The last couple of years have seen a swift rise in the popularity of smartphones. So much so that it is almost impossible to imagine life without them. But are they really trouble-free?
Imaging by Raajan/Mint
About 230,000 iPhones are being activated on a daily basis globally. Or so Apple claimed, back in September. The annual update in 2010 saw the iPhone 4 arrive along with an updated iOS 4. However, despite the hardware and software refresh, the iPhone still has its share of issues. Mind you, that has not affected its popularity one bit.
•Micro SIM requirement: You will need to chop your existing cellular SIM card to fit the iPhone 4. Despite local johnnies doing it gladly, the problem this raises is that there is no way you can go back to using another phone.
•Signal problems: The “Antennagate” literally turned into a PR disaster for Apple. The fact that they refused to acknowledge a problem with the phone and actually blamed users for holding the phone all wrong was precious. After offering free cases, Apple announced that it is a software issue and will be resolved soon. A couple of OS (operating system) updates later, people haven’t reported serious improvement.
•Lack of expandable memory: 16 GB or 32 GB—make a decision and stick to it. No expandable memory slot available.
•Battery cannot be replaced: The battery is sealed in. You will have to head to a service centre for any battery-related issues. Quite inconvenient.
•Lack of widgets: The iOS 4 does not like widgets. While Android is merrily showing off its widget capabilities, Apple decided the iPhone doesn’t need it.
• iTunes: Syncing to the iPhone is a pain. Why should you “sync”? Whatever happened to the good old drag and drop?
Thanks to the customization, free applications and variety of handsets available, Android is steadily gaining ground. Google claims 300,000 Android phones are activated on a daily basis globally. But Android too has its problems.
•Gaming: The Android platform has still not captured the imagination of game developers. Probably because of the non-standardized hardware, game developers find it difficult to make the games run on every phone. This is where iPhone has a definite advantage.
• Manufacturer customization: Google allows handset makers to put a skin over the OS. Example—HTC Sense. Almost every manufacturer is doing this. Though this is designed for additional functionality, in most cases it has the opposite effect. Software tends to crash (incompatibility, badly written software, etc.), memory usage goes up and battery life comes down.
•Poor task management: Android phones have never been good at handling apps which open in the background or do not fully close upon exit. The lack of a built-in task manager created a problem which was solved by multiple third-party apps. Most people, however, still don’t use them and end up sacrificing performance and battery life.
•Bad battery life: The apps are to blame for this. They have a habit of being bullish when getting online updates.
•Too many screen resolutions: With varied screen resolutions for different devices (add tablets to that variety), app developers have a major task on their hands to make the apps look proper on every screen. Some apps end up looking weird on some devices.
•Too many Android versions: We still have Android 1.6 on offer along with Android 2.1 and the recent update—the Android 2.2 version. Which phone has which version? Quite a lot to remember when out buying a device, right?
BlackBerry OS 5
•The touch version of the BB OS was bad (for example, Storm 9500 and Storm 9530): BlackBerry did not get the touch-screen version of the OS 5 right at all. The Storm smartphone range did not do well at the box office because of its sluggish touch interface, despite having good hardware. The new OS 6 hopes to do better.
•Lack of variety on BlackBerry App World: Just like Nokia, RIM has not gotten the app ecosystem in perfect shape. The lack of applications is keeping away potential buyers who just want many apps on the phone. With OS 6 released, the apps situation needs to be improved quickly to fully leverage the new OS.
Symbian remained the way it was for a long time, a bit too long, according to most people. Symbian^3 arrived with Nokia’s N8 smartphone. A lot of hope rested on the new OS. Symbian^3 evoked a variety of responses—happiness, relief, disappointment, anger, resentment, even aggression.
•Everything’s still the same? The interface on the N8 looks a lot like the one on the much older N97, which says a lot about the new OS. Not much has been done to make it slicker, or even look a bit different. We’re all for nostalgia, but not when it comes to UI (user interface) design.
• Feels clunky: There are still too many menus and sub-menus to manage the options and settings in both the OS and within apps.
•Handicapped widgets: Widget size on the Symbian^3 home screens is limited, which not only reduces functionality, but also makes certain widgets a pain to use. Imagine catching up on your Twitter timeline and only being able to read one tweet with every scroll.
•Ovi Store is sparse: Despite Nokia’s best effort, the Ovi Store is far behind Apple’s App Store and Android Market in terms of the sheer number and variety of apps available.
may drop Symbian: There is a strong suspicion that Nokia will judge the response to the MeeGo-based devices and then decide if it has to completely drop Symbian.
So it’s safe to say that the smartphone experience is not all that hunky-dory. Each OS, platform and smartphone range has its own set of problems and they all need to truly smarten up.
Small changes that can make a big difference
1. Separate data plan needed
Affects: iPhone, Android and BlackBerry
Cellular operators want users of iPhone, Android and BlackBerry phones to subscribe to a separate data plan. This is over and above the standard voice plan they may have subscribed to. We knew this about iPhone and BlackBerry, but it came as a shock when even the HTC Legend refused to connect to the Web via Vodafone Live. The customer care informed us that a separate data plan called Vodafone Mobile Connect (Rs.199 per month; no free usage) needs to be activated. Nokia users do not have any such problems.
2. Bad battery life
Affects: iPhone, Android and BlackBerry
Gone are the days when your phone would last two-three days on a single battery charge. The smarter the phones, the less the battery lasts. Now most phones barely last a day. However, Nokia’s N8 (and its older generation smartphones as well) still offer good battery life of about two days on a single charge.
3. Lack of OS update clarity
Affects: Android and BlackBerry
Android phones are often sold with the promise of an “upgrade” to the next version of the OS, as and when it is rolled out. More often than not, the handset manufacturers take their own sweet time in rolling out these updates to phones. And these updates end up being old by the time they get to the user’s phone. BlackBerry also promised the OS 6 update for the Bold and some Curve handsets, but there is no clarity on when and how. Nokia never promises any such thing, while with the iPhone you know you will get the update.
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