Smartphones Too Difficult

One issue that recently came up in my life is how complex smartphones can be, and how many users aren’t really ready for the learning curve.

For the longest time, cell phones were just to make phone calls. You took them out of your pocket, dialed, and were able to talk to someone. Pretty simplistic, their function wasn’t hard to understand.

Then they added ways to dial people faster using short codes, or address books, and people either learned to use them, or ignored them. I know that on many of my previous cell phones, I never filled out the address book.

Today, phones are pretty much laptop computers that fit into your pocket, and unfortunately, they come with the same potential complexity, and many people aren’t tech savvy enough to figure them out.

Recently, I was at a pub with Tom, and I was asked to take a look at an Android phone because I currently run Android, and therefore must understand the operating system well enough. Unfortunately, the problem was related to the address book on the phone, something I haven’t spent much time with. After messing around with it myself, I quickly figured out the issue: contacts were being saved to different locations.

The phone had been set to not show contacts on the SIM card, and only show ones on the phone’s memory, but the default location to store new contacts was the SIM card. This meant that when the owner added a contact, she couldn’t find it.

She exclaimed that five or six other people had looked at the phone, including someone else with an Android phone, and none of them were able to figure it out.

I wasn’t too shocked though. There is so much fragmentation in the smart phone operating system world. Even within Android, I am unable to update to the latest version without downloading a custom ROM, a process that almost bricked my phone in a previous attempt.

There are potentially millions of people out in the world that don’t feel comfortable with technology and its continual advancements. They don’t intuitively know how to find where settings and menus are, and they feel frustrated, lost or stupid. The fact is that many smartphone operating systems are too complex for the average user.

While it is sometimes nice to have a laptop in my pocket that I can use for almost anything, including phone calls, the mass market may need something more simplistic to use, and so-called “dumbphones” are exiting the market fast. In a few more years, it will be rare to find a phone that isn’t using a smartphone operating system, and then what will these people do?

How long until every college and university is offering a paid course to better understand your smartphone? How long until computer repair shops are also supporting smart phone operating systems for forty dollars an hour? I don’t think people in general have wrapped their mind around all of this yet, and instead blame the carriers for the frustrations they experience.

It is an interesting problem, and while my geek reaction would be to tell these people to sit down and learn the basics of their phone through YouTube video searches, I think it is highly unlikely that most people will do this.

Many people exclaim that one operating system is easier to use than another, but I’ve never truly found that to be the case. Some are a bit more intuitive, and the learning curves might be different, but all operating systems have a shortcoming that can be frustrating to navigate around.

It will be interesting to see how people that aren’t tech savvy survive this change, or how businesses adapt to capitalize on this growing problem.

5 responses to “Smartphones Too Difficult”

  1. Can’t help but laugh – not at you or what you wrote – but at myself!

    I used to love to know how to “fix” simple problems on a computer (equate to changing the oil or tires in a car) but when computer “language” becomes involved I lose interest and don’t want to know any more.

    I’d love to have a “smart” phone because I’d love the convenience of it – everything at my fingertips and in one place – the technology need-to-know-how frustrates/irritates me and so I have avoided it.

    Anyone thinking of starting a business in this field would be wise to market the next 10-15 years on serving the baby-boomer – helping them to cope as much as possible with the rapid changes in technology.

    Good for you – thinking and writing about a very timely issue!

    I love you!

    • Thanks, I’m glad you appreciated the article. Just remember, you do have tech savvy people in the family that can help from time to time. 🙂 And Google and YouTube make awesome training companions. There are videos for nearly everything you can ask it. I think some businesses are worried that the problem won’t be long lasting enough to really develop an industry around, as the younger generation that are in their teens today will intuitively be able to use their phones because they’ve been around half their lives.

  2. Sounds like more of the same thing that’s been going on since the age of personal computing started. Most people still can’t figure out why their browser has 14 toolbars, or what possibly could be wrong with the printer when all it needs is more paper.

    Sad fact of the matter is, most people know next to nothing about almost every bit of technology they use on a day to day basis, and it’s been that way for decades. Not sure that will change in any major way any time soon. But we can hope….

    I the mean time, those of us who somehow scraped together the random skills and knowledge needed to fumble around figuring this stuff out have jobs…. so there’s that. lol

    • The difference though is that for the most part, computing difficulties can be lived with or ignored relatively easily, and there are IT personnel to help deal with issues that come up. There is little avoiding smartphones any longer, nor is there much support when problems arise. I am not expecting people to change, but I am expecting more complaints, frustration and the industry to make some changes to earn some revenue from the frustrations of others. 🙂

      • Fair enough… sounds like a new business idea just waiting to happen. Smartphone training/support specialists. Probably pretty easy to move that business model out of corporate support (which has been doing that kinda stuff for years) and offer services directly to the public.

        Could totally see that working. 😀

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