How can an industry so big do so many dumb things? Let us count the ways.
NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- The smartphone market has become one of the world's largest markets,
so it shouldn't be surprising that finding insane things in it is like
shooting fish in a barrel.
Here are five of the lowest-hanging fruits:
1. Carrier contracts: This is as much the U.S. consumer's fault as is it the carriers' fault.
The U.S. consumer is apparently incapable of doing basic math. The consumer takes a $150-$450 subsidy up-front, for the benefit of paying $1,080 or so in higher monthly charges over two years ($45 in monthly savings multiplied by 24 months). In the meantime, the consumer has a device that's locked to one carrier, with zero flexibility.
Basically, the U.S. consumer is so stupid so as to look at the Day 1 price but not consider what he or she is really paying over two years. I could draw a political analogy, but we're talking about the 47% here... or perhaps a much bigger number: Give me free stuff today; who cares about what it will really cost me over the life of the agreement.
You can buy your Android, iOS or other device for cash up-front and save mostly $45 per month -- or perhaps even more -- but the U.S. consumer is either too uneducated or to poorly proficient in basic math to bother. When I see this, it's small wonder our society is drowning in debt and irrationality. Very discouraging.
2. Tiny batteries: Regardless of platform -- Apple (:AAPL), Google (:GOOG), Microsoft (:MSFT), BlackBerry -- I believe 99% of people are complaining about crummy battery life. Depending on how you use your device, most people are getting five to 10 hours of battery life. That's dramatically unacceptable. Battery life needs to at least double in order for customer satisfaction to be reasonable.
On the other hand, I believe perhaps 1% of smartphone buyers complain their device isn't thin enough.
Okay, so what do we have here? 99% of people complain about poor battery life, 1% complain that their device is too thick. Seems to me that every smartphone maker should focus on adding a couple of millimeters in thickness in exchange for doubling the battery life.
This is a classic case of manufacturers totally misjudging the customer base. There is some sort of collective disease among all the smartphone makers here, force-feeding the consumers too-thin devices when they would rather have a slightly thicker device with double the battery life.
3. Android skins: Google's pure Android Nexus is an excellent operating system, but it's being fragmented and butchered by the various hardware makers. If you have a good thing, what do you do? Create umpteenth variants of it, all of them inferior and confusing!
Make sure that different Androids have different kinds of buttons -- some soft, some actual physical buttons -- and that they are put in different places, and then make sure that all menus look different from device to device. Therefore, someone switching from one Android device to another -- from Samsung to HTC to LG (:LGL) to Sony (:SNE), etc. -- will be totally confused.
Adding insult to injury, instead of getting the OS updates directly from Google as soon as they are released, you have to wait anywhere from three to 18 months to get them -- or never receive them at all. By the time you're 18 months overdue for an OS update, you have probably become so frustrated that you have moved on to a new device anyway -- perhaps an iPhone. Google's loss.
Google offers the pure version of Google, which has not been bastardized, in the form of the pure Nexus experience. Why someone making an Android phone bothers spending huge resources re-inventing the wheel -- always unsuccessfully -- is beyond me. All of these Android makers, from Samsung to HTC to Sony and so forth, should stick to the pure Nexus version of Android. Google should insist on it, for it's own sake -- and Android's.
4. Failure to copy the BlackBerry keyboard: There is a segment of the market that clearly prefers the BlackBerry keyboard. It differs from different countries -- anywhere from 5% to 50%+. When the BlackBerry platform was a competitive OS in general -- until 2007-08, say -- BlackBerry had a huge market share almost everywhere, approaching 50% on average.
Still, even today, there are some 80 million BlackBerry users out there. If BlackBerry had a competitive OS, there would probably be a lot more, although yet others would argue that the train has left the station for this to actually happen in the future.
That said, imagine how easy it would be for someone to pick off these 80 million BlackBerry subscribers, and attract even more who would like that keyboard but left the BlackBerry platform already because they couldn't take it anymore? Clearly Apple is uninterested in this, but what about Google and Microsoft?
Some will say: But there HAVE been Android and Windows Phone versions with BlackBerry style keyboards. Well, technically, there have been, but not really.
On the Windows side, there was the Dell (:DELL) Venue Pro that came to market 2 years ago. It was not promoted by the carriers, so more than 99% of consumers didn't know it existed.
On the Android side, Motorola has offered a couple of devices on Verizon (:VZ) and Sprint (:S). However, they were so terribly bad. The battery life was the worst I have ever experienced on an Android device, and that says a lot. The screens had terrible resolution -- lower than a BlackBerry 9900 Bold series. Operating system? Android 2.3 or older -- no upgrade to 4.1, let alone 4.2. The processors were extremely slow. I mean, if you wanted to guarantee failure...
How difficult would it be for someone to make a Nexus-class Android BlackBerry competitor? It would run unvarnished Nexus software, have high-end hardware and be SIM-unlocked.
Of all difficult things to accomplish in the smartphone world, copying a hardware keyboard can't possibly count in the top 10. These companies could either pay billions to acquire RIM, or they could get those 80 million subscribers by allocating $10 million of engineering into a competitive keyboard.
5. AT&T's software updates: This one is admittedly a narrower pet peeve, but it's worth mentioning because it's so stupid. AT&T (:T) is now forcing customers of some Samsung Android smartphones to use an arcane PC-based process if they want to upgrade their operating system.
Basically, what you have to do is to download a program onto a PC which will ingest the new OS, then connect to the smartphone over USB, and then it will upgrade. These files are several hundreds of megabytes large. So you need a PC and download almost a gigabyte.
You also need at least an hour or two, according to those few brave souls who have sacrificed a good part of a day to figure this out. Most people, however, will never find out about this upgrade nightmare, let alone have the patience to actually perform it. If it takes more than 20 seconds worth of clicks, forget it. If it takes a PC, a PhD in computer science and perhaps two hours or more, forget it even more.
Conclusion: The industry is far from perfection, and rife with imperfections. I'm sure it contains many more stupid things. Feel free to nominate them.
At the time of publication the author had positions in GOOG and AAPL
This article was written by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.