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Dear smartphone makers, when will your phones be truly smart? Part 2

Body cases, selfie features and other hacks smartphone makers are getting away with. Sales of the smartphones are at an all-time high, but so are the levels of customer frustration, writes Rajiv Makhni.

brunch Updated: Aug 01, 2015 17:31 IST
Rajiv Makhni

The buzzing of the phone was incessant. My bleary eyes focused on the ‘restricted number’ flashing on the screen and it woke me up with a start. Trying not to croak (it was 3am), I practised a few hellos before pressing the green button.

“This is Tim Cook,” said the slightly wispy voice on the other side. “You may know me as the CEO of Apple and I’d like to talk about your open letter last week”. He then proceeded to tell me how he agreed with everything I had written, and how Apple as a company would change, based on my pointers. The rest of the day was spent taking calls from Sergey and Larry (Google), Jong-Kyun (Samsung), Lei Jun (Xiaomi), Cher (HTC) and the founders and CEOs of other smartphone companies. Each promised to make dramatic changes, and said that they’d implement my suggestions immediately.

The buzzing of the phone signalled that Tim wanted to talk again. But as I reached out to answer it, I saw that the screen was flashing ‘Alarm’! I woke up with a start yet again. It was all just a dream, a good one while it lasted.

That’s not to say that I didn’t get any response to Part 1 of my open letter last week. Quite a few ‘people that matter’ in the smartphone industry had long talks with me. Most were to admonish me for my tone and attitude. Quite a few admitted that it was time for something to change as the market was becoming self-serving and lethargic, and the points I had raised were a good start.

But it was from all of you, the readers, that I got the real response. I’d touched a collective nerve and all of you took to various platforms to vent. Here’s the promised continuation of that letter to keep those fires burning.

Mangled Materials wrote then...

I just bought your phone. I saved for six months and paid a king’s ransom for it. And one month later, as I took it out to show it off to my friends, I noticed that the screen was badly scratched and the outer casing and back looked like a pack of dogs had a great time making a chew toy of it.

What you did...

The world innovated and came up with self-healing materials, anti-bacterial plastics that would make my phone less infectious than a toilet seat and display screens that could survive an erotic close-quarter session with the car keys in my pocket.

Unfortunately all of you ignored those innovations and instead put in an extra back cover and a screen protector in the box. Do you know what that says about your product? That it’s going to turn into a dented piece of crap in 30 days, and requires these extras. My phone needs to look like a phone and not an embarrassment till I retire it. Make that happen! Optical illusions wrote then...

Where is the dedicated camera button to take pictures? How about a larger sensor (so that pictures look real), a real camera-level flash (instead of the cheap LED that makes everyone look like ghosts) and finally, a real optical zoom?

What you did...

You really lost the focus on this one. The claims have been sky-high, the delivery near zero. Almost everyone resorted to gimmicks. Brain-dead selfie features, funny filters and a mind-numbing number of DSLR-type settings that did nothing.

What about the actual picture it spits out? What about better optical hardware? Just paying professional photographers to come out with coffee-table books containing pictures shot with your camera isn’t enough. Get real optics!Wireless woes I wrote then...

So you finally got in-built wireless charging. Great! But you still expect me to buy a wireless charger separately, as you want a little more money than the Rs 45,000 I already paid. Have you heard of the word ‘greedy’?

What you did...

Nothing! I have more horns on my head than the number of people using wireless chargers. There’s a colossal wired mess in our homes and offices, and massive energy-wastage due to poor-quality plug-in chargers. The solution? One of you needs to bite the bullet and throw in a wireless charger in the box, for free. Make your profits on your next phone.

Troublesome trends
It’s a long list that I have still not finished. But I’m exhausted with the obsession with slim phones (inconvenient to hold, bad battery life), flash sales to rack up publicity (a horrible way to treat loyal customers), copycat products in the economy smartphone market (nobody innovates) and big announcements without the product or the software anywhere close to completion.

I’m exhausted not from writing this letter, but because of everything you could do but refuse to. I’m truly hopeful that this letter does start off some sort of a mini revolution. Now to wait for that late-night call. Come on Tim, call me. You know I’m right.

Rajiv Makhni is managing editor, Technology, NDTV, and the anchor of Gadget Guru, Cell Guru and Newsnet 3

From HT Brunch, August 2
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