Simple things Featured

8:00pm EDT September 25, 2009

I grew up in the 1970s and ’80s in an early adopter household.

My father was a technology freak, and we were one of the few households that owned a home computer — a TRS-80 model with a cassette-tape drive. We also got an Atari VCS around 1977 or 1978 and watched movies on a Sony Betamax video player.

It’s surprising I didn’t end up a computer engineer because I knew how to program in Basic and was adept at using a Novation CAT modem (a cradle device in which you stuck the phone handset), spending way too much time dialing into my favorite Bulletin Board System (the 1970s and ’80s predecessor to today’s Web sites).

One day, my father excitedly called me outside to see the latest gadget he had bought. I rushed outside and found him standing by the car, grinning. He pointed at an enormous, brick-sized lump that was tethered to the car’s dashboard by a thick spiral cord and said, proudly, “It’s a built-in car phone.”

It looked more like a blunt weapon to fend off carjackers.

That was my first exposure to mobile phones. Today, technology has advanced so far that most people can’t live without their mobile smartphones — how else would they do their banking? Even 9-year-old kids know how to text their friends.

Despite this tech surge innovation in mobile communications, it isn’t the exclusive domain of companies whose employees spend time determining how to squeeze every last function into a device. There’s also a place for companies such as this month’s cover story subject, Revol Wireless, who have gone the other direction and sought ways to simplify the mobile phone concept.

By doing so, Revol has built a niche and captured significant market share among its targeted clientele. CEO Bill Jarvis’ concept counters larger competitors and relies on offering customers lower-price plans, unlimited usage and no contracts, forsaking the bells and whistles yet keeping in mind customers’ desires to surf the Net and send text messages.

Jarvis uses a simple three-pronged filter to push Revol forward: simple, different, better.

“It’s got to pass all three,” he says. “Complexity can hinder a process in a pretty dramatic way. There’s genius in simplicity.”

Now if I can just convince my children of that before their version of mobile phones includes implants in their heads.

Contact executive editor Dustin S. Klein at