a phone that works.

Ms. AMY ANDERSON(ph): I really just think about it working to call people effectively all the time.

Mr. MATTHEW LAWRENCE (ph): I want to be able to use my address book easily, access phone numbers easily, not have to go through arcane menus.

Ms. ANN TWIST(ph): All of the other stuff is cool ringtones and games, but it only goes so far and it's basically a means of communication.

Mr. MICHAEL ROGERS(ph): I just want a phone that works that doesn't drop a call. I want a free phone. I don't want to spend 500 bucks for a phone.

SYDELL: That was 61-year-old Michael Rogers; teenager Ann Twist; Matthew Lawrence, almost 40; and 27-year-old Amy Anderson. And consumer polls done by Forrester Research pretty much confirm my random sample of people at the park.

Charles Golvin is an analyst at Forrester.

Mr. CHARLES GOLVIN (Principal Analyst, Forrester Research): What they care most about on their phone are very basic things like how much it costs, how long the battery lasts and how easy the use it is. And all of the fancy, new features that the manufacturers put in to these devices, whether it's cameras or music players or video players or what have you, are all kind of gravy on the side.

SYDELL: Golvin says many cell phones are chockfull of stuff that many users never touch.

Ms. ELEANOR DAVIES: If people are using every single thing on their BlackBerry, I say get a life.

SYDELL: Eleanor Davies, the mother of a 9-year-old, says she needs a cell phone to navigate her day. But it has to be easy to use.

Ms. DAVIES: I've got a lot going on in my life. I definitely like to be connected, but I don't want to be deluged with a lot of tools that I'm expected to know how to use that are really useless to me.

SYDELL: However, if they were easy to use, Davies said she'd be much more interested in other features. That's what research might not tell you, says Mike McGuire at the technology research firm, Gartner.

Mr. MIKE McGUIRE (Vice President for Research, Gartner): You can focus groups (unintelligible) to death, right? But do you actually get something in their hands? You're really still guessing.

SYDELL: McGuire says who knew cameras on cell phones would be such a hit. The iPhone is not for the frugal. The low-cost version is $499. The higher-end is $599. At that price, Apple better get it right. But Apple is a company that inspires true believers. Busy moms like Eleanor Davies have little faith in most consumer products, but she wants an iPhone. To her, it's the holy grail of cell phones.

Ms. DAVIES: It's almost magic. It would just scan my blood chemistry and find my viruses and let me beam up to the mother ship, I'd be all set.

SYDELL: And, if it could make me breakfast and take dictation, I'd sign up for one, too.

Laura Sydell, NPR News, San Francisco.

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