Android iPhone and iPad

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

Bertel King 30-09-2016

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 Building Your First PC? Use These Tips to Avoid Common Issues There's nothing quite like powering on a PC that you've assembled, especially considering how much money you saved and PC knowledge you gained during that sweet, sweet bonding time. Read More . 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 5 Ways Cheap Android Smartphones Beat the Flagships Who says you need the latest and greatest (and most expensive) smartphone out there? The cheaper alternatives are actually really good. Let us show you. Read More . 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 Thou Shalt Consume: The Story of Consumer Electronics [Feature] Every year, exhibitions around the world present new high tech devices; expensive toys that come with many promises. They aim to make our lives easier, more fun, super connected, and of course they are status... Read More . 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 Fairphone Review and Giveaway The Fairphone was quietly put on pre-order last year for an initial European-only run of 25,000 units. Read More , 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 Scan - An Easy To Use QR & Barcode Scanner [iOS] Scanning QR codes and barcodes can be useful in all kinds of situations. Perhaps you want more information about a certain product? Maybe someone gave you a business card with a QR code on it... Read More and flashlights Never Fumble In Darkness Again with Flashlight for iOS At your seat in the cinema. In your car's footwell. Under the bed. These are all places where you will inevitably drop stuff, and retrieving them can be tricky, especially if it's dark and you... Read More to baby monitors 4 Android Apps to Help Parents Take Care of Their Babies If you're the parent of an infant, these apps could really help you out! Read More . 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 What's the Best Maps and Navigation App for Android? Using the rights maps and navigation app can mean the difference between making it to your appointment on time or being late -- so we examine the best of them for you! Read More and tracking your fitness activity The Best Health and Fitness Apps by Runtastic Put to the Test Runtastic, the makers of one of the best fitness apps for Android, also have a lot of other apps. We take a look at all of them to see if they're worth your time. Read More . 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 Understanding Why Google Spends Billions on Acquisitions Which Google acquisitions where most expensive? Which companies might Google buy in the future? The answers might surprise you! Read More .

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 Is It Safe to Install Android Apps from Unknown Sources? The Google Play Store isn't your only source of apps, but is it safe to search elsewhere? Read More 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 How to Use Android Without Google: Everything You Need to Know Want to use Android without Google? No Google, no problem. Here's a guide to going Google-free on your Android device to regain privacy. Read More ).

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 How to Stop WhatsApp Handing Your Info to Facebook Now that WhatsApp is owned by Facebook, your data may given over to Facebook's hands -- unless you prevent it from happening. Read More 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 How to Give Up on Pokemon Go and Delete Your Account If you've decided that you don't have to catch 'em all, here's how to give up finding Pokemon for good. Read More . Consider transferring files over FTP FTP Transfer: 3 Popular File Managers for Android With FTP Software FTP may sound intimidating, but it's not! We can help you learn how to quickly and easily share files between your devices with these handy Android apps. Read More or local cloud storage 5 Unique and Cloud-Free Android Apps for Easy File Transfers These apps allow you to quickly and easily share files across devices without any cloud service getting in the way. Read More 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 The 5 Best Apps to Help You Fight Your Smartphone Addiction Are you addicted to your smartphone? These mobile apps will help you salvage your personal life and regain your productivity. Read More , 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 How to Use Your Android Phone to Be Social in the Real World Phones can make us anti-social, but they don't have to! Here's how you can be social in the real world with your phone. Read More , 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 5 Simple Ways to Be a More Mindful Smartphone User It's easy to get sucked into the smartphone world in the modern age and forget about the real world. Here's how to take back control of your life. Read More , 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 5 Reasons to Switch to Ubuntu Phone You're sick of Android and iOS - you want a new mobile experience, one that isn't tainted by Microsoft, or the failing BlackBerry. What you need is Ubuntu Phone! Read More or try out the remains of Firefox OS Firefox OS Is Not Dead: Here's Why You Should Try It Firefox OS is still alive, existing now as a mobile OS called B2G. So does Mozilla's abandoned mobile operating system have a future? And why would anyone pick it over Android or iOS? Read More . Alternatively, you can pick up a phone running Windows 10 Mobile Why You Should Upgrade to Windows 10 Mobile and How to Do It Windows 10 Mobile has finally been released to the public. Provided your phone is supported, you should upgrade. Here's everything you need to know about upgrading from Windows Phone 8.1 to Windows 10 Mobile. Read More . 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

Related topics: Apple, Google, Microsoft, Modular Phones.

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  1. Jim Van Damme
    October 5, 2016 at 2:40 pm

    I want a Linux phone that works like my Linux computer.

    And I want to use wifi calling in places where I get crummy cell service.

    • Bertel King, Jr.
      October 5, 2016 at 5:40 pm

      Same. I would like to see wider support for Wi-Fi calling on open source mobile OSes.

  2. Pam Hill
    September 30, 2016 at 4:27 pm

    Your comparison video between iOS and Android is great!

  3. Pam Hill
    September 30, 2016 at 4:22 pm

    #10 "Both show you homescreens filled with row after row of icons lined in four columns."
    Uh, actually, no they don't. Android does not have a homescreen with rows & rows of icons. You can have whatever you want on your homescreen. You can have a few icons or none. You can have widgets or the Google Search box, or any number of things.
    Androids apps are in the app drawer. You call it up when you need it.
    There are still many differences between Android & iOS. If you like to customize, pick Android.

    • Bertel King, Jr.
      September 30, 2016 at 5:39 pm

      Hi Pam!

      Technically, yes, Android does not have a homescreen with rows and rows of icons. But the difference between a homescreen and an app drawer is a single finger tap. My primary point is that whether you're using iOS or Android, you're likely flipping (or scrolling) through pages of app icons at some point.

      The distinction I'm getting at is that neither takes a window-based approach, or perhaps an activity-based approach, or something else that doesn't limit the way to we interact with mobile devices to various isolated interfaces called apps.

      Android is definitely more customizable than iOS, which is partly why I use it. There's enough innovation going on that a user can nearly turn Android into whatever they want it to be. But I still find the app-centric model rather limiting, and I would love to see someone take a fundamentally different approach to smartphones.