If ads for smartphones were taken at face value, we'd be a stress-free prod away from a bountiful world of information, entertainment and social interaction. Under laboratory conditions, maybe, but the reality is rarely as glorious as the futuristic utopia we're promised. It seems unfair to have a pop at the iPhone – it's probably the least annoying of the current crop – but the TV ads showing slick demonstrations are suffixed with the disingenuous nota bene: "steps removed and sequence shortened". They could have added: "incidentally, we're connected to a high-speed broadband network and certainly not struggling to hang onto a 3G connection in a remote part of Suffolk", or "fiddly on-screen keyboard manoeuvres edited out", or "Your battery will run out if you do this too often", or "demonstration performed by well-trained actor with slim, dextrous fingers".
Google executive John Herlihy announced last week that the smartphone is driving the desktop computer to obsolescence, but not everyone is convinced by the hype. Indeed, a small survey conducted recently by device-testing company Fanfare showed that just over half of smartphone users equate them with frustration and disappointment: difficulties with streaming media, browsing web pages and social networking applications led 53 per cent of respondents to lay the blame squarely at the door of the handset manufacturer.
But while some responsibility should be borne by the Apples, Nokias and Motorolas of this world, it's not entirely their fault. Networks often ship phones with their own version of a handset's firmware, figuring that they know better than the manufacturer (not necessarily). Poor data performance and dropped calls might be down to a faulty chipset, but it's more likely to be the fault of the network; for example, 18 months ago it was revealed that the same iPhone would get twice the 3G speed in Germany than in Australia. And with so many of us tempted to buy data-hungry smartphones these days, sluggish, congested networks are hardly surprising.
Smartphone apps introduce another curveball; they're often third party, and don't always come with the phone manufacturer's seal of approval – but we excitedly load up our phones with dozens of them regardless, and complain vociferously when things go wrong. Between app developers, phone manufacturers, mobile networks and our own technological whims, we have the capability to create a monstrously useless smartphone; little wonder that 90 per cent of those surveyed expect the next crop of smartphones to be even worse. Perhaps the best approach is to treat your phone gently and think of it as human: just because it promises diversion and dependability doesn't mean it won't let you down.
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