Monday, March 12, 2012

What I Don't Like About Mobile Phones

Mobile phones are great. It's rare I go anywhere without one — unless I want to go without one.

It's also probably not right to call these things "phones" anymore. They are truly mobile computers with a phone function. In fact, devices such as an iPod Touch are truly a mobile device that doesn't have a built-in phone function — you have to add it with an app.

But they sometimes drive me batty. Here are several reasons why:

1. We need really good voice recognition. Other than powering the device off and on, there are very few functions that should require one to touch the phone. Apple's new Siri is a good start, but there are issues about ambient noise, such as when one's in a car — perhaps one of the most compelling reasons for voice recognition on mobile phones — that need to be addressed.

2. Voice quality. I still find it much harder to carry on a good conversation on a mobile phone. Between the delays of voice and sometimes just plain terrible voice quality, mobile phones are not yet my primary way of making phone calls.

3. Screen visibility in sunlight. Looking at a phone screen in an office is pretty easy, but walking down a sunny street is a vastly different problem. There are some good screen technologies coming out that improve screen visibility in direct light, but they're still too hard to see. Back to another reason for good voice recognition.

4. Battery life. The old phone flip phone I had that was just a phone used to be able to run on a single charge for three to five days if I didn't use it much. Now, most smartphones I have used are lucky to go a full day without requiring a recharge. This requires buying either bulky batteries, constantly trying to find a place to charge up our batteries or carrying spare batteries. There has to be a better way.

5. Pricing plans. I still marvel at how expensive mobile phone plans are, especially for services such as adding WiFi hotspot and SMS messaging that provide huge profits. This is one area where I believe competition and products from companies such as Google and Apple that provide similar services free serve the consumers very well.

6. International pricing. As a corollary to the above, for anyone who has ever traveled internationally knows, using a domestic cell phone internationally typically runs up huge costs. Even with an "international plan", you will pay three to 10 times the price of a local user.

7. Stability. While Apple's tightly-controlled iPhone/iPad environment yields a quite reliable environment, all phones — including Android and Apple — can lock up and crash. So while we've complained about this issue for years on personal computers, it has made its way to the phone space.

8. Out-of-coverage use. While becoming less and less of an issue, when your phone is out of its coverage area, many functions simply don't work. This is because, despite all of the computing power of your phone, many functions are handled in a data center somewhere instead of on your phone. As coverage continues to get better, this is less and less of an issue, but it's still frustrating.

So, my love-hate relationship with my phone continues. And probably always will. I will continue to use it as it serves me, but will always keep in my mind that it, too, has its limitations.

Mark Mathias, a 30-plus year veteran of information technology and a resident of Westport, Connecticut, was named by Computerworld magazine to their inaugural list of “Premier 100 IT Leaders.” This column was originally published in the Westport News on Wednesday 14 March 2012.

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