Why Smartphones Suck

Wayne Rash

Please pardon me for feeling a little grumpy. I've been reviewing a series of smartphones, and most of the newer, cooler, sleeker smartphones are seriously annoying. Yes, I'm talking about you, iPhone, and about you, Android. Whoever designed these devices apparently forgot about human factor testing, and focused instead on being cool.

You have to understand that I'm not referring to every smartphone out there. There are a few where some engineer, somewhere, realized that actual people would have to use these things, and made it so they could. But for the most part, it would seem that little if any attention was paid to the user interface.

The best examples of what's being perpetrated on smartphone users shows up in the most recent round of Android phones from a variety of manufacturers. Most of these are touch-screen-only devices, in which you have to simultaneously hold a slippery case in your hand, and type on poorly defined locations on a highly reflective screen. Sure, you can do it, but the precision is so bad that developers of these phones have had to create software that tries to guess what you might have had in mind, and then offer a selection of choices.

But this doesn't work for something as simple as typing in your password. Think about the process of entering a strong password in a touch-screen smartphone. You'll need an upper-case character, a number, and a special character in the password. Problem is, the spelling helper can't help you.

So what you do is watch carefully as the character you typed flashes briefly on the screen, then turns to a dot. If you accidentally trigger two keys instead of one, you'll never know. The password will fail, and you'll need to try again. If you do it right, you're faced with doing it all again when you check another e-mail account, or if you have passwords set on the device to meet the requirements of your corporate security policies, you'll have to do it every few minutes.

This way lies madness. Worse, this way lies insecurity. The difficulty of typing on these devices means that users will use the absolute minimum level of security they can get away with. They will waste time retyping their passwords, their e-mail and other items. Their e-mail will arrive with misspellings, or will bounce because the e-mail address was entered incorrectly. All of these are productivity hits that may seem small, but when accumulated through the workday, and across the range of employees, can cost real money.

So what do you do? Think about more than what's cool when you buy a device for your company e-mail. Think about the security implications, and think about how much longer it'll take you to do your work this way than it would if you had a well-designed means of data entry. And then complain to the carriers since they're the ones who create the specs for these devices. If you're an IT manager, make sure you mention that you're supporting the whole range of frustrated, time-wasting, less-than-totally-productive employees who are using these devices.

Yeah, I know, it probably won't do any good. In this day, cool trumps everything else. Nobody cares about the consequences as long as they look cool checking their e-mail. But at least you'll feel better after you complain. And who knows, if there are enough complaints, maybe some manufacturer, somewhere, will design a smartphone that's not annoying and unproductive.

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Apr 25, 2010 1:04 AM Project Management Tools That Work Project Management Tools That Work  says:
I've been using a touch screen for years, before the iPhone came out I believe (Motorola Mings). I can't see how anyone can stand hitting keys to bring up menus which you look at then look down at the keys and try and get to the next level. What you do with the keyboard is disconnected from what it going on on the screen (same as a PC/MAC, but at least we have a mouse). Yes, text is tough but that has always been a problem. I changed my wireless router password to something simpler because I just could not get my highly secure password typed in correctly ... on my XBOX 360! I like touch, even if I use a stylus instead of my finger. But it does need to get a lot better. Bruce Reply
May 5, 2010 3:05 PM Anonymous Anonymous  says:
I can understand your frustrations, Wayne, but I feel that you are just griping about on-screen, virtual keyboards. Being a Motorola Droid user, with a slide-out physical keyboard, I find that it is not as challenging as a virtual keyboard (in fact, it is quite easy and efficient to type on my phone, as well as secure). I also don't use my smartphone to look "cool," that's why I smoke cigarettes :) haha. I use my phone for convenience, for it's functionality, and to constantly stay in touch with the people I care about. I think if you got the right smartphone for you, and actually gave it some time to get used to, you might like it. It didn't take me long to get used to the Moto Droid, but then again I'm a bit tech savvy. But I think your gripes aren't necessarily justified until you find a smartphone that fits YOUR personality. After all, they really aren't all the same... Reply
Jun 9, 2010 8:06 PM Anonymous Anonymous  says:
I highly agree with you, the only thing I care about when it comes to a phone is a green and a red button. People look like retards walking on the sidewalk or crossing a busy street looking at their dam phone, I'm waiting to see someone get runned over by a car. I'm not just saying this, I tried using Droid phones for Verizon and Sprint and I'm glad I was able to get my money refunded. I believe Blackberry has it down pretty good and their phones have a good balance of modern technology and classic functionality. Reply
Jul 11, 2011 11:07 PM Anonymous Anonymous  says:
All of it to understand, or part of it to be confused. r.j. Reply
Jul 16, 2011 8:07 AM GillCecilia GillCecilia  says:
People deserve wealthy life time and loans or car loan can make it better. Just because people's freedom is grounded on money. Reply
Sep 17, 2011 6:09 PM Dr_Snooz Dr_Snooz  says:
I fell in love with my Samsung i700 years ago. It had a big bright screen that I could write on with the included stylus and get accuracy of 99%. When I set it in its cradle, it synced itself, unasked, and EVERYTHING in Outlook synced. It was wonderful. Now EVERY phone is a constant fight. Droid phones won't sync with a non-Exchange standalone version of Outlook (WTF??). Blackberry keys are too small and I have to tell it to sync. The Blackberry browser is missing important keyboard shortcuts (like the spacebar for PgDn) and the optical trackball is annoyingly imprecise. The iPhone is so locked down that it's more an irritation than a phone. The makers and carriers need to focus less on adding "cool" new features (that never work right anyway) and more on actual usefulness. Reply

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