Key issue

SonyEricsson W880i

Is this simply poor design or a deliberate feature? A friend tells me of his irritation with his Sony Ericsson W880i’s ‘internet’ key, which is positioned such that it frequently gets pressed accidentally when pressing the buttons above and below it – “three or four times a day”, he says – and, to avoid incurring internet charges, needs to be immediately cancelled.

Clearly any device with many functions and small keys is always going to have some issues with accidental key-presses, but when a single accidental key-press can actually cost the user money and the user not necessarily notice it straight away, this would seem to be a bad choice of layout. Is the ‘internet-via-a-single-key-press’ such a valuable feature that replacing it with, say, a process involving two presses (e.g. a confirmation in addition to the original press) would inconvenience users more?

It seems perhaps unlikely that this is an intentional architecture of control to increase revenue for the network operators by causing accidental connections, but the fact that my friend suggested this – straight off – as the reason for the design, demonstrates how, as users of technology, we’re increasingly aware and suspicious of architectures of control in the products and systems around us, even if we don’t have a full grasp of the concept in a wider context.

15 Comments

  1. It’s sales focussed design instead of user focussed design (ergonomics).

    SFD: How can we encourage people to use the web?
    Create a dedicated button.

    UFD: How can we best lay out the keyboard to maximise user efficiency?
    Who cares? Let’s create dedicated buttons to activate premium services.

    This is the same kind of thinking that put three stupid fricking windows keys at the bottom of PC keyboards, instead of perhaps reconsidering the utility of ‘print screen’, ‘scroll lock’ and ‘pause’, and dare I suggest ‘caps lock’ and ‘altgr’.

    Similarly for many software packages. Add features that appeal to newcomers and those making purchase decisions (comparing alternatives). Do not enhance ergonomics for the bulk of existing users who’ve passed the learning curve – [sotto voce come Alec Guinness] these are not the customers we’re looking for.

  2. Stephen

    My Pantech C300 on Cingular does the same stupid thing… I hate it.

  3. I had the same trouble with the layout of the Sony Ericsson K600i. So many badly placed keys on the sides of the phone it drove me mad. It even used to turn off when I picked it up to answer a call.
    I changed the phone (actually gave the Sony to my son, he thinks it’s good! I must have big clunky fingers?).
    Now I have a Blackberry 8100 pearl, no contest the Blackberry is so much better (for me).

  4. Valentin

    same with the samsung X820 – internet key is in the middle of the four keys used to navigate the menu. I Accidentaly press it at least once a day – and come on: I’m not prone to think of conspiracy theories, but its always the internet key …

  5. The LG VX8300 features four directional buttons that serve as shortcuts when not being used to navigate menus. three of the four are customizable to whichever menus one uses the most. The fourth button (the left one, in this case) can not be customized. Where does this fourth button lead you to? Why, the internet of course.

    I think it’s pretty clear that phone manufacturers do this on purpose.

  6. Silverman

    I’ll point out that the phone manufacturer doesn’t get any of the money you spend on mobile Internet service. The only reason I can think of that they’d intentionally make that button easy to accidentally press is at the request of the carrier.

    I suspect that these buttons are configurable by default and that the blame lies with the carrier, who disables this capability. If that’s the case, you can stick it to the carrier by purchasing an unlocked phone or by clearing the Internet settings so that the phone can’t connect even if you press the button.

    There is, in the States at least, a long tradition of the carrier disabling features on a phone so that you’ll use an alternate feature that requires you to make a purchase from the carrier. Most modern phones now have the technical ability to use any sound file as a ringtone. This feature is disabled in most phones, however, so that you’ll be forced to purchase, or at least pay to download, the ringtone over the air. Dan, have you examined this topic?

    On the other hand, my Sony Ericsson w810i has a “Walkman” button in exactly that position, but it isn’t easy to accidentally activate. So perhaps they’ve just based a botched button design on a previously successful layout.

  7. Phone companies are evil.

    Google “Speedstream 4200” sometime. It’s a DSL modem with a bunch of nifty capabilities in the Siemens firmware, such as NAT and firewall.

    Of course, nobody ever gets a Speedstream 4200 with the Siemens firmware. They get a Speedstream 4200 with the DSL provider’s (read: phone company’s) firmware, which usually disables a bunch of stuff. Often this includes port forwarding, apparently as an anti-VoIP or possibly anti-p2p measure. One US provider definitely specifically configures it to block a single port commonly used for VoIP, without user overrideability, but the ability to forward other ports. Usually this can be bypassed by using the 4200 as a pure modem and running PPPoE over it (a Windows XP user can just make a connectoid specifying PPPoE and their username and password, for example), but then you lose the NAT/firewall features that can greatly reduce your exposure to Internet hacking threats.

    It’s not just cell phones that telcos diddle with and flash-downgrade for their customers. It’s DSL modems too, and Christ alone knows what else…

  8. George Preston

    I’m definitely more suspicious of changes to design like this which may reflect the general trend, but have undeniable benefits for the product owner….for example, Barclays cashpoints no longer have £10 as an option on the ‘amount’ menu. You would need to press “other amount” and type ‘£10’. Laborious, but reflecting the fact that most people withdraw more?

  9. I’ve encountered this too with an older SE x600, and it led me to hate that phone (combined with many other faults, of course). But what struck me most when I was considering a new phone, the Nokia 6126 (aka 6131), was how my new Nokia was extremely customisable in its ‘inactive’ or ‘rest’ state, and how the z600 offered me practically no customisation whatsoever.

    That is to say, I now can choose what all four direction buttons do, what the softkeys do, and create an ‘active desktop’ which lets me cram even more customisable shortcuts into 1-3 levels deep.

    Of course there are still internet shortcuts skulking in various places in the phone, placed by the carrier and unable to be removed, but for the first time in a very long time I feel I have some semblance of control over my basic phone experience! It’s wonderful.

    Now all that’s left is dealing with Canada’s cellphone tri-opoly, three companies seriously gouging everyone: http://imagesurgery.ca/2007/03/fido-by-the-mb/

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  11. This is definitely something the carriers are requesting, not the manufacturers. I use to own a vodafone branded sony ericsson phone – it had *three* separate buttons which were hardcoded to start vodafone’s internet service. My friend had the same phone without network firmware, and it only had one button set to access the internet, and that was configurable.

  12. elise

    If you go into your ‘internet settings’ on your mobile and create a ‘fake’ internet profile by clicking ‘add profile’ and just calling it a diff name and not saving any correct web address/code in it, the settings to connect will not be there and therefore if you press the internet shortcut in your pocket an error message will appear and it will not connect to the net- therefore saving you money :o)

  13. Alex Smith

    I have this phone and i kept constantely being connected to the internet because i have big fingers.
    so i decided to get my own back, in the internet settings section
    i set up a new profile witch connects to a nonexistent proxy, with a fake dial up 😀
    and now all is well whenever i accidentally hit the internet button it appears dialing 8888888 fails, and returns me to where i was before.
    and because i setup a new internet profile whenever i want to use the internet i can just change the profile
    just wanted to tell someone ’cause this annoyed me and i was really pleased i found a solution 😀
    hope this helps other people

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