Mobile Communications

Rant: Why are smartphone designs so stupid?

I suppose there are worse planners than the people who do smartphone QA and product management but few of them are so well protected by booming sales. Gartner says 1.2 billion smartphones were sold in 2014, up by 28% on the year earlier. And yet phones continue to be buggy, replete with irrelevant features and lacking in the things that many of us want them to do. Why?

‘Smartphone’ is a misnomer. Smartphones are full of stupid features: image editing nonsense so you can make yourself and others look very odd, built-in apps you will never use, 250 ways to read a clock, settings folders that even programmers can’t understand. But they lack sensible features: reliable battery gauges, indicators for where you might find free WiFi, maps that work in built-up areas, screens that don’t break when you look at them.

This is because phone makers roll out new releases in the same way that McDonald’s find new movie tie-ins. But McDonald’s only needs some factory to come up with a cheap, reliable supplier of plastic tat. Smartphones, to be reliable, should have proper testing and market research because, love them or loathe them, we rely on them to work constantly and be immediately of service to our loved ones. But such is the speed of what is laughably known as ‘innovation’ that testing and common sense go by the wayside in favour of marketing and getting a New Product with “new features” in front of the people.

So this is how it goes. You get a smartphone full of novelties, it doesn’t really work as advertised and over the course of time it develops eccentric characteristics like your loveable but really quite odd Auntie Annie. But it doesn’t matter because soon you’ll get a new smartphone. And the cycle resumes its giddy progress…


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Torquemada, not his real name, has been casting a jaundiced eye on the technology world since the Sinclair C5 was causing as much excitement as the driverless car today, a 64K RAM pack could turbocharge performance, and Alan Sugar was the equivalent of Elon Musk.

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