Smartphones are Useless!

Not rocket science, nor a discovery on the scale of Columbus’ deed. However, it came to me recently as I was haphazardly trying to e-mail my work colleague about something extremely important. Swiping through colorful tabs with flashy icons is neither enjoyable nor particularly useful. Legacy, “non-smart” (dumb?) mobile phones were simple devices for calling and writing text messages. Current inventions on the phone market are everything – timetable schedulers, spreadsheets, TVs, gaming consoles, etc. However, they do neither of those things well compared to full-blown equivalents. In addition, the battery often lasts a meager 2 days, opening a new economical niche for cumbersome add-on power-bank batteries. Again, solving nonexistent problems and inventing a plethora of new ones. Below, a bullet-point rundown of everything that grinds my gears about the so-called “smart” phones. Yes, it’s a rant, so prepare your eyes for loads of rubbish and turd!

  1. Overall design – mobile phones are getting bigger and bigger, while laptops smaller and smaller. Both directions are equally pointless. Doing anything on a 10″ notebook is just painful, and the newest smartphones just don’t fit into a regular trouser pocket anymore. Even when they do, I look like some sort of mechanic, always with a toolbox in his jeans. Real smooth! Moreover, for some reason smartphone designers decided it’s much easier to type on a screen than on a regular keypad. Interesting, really. I wonder whether they did a proper survey prior. None of my colleagues think it’s more convenient. Oh, maybe I should be carrying a stylus with me at all times? Or maybe a quill pen?
  2. The GUI – as mentioned earlier, old mobile phones had a simple, non-cluttered interface that would show only the most important features. Furthermore, each of those features was really just a click away. Menus were organized in a clear and concise manner as well. Smartphones seem to adhere to the “all you need to do is just swipe!” philosophy. That’s great, but when you want to find a specific feature pronto, hectic swiping will get you nowhere. How useful is that, really? Also, the colors… What happened to sea blue or lush green? Whole books could be (and were already) written about colors.
  3. The software – nowadays mobile phones are powered by Android (or Windows Mobile or iOS). That’s a nice unification in a world full of incompatible proprietary systems of the past. However, the vendor lock-in and bloat is considerably worse than even on Windows. By default way too many useless features are enabled, causing the phone to quickly consume battery charges. Case in point, my wife’s phone lasts around 8 hours when fully charged. That’s simply appalling! Disabling features is a no-go, unfortunately. For instance, if we don’t want Google to track us, we also lose the ability to record our location in actually useful apps. Obviously, Google needs to know where we are at a given moment, because only then can it offer us highly relevant and convenient services (sarcasm). Well, if we don’t want them, we might as well just stop using smartphones altogether. Or wear a tinfoil hat. I heard it does wonders for the brain! Finally, apps from the Google Store often require access to information they should not need in the first place. Case in point, why would an offline game need my phone book or camera?
  4. Phone Storage – I still remember using “non-smart” phones, which had a drastic limit on the number of stored text messages and phone numbers. An active user had to purge his/her inbox at least once a month or even a week. Perfectly excusable, since those devices were very simple. Nowadays? 4GB of internal storage. That is a LOT. Then again, it runs out equally fast! Phones come pre-loaded with redundant or outright useless software. You buy a Samsung smartphone, you get apps from both Google and Android. 2 browsers, a full Microsoft Office suite, etc. My honest question is why? And even if it’s equally mandated as pre-loading laptops with commercial software (honestly, it’s not), make it possible for the user to remove that software. Right now all I can do is “uninstall updates”. That’s an anti-solution and I can but congratulate whoever came up with it. Open up your phone to vulnerabilities to save drive storage – ingenious.

Android as an operating system uses a modified Linux kernel and implements a number of UNIX facilities like file access permissions, smart directory hierarchy, etc.. I am therefore utterly shocked by how can a solid operating system base be misused to such an extent. What we get is basically Windows with the added limitation that we cannot make the system more usable out of the box. At this point I’m wishing Oracle had won that law suite…

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5 thoughts on “Smartphones are Useless!

  1. in order to do any serious work on them, you need a keyboard and a serious pointing device… and probably a larger screen in many cases.

    all that slab fondling is great if youre in a long line or shoved into cramped little spot in a cafe, other than that weve replaced our tools with fun little toys from the era of the apple newton. its got all the usability of an internet kiosk, except less.

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  2. I’ve had 3 smart phones in the space of 12 months and every one of them was more trouble than they were worth. The first one I bought wouldn’t allow me to take incoming calls. If the caller was on my list of favorites, it was fine, but if not, it would never allow me to answer. As a result, I was chewing through my credit returning calls I shouldn’t have had to. I became so frustrated, I went and bought another “smart” phone. This one wouldn’t let me make calls! After several trips back to the dealer that resulted in them fixing the problem after a lot of fiddling around with it, I finally lost my temper with the useless piece of crap and hurled it against a brick wall.
    You’d think I would have learned my lesson by now, but no. I went and bought a third one. This new phone is the very personification of evil. Functions I neither need nor want appear on it and resolutely refuse to leave, no matter what I do. One day it even managed to connect it’s self to the internet and drained all of my credit. At the same time it turned off the alarm function, so I had no sound or vibration if I set an alarm. If I hadn’t gone back to the store, I wouldn’t have even known about the internet connection!
    Since then, I’ve lost the stop watch sound and vibration, had more obscure functions appear from nowhere, had messages delete themselves, had a voice activation function that I never asked for download it’s self and so an and so forth. I can’t believe that such useless pieces of technology are so popular with so many people, yet for some mindless reason they are willing to put up with this garbage. I’m sure that if brand new cars were as unreliable and as endlessly frustrating as smart phones, we would all still be riding horses.

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    • I had a similar problem with unwanted Internet connection in my previous Samsung “smart” phone. I specifically disallowed updates over GPRS, yet the phone would still trigger the updater whenever it felt like it. Shutting the updater app down would of course let it spontaneously restart itself minutes later. I think the main problem with smart phones is transparency. On one hand, phones asking zillions of privacy permission questions are unappealing. On the other hand, they decide for us how we should use our mobile devices, which is even worse.

      Imagine a car which decides when to use a blinker, when to use the breaks, etc. Horses are definitely not more predictable, but at least there is some sort of communication :).

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  3. Suffering from memory loss, I thought the smartphone might be helpful when my old Motorola Flipttop Phone died. The good thing about the Fliptop phone, was that when I opened it, I would get my reminder and it would allow me to go directly to that reminder, so I knew what I was being reminded about. The new smartphone I have takes me to the month. Given I have several reminders for every single day of my life, checking every single day (all 28, 30 or 31 of them) for an entire month would be far to time consuming to be worth the trouble. My so called smartphone is pretty dumb for this purpose.

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    • I have somewhat changed my opinion of smartphones in general (180 degrees, basically), however it’s true that they’re not as useful as they could be, because companies producing them still prioritize profit and customer reach over usefulness. We’ll get “there” eventually, though :).

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