Things are getting too small.

My lady accidentally dropped her faithful old digital camera the other day breaking off the battery cover. Now this was easily fixed with a little tape and ingenuity but It got me to thinking.

She bought this “point and shoot” style digital camera (Kodak) back in 2000 and paid somewhere between two and three hundred dollars for it. It is dark gray (almost black), has straight forward “on/off” slide switch, “up” and “down” push buttons plus “select” and “menu” buttons and a small LCD small in other words; simple and straight forward. No zoom or special features, just turn it on and take a picture and the pictures it takes are usually just fine. Also, when you turn it off it actually shuts off and the batteries are just as fresh when you turn it back on days or a couple weeks later. It’s about the same size as your average point and shoot 35mm camera. Easy to handle and operate.

In 2004, she bought me a “point and shoot” style digital camera. It wasn’t even my birthday (what a gal!) but that’s not the point. This camera (another Kodak) cost somewhere between two and three hundred dollars. It’s silver, has a “turn roundy” on the top that switches between six functions including the “off” position (the other ones are “on” but each position does “on” differently), a button above the LCD display that switches between 5 different flash modes, a 4 way + center click “thumb” button on the left hand side of the LCD display, a “zoom” control rocker switch on the upper right hand side of the LCD and underneath that switch are two others marked “Menu” and “Review”. The camera and the zoom feature work fine also and the majority of pictures it takes turn out just fine also.*

*Unfortunately , like most modern consumer technology these days…it doesn’t really shut off and will kill a normal set of alkaline batteries within 2 days of sitting around in the “off” position which means the date and time have to be reset every time I put the batteries back in. I can’t afford to buy a new set of batteries every 2 days. But I do like the camera!

The problem lies not in the functions of the separate cameras but in the size difference.

You see, my camera is a bit smaller than her 2000 version which is large enough to handle comfortably. In fact it’s just that much smaller to make it uncomfortable to handle for someone who’s not too far away from fifty. And the newer cameras today around the same price range we bought our cameras at back then are smaller still and that’s ok for those  young enough to still have perfect eyesight, coordination and sense of touch but as one gets older these senses tend to dull over time (no, really? Yes…really!) and with these devices getting more and more compact these days the less we, of the older generation (not oldest, just older) have the ability to easily use them.

Unfortunately for us of the mid and latter “middle age” and older group, the PC/electronic/gadget market is 99% youth oriented yet a very large portion of people who make use of the above devices are not youths but those in late 30’s to those who still have enough of their senses left to use PC’s and various gadgets. The average users and potential users who make up a large portion of the above mentioned market are most definitely not just coming out of college or in their first two years of their first job of their new career.

I guess the point here is, is that since the tech market is geared toward the younger set who want their cell phones, computers, camera’s etc to be not only reliable but as compact as possible so it’s easier to take with them, easy to use, have as many functions as possible and can be used without any “hassles”, then that’s what the manufacturers are producing.

Now, reliability, functionality and ease of use are great for all generations but compact? How compact can you get until you’ve left half of your customers and users out in the cold? For instance; I talked to my wife at her quilt shop using my buddy’s tiny Motorola cell phone while fishing out on the lake one weekend. This phone is smaller than a pack of cigarettes  and uses a flip top lid that incorporates the speaker and an LCD display. Since I’m rather deaf and was unsure as to whether I could hear her using the phone in a “regular” manner, my friend flipped it over to “speaker” mode and handed it to me.

So here I was, out in the middle of the lake talking to my wife, holding on to something that had a strong resembled to a communicator from the original Star Trek series and I had all I could do to keep from having “Kirk here” slide out of my mouth (uh…my first name happens to be Kirk ya’ know). I was very impressed however, that my honey’s voice came through loud and clear and I could understand every word she said even though the wind was blowing across my hearing aids which make them sound like a cheap “windy” sound effect from a grade B movie.

Unfortunately, I noticed that the bottom half of the cell phone was filled with buttons. Buttons whose labels I didn’t stand a chance of making out at all without reading putting on my reading glasses. Buttons positioned so close together would have had a difficult time not punching two at a time even if I could make out what each one was for and of course I couldn’t make out anything on the LCD display as well…it was so small(!) and my eyes are really not that bad yet…just on their way to getting there which is a perfectly normal thing.

But still…I couldn’t use the same type of phone despite how impressed I was with it’s quality.

The point to this whole dissertation is that I’m becoming increasingly aware that when I really need to have something like a cell phone, I won’t be able to get one simply because it’s too small for me to use.*

*The elderly of a small town in central Vermont began pushing the county seat to find a way to install a cell tower somewhere in the Waits River valley area that would be able to provide cell access to most of the surrounding area (This whole area is nestled in the hills and mountains). The reason being is that these folks who could still work the fields or out in the woods or just plain liked to go for a walk or drive to town now and then (which was just about all of them) wanted the security of being able to call for help if their health suddenly decided to go off in another direction besides the one the they were currently traveling. I don’t know whether they got a cell tower or not but I do know that many people that I’m acquainted who are around the same age or from that area itself expressed their extreme frustration that even if they got their tower or had access already, the cell phones being offered these days that could be easily taken with them were actually too small for them to use at all.

And one day I’ll have to replace my camera but I really don’t want to have to shell out $500.00 to $1000.00 for a camera with 100 different functions and manual adjustments that I’ll never use just so I can have a camera that’s big enough for me to handle easily.

So all you manufacturers of PC’s/electronics/gadgets out there…please listen up.

You have a very large portion of your customer base that already use or would like to continue to make use of modern technology and the benefits that it offers them. It’s these customers you will lose if you don’t realize that for us…smaller is not better.

Don’t forget the older generation guys. We were your first customers to begin with and we stayed with you through good times and bad. Don’t leave us out in the cold.

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2 thoughts on “Things are getting too small.

  1. Thanks much for your input! I am not a manufacturer, but I am an inventor (33 years old), and am lovin this info. One question: is it the size or the complexity that is the issue for you?
    I am trying to point out to buyers that complexity will not sell right now, simplicity will. Actually, I am having to point it out to my engineers all the time. *grin* Big companies do have a tendency to make the new and exciting but the really big, super wide-appeal ideas are simple, almost see-spot-run simple devices/programs. It is the theme of a fascinating book called “The Innovators Solution” about disruptive innovations. (Disruptive of markets, not of technology.)

    Point being that the iPod is successful because of its ease of use and end-to-end solution, not because it is better in any technical way.

    (Speaking of which, have you seen the new iPod shuffle? Would you ever even buy one, or is it just too small?)

    BTW, came here because of your very useful post on the Windows Live Writer forumn. Thanks very much!


  2. I’ve always used the old idea of “KISS” (Keep It Simple Stupid) during the many years of my career in computers/tech/R&D (whatever) which is an idea (as you indicated) that people you work with have to be constantly reminded of.

    So it’s a combination of both. First is complexity. Think of all the jokes about people who still haven’t figured out how their VCR works that have been rolling around since VCR’s first came out. The sad thing is it was true then and it’s still true today and those VCR’s aren’t small! Same for DVD players but not quite as bad (most if not all the functions and options are on screen).

    I agree with your example of the IPOD. The reason for it’s massive popularity is that Apple kept it simple, functional and easy to use. Heck, by what I’ve read and seen, you don’t even have to look at it to operate the thing half the time and it’s small at the same time. Now I don’t know how many older folks use IPODs and I can’t imagine it’s many but it does show how this youth driven tech market is starting to give the big tech companies the idea that “KISS” is probably a good idea. (“See-spot-run” as you said)

    No, I haven’t seen the “Shuffle” yet. I now live about 8 miles from the border of Canada in a town called Newport, VT and the nearest Walmart is an hour and a half away (by highway) and the nearest Apple store is in Burlington which is two hours away (by back roads, we lack highways as well as amenities). As to buying one…probably not in my case. My hearing was damaged in the service which eventually ruined a much loved career as a sound engineer but if I could still hear well enough to appreciate music, I would definitely look into getting one. I don’t think the standard size IPOD is too small simply because of the ease of use.

    But for the older generation (45-??) size really counts when one gets to the point where the senses finally begin to degrade. What use is a cell phone to an older man or woman if they can’t make out what the buttons are for and/or if the phone has 182.4 different functions all wound up in a package the size of a credit card albeit a bit thicker (for example)?

    The point of this long comment (I’m a wordy bas…d) is that SIZE matters as well when it comes to the generation that first bought their products when the idea was to be “the first one on the block” if you know what I mean. We tend to be a bit more practical when it comes to these things. we don’t mind that our cell phone isn’t so small that it can get lost in jacket pocket. We don’t mind carrying something a little bit larger and has less functions when it comes to being able to call someone (or 911)when we find ourselves in a difficult situation. We don’t need our cell phone to do email, text messaging, take pictures or download music videos. We want our cell phone to be a phone(!)…not some sort of undersizes tricorder : -).

    I like the way you think. Keep it simple, functional, and easy to use. I always thought the tablet PC was a great idea for those who have a use for one and I can think of plenty ( the “fold-over” notebook was one of the greats but probably will never be truly appreciated).

    Thanks for the comment.

    BTW…are you just starting a blog?

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