5 Things That Smartphones Still Can’t Get Right

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I was watching the season finale of Game of Thrones and while I’m still mourning the death of Jon Snow, I’m still wondering, what if there were smartphones those days? Would Jon Snow’s smartphone had alerted him to either arm himself with a Valyrian sword and slay everyone intending to harm him or suggested an escape route? Maybe, just maybe, if the Crow had a smartphone, he would’ve known things, you know? I mean, my smartphone is always quick to warn me that it will rain before I leave the house in the morning. A smartphone would’ve helped my friend Jon Snow prepare for the watch and we would all be happy people right now.

Smartphones are great. We can’t really imagine life without them today. From calling our friends on the other side of the world to capturing the most important events in our lives with our smartphone cameras to reading the latest John Grisham novel to racing fast cars in high octane arcade racing games. Our smartphones are our everything. Even flashlights. When you’re out late on a Friday night, the GPS signal on your smartphone is what will lead the nearest Uber to your location and get you home safely.

Despite all these seemingly endless advantages, smartphones are yet to live up to that “smart” tag. I mean, thanks to their many sensors and the many applications running in the background, smartphones will still need your attention at every point. While some of the interactions with our smartphones in the course of the day are highly necessary, others are downright annoying and unnecessary.

Here are a few things we believe are still not being done right by today’s smartphones, either directly by the phones themselves or the ecosystem that supports them like application developers:

1. Battery

Every new Android smartphone coming out of factory assembly lines in India, Vietnam, China or Taiwan today has a power saving feature of some sort. Heck, even the iPhones whose owners like acting all classy and whose operating system is not famous for being a battery hog are now getting the power saving feature as a standard when iOS 9 becomes available later in the year.

Why can’t our modern day phones just get their act together and be smart about their battery management? Do we really have to charge them every 6-8 hours?

As far as things stand, we can’t really be helped. We pay for all those hours we leave our smartphones connected to our not-so-reliable network service provider’s weak signals. As you may or may not know, any signs of struggling/poor signal directly translates to your battery taking a serious beating and that longetivity you dreamed of stays just that, a dream.

Scholars and researches in the world’s leading universities are labouring day and night to make things better. There’s no shortage of research papers documenting how we can get endless battery life on our phones. There’s a good number of projects on the same that have been successfully demoed. Even device manufacturers themselves have not been left behind. While there’s evidence that it may not be long before we get super battery life on our smartphones that will make the legendary Nokia 3310 grin with envy, we’re still a long way from seeing implementation of that sort of technology being mainstream soon.

There are quite a number of hurdles that need to be overcome before mass production of such batteries happens. Let’s just hope it will be in our lifetime.

2. Durability/Longetivity

Your smartphone will still need replacement after about two years of usage. Most smartphones worth their name will still be in good condition even after three years given they’re being used fairly and in appropriate conditions while their cheap counterparts will fall apart in no time and leave the owner shopping for a new device.

I’m foreseeing a future where we will sit by our fireplaces (if there won’t be a fireplace app yet that is) in the next fifty years telling our grandchildren how we sustained injuries in our youth thanks to a Nokia 3310 vibration. Or how Thor dropped his hammer for a Nokia 3310. Or how Sam used it to kill a white walker. I mean, your glorious Galaxy Note 4 packs the latest Gorilla Glass 4 but will still take a beating if it meets your driveway’s concrete face-to-face. You still have to contend with ugly-looking cases just for fear of the unknown and the known.

Nokia 3310 Thor

Google’s Advanced Technology and Projects (ATAP) team has been working on modularized smartphones (Project Ara) for quite sometime now and it may not be long before everyone will be able to walk into a shop and leave with a smartphone whose camera they can replace after eighteen months without having to pay $400 for a new smartphone unit. The ATAP team managed to boot the Ara smartphone up without the camera on stage at Google I/O 2015. They only added the camera module later and things were just fine.

There’s the all-powerful octa-core Snapdragon 801 v2.1 that will be shipping with the next generation One Plus smartphone. What if you also wanted it on your Samsung Galaxy S5 which packs a Snapdragon 801? It should be possible to just swap the old chip for Qualcomm’s very latest, right? No, as things stand, it doesn’t work that way. Want the latest processor and graphics chip on your smartphone? Buy a new smartphone! They ain’t desktop PCs after all.

3. Cameras

Lumia 1020 Safaricom

There are so many good smartphone cameras out there. The Apple iPhone is always a constant feature on everyone’s top smartphone cameras list. Apple has managed to outdo everyone year in year out with its camera offering. Good old Nokia’s legacy is built on powerful camera phones. Like the marvelous Lumia 1020 which has sadly never had a successor to date and is unlikely to be getting one since the people behind the glorious past have moved on and the old days of adventure are long gone.

Even with all that, smartphone cameras are still ages from being your all-you-need camera. Yes LG’s latest smartphone has RAW image capabilities and Samsung is said to be releasing a software update to activate the same on its latest flagship device but still… There’s work to be done. F/1.8, F/1.9 and so on all point to progress but we can still do better. There’s oversaturation of colours, focusing-gone-wrong, not-so-on-point processing and many other things that are still a hit and miss.

3. Organization – Applications

Application overload is something affecting many long time smartphone users. If you’ve been having a smartphone since say, the year 2009, then you have obviously amassed quite a number of must-have applications on the devices you use. There are some legacy applications that you still hold on to dearly. Yet there are some 2015 apps with the all-colourful Material Design that you really can’t get enough of. That leaves you with one cluttered and messed up app drawer. Don’t tell me about the many folders you have and recipes you’ve created on IFTTT and the fooling around you do on Tasker to keep yourself from pulling your hair out. Using a smartphone should be an easy, painless experience.

Apple is already envisaging the future where that homescreen cluttered with applications ranging from your handy note-taking app to the latest stupid Yo app from the app store is no more and the smartphone actually acts all smart and gives you what you want at that time. Android smartphones have for sometime had the luxury to have such features thanks to third party launchers but of all that we’ve tested, nothing is as good as what we all envisage. There’s work to be done.

4. Productivity

We are big fans of the Samsung Galaxy Note series thanks to the productivity it brings to the table. With the trend-setting Samsung device being in its fourth iteration and a fifth version already lying somewhere in a laboratory in Seoul or elsewhere, it is bound to even get better. Much better. But is that enough? So far we can say no. And no other player out there has done much to get more love from us. You still can’t do everything on those tiny screens to be at peace without thinking about how easy it would’ve been if your laptop was around.

Galaxy Note 10.1 Keyboard dock_23

Microsoft has a touch-friendly version of Office coming to all mobile platforms soon and that will get us closer to Canaan than we’ve been. Adobe is already doing a lot with its Creative Cloud suite on mobile but we’re still wondering in the desert. With smartphone’s capabilities getting better by the day (the Asus Zenfone 2 already has a whopping 4 GB RAM and Mediatek has a deca-core CPU in place already), it looks like we won’t wander in the desert for 40 years. Until that time comes though, we’ll still go back to our laptops occasionally to get things actually done. Draw Something was very popular two years ago and for a good reason. It’s 2015 and it’s quite a shame that we haven’t really moved to something better.

5. Gaming

It may still sound silly to hard core gamers that people are struggling to play Call of Duty on their tiny smartphone screens but it is the age we live in. Gaming on mobile devices is widely popular and it is only going up. Yes PC and console-based gaming is better but the younger generation likes its games mobile. As such, every major game developer is out there trying to woo them (and breaking their banks as well with crazy in-app purchases). But is gaming on smartphones where we would really want it to be?

No, it isn’t.

Samsung Gear VR 312 - Techweez

The rise in popularity of virtual reality sets like the ones Oculus is making means a lot for the future of mobile gaming. Used Samsung’s Gear VR with the Galaxy S6/S6 Edge or even the Note 4? Please do and be blown away.

While recent developments and the increase in quality of games available on smartphones now that HD displays come standard excite us, games requiring a constant data signal in order to allow us to actively engage in the many addictive first person shooters we love are from the devil himself. See, the network access and the game itself impact the battery heavily and as we have already noted, there’s nothing that really sucks on our smartphones than the battery life. Also, those in-app purchases are too much. We’re all for making sure the awesome guys making the games we enjoy are properly compensated but the process should be reasonable.

Tweaking of games so that they can provide a similar experience regardless of device type or operating system version (say Android 4.2 and Android 4.4 or iOS 7 and iOS 8.1) is still a major headache. Some of these issues have to do with the hardware failings like RAM, available storage, a struggling GPU and so on but they underline the main reason why gaming on smartphones is still not yet revolutionary. And trust me, I enjoy Real Racing 3 so well but want a better experience across the board be it when I’m on a first person shooter, a tower defense title or on my beloved arcade racers.

Sound off!

What is it that you really wished your smartphone did right but it still ain’t doing? There are many things we would love our little warriors to do for us but they just haven’t gotten around to doing so. These are our best five, what are yours?

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