Pat Pilcher: Smartphone annoyances

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Where would we be without our smartphones?
Where would we be without our smartphones?

Carrying a pocket-sized sab of tech with more processing power than the Apollo moon lander might have seemed somewhat far-fetched not so long ago, but today it's the norm as a growing number of people own a smartphone.

Being able to send an email from anywhere, snap off a photo and instantly share it with others, or to get a map of your current location that's accurate down to a metre are all things we simply take for granted thanks to smartphones.

But what about those little annoyances and inconveniences that come with using a smartphone? Having reviewed my fair share of these wee technological miracles, I've come face to face with some incredibly frustrating "features" that really make me grit my teeth.

Take touch screen keyboards. Removing a physical keyboard might've shaved off some serious bulk, but with a sub-5" screen and no tactile feedback, typing with my fat fingers usually produces a steady stream of spelling errors and nonsense. But that's ok because autocorrect will fix everything - right?

Nope. Just the other day I missed out on getting an important delivery to my home because my smartphone autocorrected my address to read "Wallpaper Rd". It's no wonder the poor courier couldn't find where I live. Add to this the increasingly bizarre texts that get sent, usually when I am in a rush or something really important has to be communicated.

Tiny touchscreen keyboards and increasingly insane autocorrects are the number one smartphone bane of my existence.

If it ended there, this'd probably just be a mildly irritated rant, but there are oh so many more annoyances that just make using a smartphone such a brilliantly useful and wonderful pain in the neck.

Perhaps if smartphone makers could spend the hundreds of millions they waste each year on taking each other to court to litigate over rounded or square icon corners on a decent autocorrect and touchscreen keyboard, it might result in less grief for us, the poor suckers using their phones. Just saying...

Another annoyance is bloatware, if I wanted a kitchen drawer planner/rubber band sizer app, I'll download one. Storage and ram are very finite things, and having up to a third of it consumed by a bunch of crapware I'll hardly ever use is simply beyond irritating.

It'd be bearable if some of these apps actually did something useful but, alas. Thank goodness for the uninstall button.

Staying with apps I also find it amazing just how much bullshittery goes on within smartphone app stores and marketplaces.

"Free" should free as in zip, nadda, zero dollars. This isn't rocket science. No amount of 3 point Arial weasel-speak listed in the terms and conditions should change that. Apps listed as free that force you to make in app purchases in before they're playable/usable are just dishonest. I don't know about you, but this really gets my goat.

Battery life is another annoyance. While there's been some huge improvements in battery technologies and efficiencies, bigger more powerful silicon and screens large enough to do double duty as football stadiums can cancel out any gains made. Thankfully more phone makers are also adding in stamina modes to wring out even more life from smartphone batteries.

That said, despite a near religious phone charging regime, it never ceases to amaze me just how often my phone's battery manages to be at death's door the exact moment I need to make an ultra-important call.

Then there are maps. To say that I am navigationally challenged is a masterpiece of understatement. For me it isn't a matter of if I will get lost, but when, put me in a round room, and I'll get lost looking for the corner. Being able to fire up Google Maps and tell it that I am walking/on a bus/driving and I need to get to X destination from my present location should be insanely convenient, buuuut...

The real test of Google Maps is my wife and her map reading abilities. While recently overseas, we were looking for a particular restaurant. I fired up my phone (to save bleeding cash on mobile data roaming I'd preloaded the map for the city we were in) and began to enter in the restaurants details. Before I could sort through the 40 odd restaurants that sounded vaguely similar to the one I was looking for, my wife had found it on the paper map she'd snaffled from the hotel. My phone still hadn't got a GPS lock by the time we arrived at the restaurant. Sigh.

It's also incredibly interesting seeing just how deeply smartphones have been woven into our daily existence. Awkward silences are often navigated by picking up one's smartphone and simply avoiding conversation. Similarly boredom plus a large helping of impoliteness often sees some idiot yelling into their phone on a bus, train or at the cinema as others around them are forced to listen to a steady stream of inane drivel at volume. God help us if in-flight phone calls ever become a practical and affordable option.

Perhaps most interestingly, there has been a huge amount of dependency we've developed on our phones. While at a restaurant recently I overheard a nearby table of 20 something's saying "Omigod! This food is like awesome, like we should totally like share it on Facebook" another chimed in and said "I've like already shared it on like Twitter". This continued for several minutes until sanity finally prevailed and one of the kids piped up and said "Like can't we just eat the food? Like it's getting cold?".

While not all of us are that hooked on our smartphones, research shows that there many who are. According to research conducted by mobile security specialists, SecurEnvoy, "nomophobia" or fear of losing your smartphone is a very real thing. The study found that 70 percent of women and 61 percent of men have a fear losing their phones. Similarly, UK researchers Versapak found that 37 per cent of respondents of a study feel a lack of control when separated from their smartphone or tablets. Another study done by Cisco also showed that for many people their smartphone was the last thing they touched before they went to sleep at night and the first thing they handled when they awoke. Really?

Perhaps the biggest single blessing (and curse) has to involve being contactable virtually anywhere 24/7/365. Most of us may have become used to living in a perpetual state of multi-tasking, but I find it incredibly annoying having my train of thought de-railed by a ringing phone, text, email or tweet. At least most smartphones have a silent mode or an off button.

But here's the real rub. Would I be without my smartphone? Nuh uh. Never ever - you see I'm happily addicted. Now for another game of Bejewelled...

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