I've never had a cell phone that didn't totally suck. This is as true for you as it is for me, because they are all horrible. The only metric in which a cell phone can't rate “abysmal” is when compared against other cell phones, because there are different levels of abysmal.
For example, every phone number in America is 10 digits and of the form “(123) 456-7890”, so when you type in 10 digits on an American-market phone (or bring up numbers in your phone book, or receive a call with caller id), why do most of them display a big mash of numbers like “1234567890”? It's just moronic. Even the just-released Motorola phone I got last summer did this, and was an overall usability disaster. Motorola has been around for a long time... has it never learned anything about designing a product for humans to use?
It's not just Motorola; it's all phone manufactures. (I've had some Nokia stock since 2004, but now that I think about it, I don't want it, so I just sold it while typing this.)
There's no technical reason behind this complete lack of development in user interfaces. I think a good percent of the general population could design something better on their first try, so the problem must be that the small population of people who actually work for phone manufactures are total idiots.
I watched the introduction of Apple's iPhone today (via this video) and was astounded, not that the iPhone seems to have such a great user-interface design (although it does), but that it's so great in the face of a history of moronic phone design.
It's been designed like the cell phone should have been designed many years ago. That usability has been combined with current, state-of-the-art technology, so its feature set is advanced. Advanced and usable. That'd be an oxymoron from just about any company except Apple and TiVo.
It seems that the phrase generally used to describe Apple's other products — “it just works” — will apply here as well.
I've never used more than the most basic features of any cell phone I've had because I don't have the time or energy to invest in learning the crappy extra features that I'd be frustrated with if I did use them. Tiny screen, slow and expensive internet access to wimpy pretend pseudo-“web” pages. Ugh.
But the iPhone.... wow. The hour-long live demo in the video showed a whole new world of usability in all aspects of the device... phone, music player, photo viewer, video player, internet browser.... It seems to be designed for humans, to actually use. Pure Apple.
It runs OSX, so I wonder how long before Firefox and Photoshop are ported to it.
Of course, the Apple Cult faithful will drink the Apple cool-aid no matter what Apple puts out, and I should make it clear that I'm not such a person. I bought my first Apple product, a laptop, just before Anthony was born in 2002. True to Apple form, it not only didn't suck in most every way; it was wonderful. (Unfortunately, product longevity is not Apple's strong suit, and I had to buy a replacement last summer.)
I've since bought two iPods (the second to replace the first that I lost in Malaysia) and that second laptop, a MacBook. I was sufficiently impressed with these products, as a consumer, that I put most of the proceeds from the sale of our house into Apple stock. (What didn't go into Apple went into Adobe, because I'm extremely impressed with Lightroom, their photo-workflow application that I'm sure I'll write about more in the future.)
The biggest problem I have with the iPhone is that it's not out yet, and even after it does come out, it'll take a long time before it finds its way to the Japanese market. (When it does, I predict that they'll go with SoftBank as the service provider; time will tell.)
So, I have to wait, and live with my current phone that's full of pedestrian features hidden behind a complex, opaque user interface.
Sometimes, it just sucks to be me.