What features should be standardized across all smartphones?Chase Bonar - Contributing Editor
Before my time, our expert Evan Selleck tackled a big question: Which smartphone features can you live without? Though there are many I can simply do without, I believe there are many more that should be standardized across the board. We have already begun to see displays, processors, and quality that is surely sending shivers down the spines of competing design teams, so what features could we benefit from if certain aspects of the smartphone were standardized?
Though I feel standardization is a double-edged sword that could diminish brand image and brand loyalty, I feel it's a risk that manufacturers owe us. More often than not, we are forced to compare apples to oranges. Compromises are a part of the game we play when we walk into any of the big four wireless carriers. There is no doubt that we have a fantastic array of choices at the present time, but I feel a few less pros and cons across the smartphone spectrum would benefit consumers and manufacturers. Sales reps are trained to give us the highlights of certain devices in hopes of winning our commitments. The phone has never changed, but the device housing it is far more of an influence to daily life than manufacturers have acknowledged.
Below is a list of features that would benefit end users and reduce the disadvantages manufacturers encounter in the face of increasing competition.
Notification lights may sound simple, but they're still absent on the iPhone. By reducing screen-on time, battery consumption would be less worrying. Minimizing screen-on time is also a sales pitch for sales reps who are looking to minimize the moat of differences between operating systems. Allowing consumers to focus on their surroundings by reducing the amount of time we stare at these beautiful displays is a strong safety precaution as well. In the end, forcing consumers to choose and invest into a digital ecosystem could be less of a burden if something as simple as notification lights were on every device.
Qi Wireless Charging (inductive charging) allows devices to be charged without plugging them into the wall. It may sound simple, but the Wireless Charging Consortium makes some pretty convincing arguments about its practicality in day-to-day use. Qi is the interoperable global standard for wireless charging and looks set to complete our transition into a truly wireless lifestyle. It's a convincing argument, if you look at the sheer amount of advancements made in the areas of Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, radio frequency, Ultra Wide Band and Global Positioning Systems. These wireless technologies have evolved, so why can't the way we charge our devices change? Simply put, all smartphones deserve what Qi can deliver.
Physical shutter buttons
The dedicated camera button is a personal preference of mine. It bridges the gap between traditional point-and-shoot cameras and smartphone cameras. We have seen multiple levels of skeuomorphic designs in iOS and the same level of customization in HTC's ImageSense which have no doubt embellished smartphone camera interfaces. But why can't we have the two-step feeling of a traditional shutter button? I admit it is one of the primary selling points of Windows Phone 8 devices to me. Though the camera software is relatively simple as compared to what Android and iOS offer, it is a feature that adds value to our experiences. Capturing memories evokes a feeling unlike any other feature or gesture can which is why I feel it should be a universal satisfaction available to everyone.
Before I dive too deep into my desire for polycarbonate devices, let's try and remember why they are plastic in the first place. Though Apple purportedly fixed the interference which negatively impacted cellular reception, we cannot forget how a simple design cue can influence the true nature of how these devices function. Antennagate was ultimately put to rest by issuing everyone a free bumper case. This reduced the tendency for fingers to bridge the lower left edge of the iPhone 4. Had Apple not given out bumper cases, we might be living in a very different world if prosecutors had brought charges like concealment, negligence, intentional misrepresentation and defective design against Apple in a courtroom.
An aluminum frame is a design element that brings craftsmanship front and center which I feel is a nice way to differentiate a product. As long as the antennas and primary structure of the device can be separated, I feel we could be more comfortable with a device that is polycarbonate. It's no secret that Samsung's slick plastic responds well to repeated abuse, so why can't we have the same level of quality across the board? Consumers would really benefit from increased durability these days, and polycarbonate is a way to address it.
Advancements in battery technology
An area that I feel is comparatively slow to react to the complaints of consumers are the batteries which power our devices. Though large screens may offer just as many benefits as disadvantages, battery capacity continues to grow without any innovation. But why? We have seen researchers at Northwestern University develop a lithium-ion electrode that would allow a conventional li-ion battery to hold a charge 10 times greater than current batteries, but this was news in November of 2011. Fast forward one year to November of 2012 and Eta Devices is looking to tackle battery inefficiency as well. Every time our devices connect to radio signals the power amplifier has to convert electricity to maintain the connection to the wireless source. It's estimated that power amplifiers are responsible for 65% of battery draining when we are streaming video and uploading large files. It's also the reason our devices tend to heat up when doing these things. Eta Devices is looking to put a new power amplifier that uses a technology called asymmetric multilevel outphasing into all devices. They estimate it could reduce battery consumption by 50%; a bold statement no doubt, but I'll believe it when manufacturers deem it necessary to deliver an end product. Bigger can only sound better for so long OEMs!
Operating System Gestures
I realize the home button may be here to stay for iPhone users, but that doesn't mean certain gestures can't be incorporated into iOS. Apple holds many patents related to software gestures which have become standardized, so it's time we see something new that changes our experience. The demo of BB10 shows just how far an OS can go without physical buttons. Just recently, we have seen Android devices adopt on-screen keys, but the way we use our devices has not truly changed. With BB10, we are looking at gestures that will change the way we interact with our phones. If you have not yet used a Windows RT tablet, prepare to be floored by the level of interaction we are forced to learn. It's a technological Tour de France in areas of interaction and gestures that no other OS except BB10 can match. For all of the imperfections I have criticized Windows Phone 8 of lacking, I am truly astonished by the multitude of gestures in its tablet step-brother. I'd like to see this addressed in Key Lime Pie and iOS 7 sooner rather than later.
Battery percentage indicators
Knowing how much juice is left in our smartphones should be a right. Most operating systems have addressed the issue to a certain extent, but I'd like to see it adopted as a universal privilege. I'm not at all impressed by Jelly Bean's take on the issue because we are still forced to pull-down the notification curtain and see the number below the battery icon in our quick settings menu. I believe that is two motions too many. I admit most manufacturers like Apple, LG, and Samsung have already addressed the issue, but it's something we need to show HTC how to do. From a manufacturer's perspective, it should be embarrassingly simple to incorporate into their UI, so why do I even have to ask?
If we can get these features incorporated into the hardware and software levels of our devices, we will be looking at a brighter future. There's no worse feeling than not knowing the disadvantages of something due to lack of understanding. I'd like to see OEMs address consumer confidence levels by standardizing the features above.
What do you think reader? Did I miss any features you'd like to see incorporated into all smartphones, or do you think separate features belong on competing devices? Let me know how you feel about competition and the features that influence your buying decisions in the comments below.