Smartphones Can’t Be Trusted to Run Our Lives

There is so much buzz around the smartphone becoming the remote control for our lives. Enough already! While the promise is enticing, there is a dark side to this story that is never talked about. After reading this, see if you are still convinced.

Don’t get me wrong — I am as excited as everyone else around the future potential for the smartphone. However, something happened to me last week that slapped me in the face and snapped me back to reality.

We’ve all read the stories about using exciting smartphone apps to let us control everything in our lives. We can lock or unlock our house doors. We can open or close the garage doors. We can arm or disarm our security system. We can turn lights on and off — all from the smartphone we keep in our pocket.

We can use our smartphone apps to lock and unlock the car doors — and to start the car, or just turn it on and let it warm up on a cold winter morning from the comfort of our home. We can store our auto insurance card and, someday, our driver’s license. We can store credit card information and pay by swiping the smartphone over an electronic reader at the counter.

Today we don’t leave the house without our keys, our wallet and our smartphone, but tomorrow the phone is all we’ll have to remember.

As compelling as that future sounds, there is dark side to this story. The smartphone is simply too delicate today to be trusted with all these very important parts of our lives.

Stuff Happens

Smartphones are not sturdy. Many things can and do happen that make the smartphone unusable — and when the smartphone is unusable, so are all these amazing features and apps. The smartphone can go from an amazing remote control to a useless paperweight in the blink of an eye.

In fact, that’s what happens countless times, every single day, to users from coast-to-coast in the U.S. and worldwide. That’s why handset makers and wireless networks sell insurance for these devices. Insurance makes fixing or replacing a smartphone more affordable, but it does not solve the other problems.

When the phone stops working, we are disconnected from our world. That’s the problem.

Last week I lightly dropped my iPhone and it stopped working. Period. End of story. Unusable.

I could not make a call or use an app. I was instantly disconnected from the world. I could not send an email or text, start my car, open my house, use my credit cards or anything else.

I can’t begin to explain how isolated I felt. You would never understand unless you had a problem with your smartphone yourself. It’s very uncomfortable.

I grew up in the 60s and 70s. I knew life without wireless phones. It was no problem. Now, when my smartphone stops working all of a sudden, I feel like a flounder out of water, flopping on a deck.

Dropping a phone is not the only hazard. Phones get stolen all the time. Phones get left behind. The battery runs out. They get wet, or for any one of a million reasons, they simply stop working.

That’s right — no phone lives forever. If you are lucky, you will never have to deal with this. However too many of us are not that lucky.

Don’t Hold Your Breath

If we drop our keys, we can still use them to start our car or open our house, right? If we drop our wallet, we can still pick it up and use everything inside, right?

However when anything happens to our delicate smartphone, we are out of luck! And this is the device we are trusting with all our vital information and ability to get into our home or cars? Are we crazy!

So what’s the solution? There are many, but they are not happening yet, so we are all still at risk. Smartphone makers like Apple, Google, Samsung, Microsoft, Nokia, BlackBerry, HTC and countless others should be making their devices bulletproof. Why aren’t they?

This is a handset problem — not a network problem. So networks like AT&T Mobility, Verizon Wireless, Sprint and T-Mobile cannot fix this problem, since they have no control over the handset.

Smartphone makers should be making them shock resistant and water resistant. They should give users a way to track them and find them if they are lost, or shut them off if they are stolen. Carriers and handset makers should think of ways to make the time you are cut off shorter and phone replacement easier.

Bottom line — smartphones and apps are the future. We can use them as a remote control for our lives. However, if we are actually to trust these devices with our important information, they have to live up to the challenge. Today, they don’t.

All the excitement has overwhelmed us — but the smartphone hardware simply is not ready to take on responsibility for so much of our lives. Not yet, anyway — and I have a feeling it will be years before it is.

Jeff Kagan

E-Commerce Times columnist Jeff Kagan is a wireless analyst, telecom analyst, industry analyst, consultant and speaker who has been sharing his colorful perspectives on the changing industry for 25 years. Email him at [email protected].

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