10 Problems With Today’s Smartphones & What You Can Do About Them

Smartphones are replacing desktops and laptops as our primary devices. That’s cool. Unfortunately, this has been a case of two steps forward, two steps back.

The smartphone industry is very different from the PC market. You could say that’s to be expected, but this has had a negative effect on our digital lives and what we can do with our devices. Let me explain.

1. You Can’t Customize Hardware

You can buy a desktop PC pre-built or order the parts and construct one yourself. Either way, with the exception of certain All-in-One designs, you have the ability to dive inside and make upgrades. Need more RAM? Storage space? A better graphics card? You can change what you need and keep your machine running for longer.

Smartphones don’t give you those options. Many leave you with fewer choices than our old flip phones. Back then, you could take out the battery and pop in a MicroSD card for most models. Both of those options are left out of today’s top phones.

Need a faster processor, a battery battery, or a better camera module? Your only option is to replace your phone with the latest model. And it’s not easy for the average person, or even the average geek, to make repairs without sending the device to a professional.

What Can You Do?

Look for phones with MicroSD card slots and replaceable batteries. Many of these are cheap or midrange phones. This isn’t PC-level customization, but replacing a drained battery and expanding storage is an easy way to get more use out of a phone.

2. Smartphones Are Meant to Be Disposable

Smartphone manufacturers don’t want you to upgrade or repair your devices. They would prefer you replace your phone every year or two. They would also say that this makes products simpler for end users. These are the driving factors behind our inability to tweak our own hardware.

Regardless of the rationale, this has made an already wasteful industry even more so. Most consumer electronics have a relatively short shelf live, but smartphones are among the most widely purchased and most often replaced products on the market. This is money down the drain and more waste in landfills. Neither is a good thing.

What Can You Do?

Hold on to your current phone for as long as possible. In Europe, you can consider buying the Fairphone, which is built with ethics in mind. A second model has since come out.

3. Smartphone Apps Do Less Than PC Software

It’s no surprise that phones with weaker hardware and smaller screens couldn’t initially compete with their PC counterparts. These days, that’s less of an excuse. Smartphones may not be as powerful as today’s PCs, but they can go toe to toe with laptops from not that long ago.

The increase in power hasn’t led to software with comparable features. That’s not to say that there aren’t apps focused on giving users as much freedom and power as possible. Tasker and developer Joaomgcd’s Tasker plugins come to mind.

There are no doubt many useful apps like this out there, from barcode scanners and flashlights to baby monitors. But these aren’t the apps that today’s smartphones have made famous.

Instagram is simply one more site for hosting and commenting on photos. Snapchat is an instant messaging client that doesn’t have to save your messages. Pokemon GO may be an innovative step forward for augmented reality, but it’s also a really shallow game.

What can you do?

Look for apps that provide true utility. You can even find functionality that trumps what you could do with a PC. Phones do a great job of steering you around town and tracking your fitness activity. But you might want to sit down at a PC when the time comes to edit a photo or type up a paper.

4. Don’t Have a Million Users? You’re Irrelevant

Today’s app startup culture encourages taking a simple idea, finding out how to get millions of users, pitching that idea to venture capitalists, and one day hopefully getting bought by an existing tech giant.

A generation of people are being raised with the idea that creating software means taking a basic concept and knowing how to market it. App culture teaches us that you don’t get rich by benefiting the world in ways other than giving everyone yet one more way to communicate online.

Social media and YouTube are already teaching people that you’re only worth the number of likes and views you’re able to accumulate. In a mobile app store, it doesn’t matter if a developer is making a living from creating software if the number of downloads next to their apps is under 10,000. With numbers like that, nobody cares.

What Can You Do?

Seek out the many independent developers out there making quality, innovative apps. They may not grab the headlines, but they’re out there.

5. App Stores Have Warped Value Expectations

When you enter an app store, what do you see? Most of the software is free, ad-supported, or on sale for only a dollar or two. Look at the comments section for software that costs more and you’re likely to see people complaining about the price.

This is a problem for software developers. On desktops, we were accustomed to paying upwards of $20 for an application. Someone had to spend time creating this complex program, and they deserve to be compensated.

Apparently smaller screens mean smaller prices.

This doesn’t only discourage developers from creating better apps. The video game industry has perhaps taken a bigger hit. Yes, there are millions more gamers spending billions more dollars, but many of them scoff at the idea of spending $40 for a single 3DS game or $60 on a PlayStation 4 title. And this is happening at the same time that console games cost more to develop than before.

What Can You Do?

Take a look at the apps on your smartphone. How many did you buy? Do you hit the donate button when given the option? What do you do to show developers that you value their work?

6. App Stores Lock Us In

On Windows, users download software by heading to a website and downloading an EXE. This is a confusing process for people who don’t know the first thing about computers, and it’s one ripe for malicious programmers to take advantage of.

Smartphones, by contrast, direct users to app stores. There we can grab all the software we need to fill our devices. The apps are checked for bad things so we have reasonable assurances that our devices won’t come to any harm.

But if you ever want to switch phone platforms, say goodbye to all of your apps. That software doesn’t travel with you.

Admittedly, PC and Mac software was not compatible with one another before app stores. But how much software did you the average person buy for their computers? By comparison, smartphone app stores encourage us to stockpile dozens of $0.99 apps, ebooks, songs, movies, and other content that we can’t use outside of the company’s ecosystem.

What Can You Do?

Make deliberate choices about the software and platforms you use. Android gives you the option to try out alternate app stores (I get my software from F-Droid).

7. Smartphones Are a Privacy Nightmare

Smartphones aren’t the only devices in most of our homes. They join desktops, laptops, and tablets. Often we want to access the same files on each. At the same time, social networks and other online services have replaced traditional software on our machines.

This is convenient, but it’s not very private.

Now to use basic apps, people hand over their data, then pass it around from one company to the next as services shut down or get acquired. Corporations and governments request access to these online records. Hackers break into servers and compromise millions of accounts at a time.

The move to mobile devices has not only left us with less capability than we had with traditional desktop software, but with far less control over our data and who gets to see it.

What Can You Do?

Does an app require you to sign in to an account? Think twice before creating yet one more way to give away information, especially if that account is likely to lie dormant in a couple of months. Go back and delete the ones that you’re no longer using. Consider transferring files over FTP or local cloud storage rather than storing everything on remote servers. And if you don’t need to be on so many social networks, how about cutting back?

8. Smartphones Are Addictive

I won’t pretend that computer addiction was never a thing. Long before people started searching for ways to cut down on their smartphone usage, there were gamers whose entire lives were taken over by EverQuest and World of Warcraft. Many people spent countless hours staring at chatrooms. Many still do.

The thing is, desktop computers leave people chained to their desks. Laptops have more mobility, but only a few people will whip one out on the bus.

Smartphones are everywhere. They go with us to the bedroom, the bathroom, friends’ houses, school, work, dates, parks, and everywhere else. At any moment, if you would rather be staring at a screen, you can.

What Can You Do?

Uninstall some of your superfluous apps. Give your phone fewer reasons to vie for your attention. Pick up other interests.

Or you could download another app or two, you addict.

9. Smartphones Threaten Conversation

This has profound implications for how we interact with one another. Many people prefer to text over having a face-to-face conversation. Some, when faced with the latter, stare down at their phones rather than engage other people. There are ways a smartphone can help you be more social, but this isn’t the norm.

This isn’t a loner problem. It’s common from school kids all the way to corporate adults. It’s increasingly difficult to grab and hold someone’s attention.

Then there’s the added stress of constant notifications. Simply by installing an email client and signing into two social networks, you can almost guarantee a steady stream of alerts. Chimes will follow you through your day, with each of them bringing a sense of urgency.

What Can You Do?

Put your smartphone away when others are around. I could give you other tips, but this one change tackles most of the problem.

10. Smartphone Experiences Are Homogeneous

Android and iOS are both fine mobile operating systems. There are significant differences between the two, such as the ability to install custom ROMs on Android and choose between hundreds of devices, but the core experience is very similar. Both direct you to stores filled with largely similar apps.

Both show you homescreens filled with row after row of icons lined in four columns.

Windows has the Start menu. Mac has the dock. Linux is whatever you want it to be. Desktop operating systems are rich with diversity. We should see the same creativity on our phones and tablets.

What Can You Do?

Break up the duopoly. You can switch to an Ubuntu phone or try out the remains of Firefox OS. Alternatively, you can pick up a phone running Windows 10 Mobile. Encourage people to enter the market and try out something new.

So Smartphones Are Terrible, Is That It?

Not quite. Smartphones have led to all kinds of positive change. They let families stay connected across continents and have helped couples find love. They’ve aided in the spread of knowledge for tons of people.

I’m not arguing that the world would necessarily be better off without smartphones. But rather than helping people live life, we hear far too often of smartphones getting in the way of them. Users are fighting addiction. We’re trying to find ways to converse with people who won’t look up from their devices. Occasionally a new craze hits, and we feel like we’re surrounded by drones. All the while, we’re giving up freedoms we had on PCs.

What do you think of smartphones? Is there anything you would change? Are you happy with them as they are? Add your thoughts to the conversation below!

Image Credits: Dima Sidelnikov/Shutterstock

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