Chris Lee

Motorola: You’ve pushed my buttons once too many times

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Cliq2. Gross.

CES 2011 is now in progress and while there is a lot to love coming from the show floor, I want to talk about the gross gadgets coming out of some of these companies. Particularly in the phone space.

The smartphone market has grown exponentially in the past year. When HTC came out with the Hero, there felt like a revolution was headed our way. HTC had poised itself, in my mind, as the next great hardware design company, right next to Apple. HTC was going to make my next phone.

Since that time, however, HTC has slipped considerably. With the release of the Incredible, we saw what amounted to be a powerful phone with a great Android skin that actually added functionality (Something not to be overlooked for sure, but that is outside the scope of this post). However, the design of the phone was something to be desired. While not BAD, it was nowhere near beautiful.
Superfluous.

The back of the phone featured a gimmick. Nothing too offensive, but a gimmick nonetheless. It was bumpy and weird. Maybe it meant to imply “high-tech,” but it actually implies the opposite. This is simply unacceptable, in my mind, for a company that wants to sit in the realm of great hardware design.

Since then HTC has released a bevy of other phones with less-than-stellar looks. But in comparison to some of its peers, HTC is still a bastion of hardware design, and it’s is that which I have a problem with.

The first image in this post is the new Motorola Cliq 2. It is Motorola’s second (possibly more) attempt at a lower-market smartphone with a keyboard. Which is exactly what tipped off this rant.

Look at that monstrosity. First off, this phone does not run the new version of Android codenamed “Honeycomb,” but even if it did, this would be offensive.

A keyboard that draws that much attention to itself serves nearly zero purpose. A phone’s keyboard is supposed to function first and sit in the background of your fingers. You will never marvel at your keyboard after days of use. Even if you loved the look of this keyboard (I question your taste, but I’m willing to overlook differences in preference), this would still be bad design.

A smartphone’s main event is the software, NOT the hardware (I will not even start on Motorola’s Blur skin for Android). If a company wants to make a cheap phone, then what is so wrong with making a generic-looking phone. There are many ways to make generic work with many different options for form.

Take, for instance, the new Google CR-48 laptop that is kicking off Google’s Chrome OS pilot program.
Beauty in genericism.

This laptop is beautifully generic. No frills and, above all, no gimmicks. Just function. Well-constructed function.

This sort of thinking would do Motorola (and other companies) well. And while cellphones are no stranger to gimmicks, I could forgive an immature market. We are more than a decade into this marathon and design like the Cliq 2 only hurts the overall design culture.

I’ll leave you with Dieter Rams’10 principles for good design. Read them and just try to apply just one of these rules to the Cliq 2 and other crap you see coming out of this year’s CES.

  1. Good design is innovative
  2. Good design makes a product useful
  3. Good design is aesthetic
  4. Good design helps us to understand a product
  5. Good design is unobtrusive
  6. Good design is honest
  7. Good design is long-lasting
  8. Good design is consequent to the last detail
  9. Good design is concerned with the environment
  10. Good design is as little design as possible

10 principles applied.

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