Smartphones Are Too Complicated

3 minute read

HP recently announced that it’s getting back in the smartphone business with the Elite x3, a 5.9-inch Windows handset with a Qualcomm 820 processor, 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage.

But what makes the Elite really interesting is that, thanks to a special dock, the device can power a laptop or even desktop PC experience. Special software from HP provides access to Windows desktop apps users know and love.

Using a smartphone as the brains of a PC experience isn’t a new concept — Motorola tried and failed back in 2011. I’ve seen a handful of other company’s aborted attempts, too. But whether or not HP’s efforts succeed, the Elite raises a larger question about today’s smartphones.

Thanks to quickly improving mobile processors, smartphone makers are cramming ever more functionality into their handheld devices. As a result, they’re capable of getting more done — but in many cases they’re also becoming harder to use.

Part of the problem is that smartphone makers think everyone wants to use their phones for “productivity.” This may be true from some, but most smartphone owners aren’t looking to their devices to get stuff done. Designing for productivity, however, necessarily adds more complexity to the overall smartphone experience.

We polled thousands of customers and found that about 80% of all smartphone users only use 8-12 apps on a consistent basis, typically for tasks like email, messaging, social networking, news, games, weather and photography. But only about 10-15% of users said they also use smartphones for serious productivity.

To put this in context, about 2.5 billion smartphones will be sold worldwide this year, with most consumers only using them for basic communication. Yet smartphone software keeps getting more powerful and complex so the needs of the power users can be met. The result is overly complex smartphones that are more difficult for users who don’t need the added features.

I understand that some consumers want maximum power to run any and all apps and services on their smartphones. But on the other hand, modern smartphones are often confusing. And many apps have interfaces of their own to learn, making the overall experience still more complex.

Mobile software companies like Apple, Google and Microsoft are aware of this issue, and they’re taking steps to remedy it. Voice assistants like Siri and Google Now help streamline the user experience, as do other emerging features that try to serve up the apps and information a user might want at a given time or location before they even request it.

These are all reasons to believe that there’s a roadmap in place to simplify smartphones in the future. With any luck, we’ll have these features in devices arriving as early as this year.

Tim Bajarin is recognized as one of the leading industry consultants, analysts and futurists, covering the field of personal computers and consumer technology. Mr. Bajarin is the President of Creative Strategies, Inc and has been with the company since 1981 where he has served as a consultant providing analysis to most of the leading hardware and software vendors in the industry.

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