Treo Hardware Silencer Switch: Certainty in an uncertain world

Cellphones are tricky things. Lots of info crammed onto tiny screens, laggy user interfaces, misorganized menus, even software crashes. Does that little bell in the corner mean the sound is on, or that the alarm clock is set, or that the local bell choir is having a concert this weekend? Do those little waves mean sound waves for a ringer, vibration waves for a silent mode, or gnarly waves for surfing? And what would happen if some side button gets pressed for too long against an altoids tin in my pocket - would the sound turn back on, or would the wily thing spontaneously decide to call my mother and/or boss??

Treos, which have always been excellently user-centric, have this one down. That little hardware slider switch silences this sucker, period. Sure thing, no question about it.

Hardware features costs more than software features on mobile devices, both in terms of actual cost to produce, and in increasingly precious pocketspace and weight. The alternatives: soft keys whose functions depend on screen labels, which are virtually unlimited, but take time to navigate to. Or, multiple functions for a single (non-soft) key, such as the loooong press or double-click, which are often too confusing to remember. Still, these two options are used a lot because they're so pain-free to the designers and manufacturers. Case in point: my old phone was set to vibrate with a long-hold on one of the side keys - outside the clamshell, even when the clamshell was closed. A second long-hold set silent; a third, and it's back to full sound. Nothing to keep it from being accidentally pressed in the pocket; no feedback to warn the user that it's happened. And even when I wanted to use it, it takes a few seconds (which add up) of rapt attention to do correctly. It's just not a good feeling; gotta love cost-driven design. Ugh.

So, a design is to be applauded when it sacrifices some of its own profit margin to give the user what needs and wants in solution that fits the problem and real usage patterns. I use this hardware switch every day (Treo 680 user, here), and appreciate every saved second and every additional iota of confidence. Gotta love user-driven design. Really.

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