Why Smart Phones Aren't - Reason #1

I was ranting to some of my colleagues the other day about "smart" phones, and just how really dumb they are. The topic generated a lively discussion so I thought I'd share the fun!

I have yet to meet a phone that is smart.

Phones have GPS, motion sensing, and NFC, yada yada, yet they still alert/ring when someone is driving. Has society not learned that distracted driving kills people? Not cool.

So, I'm sorry phones. You are *not* smart. You are as dumb as the first feature phones.

Having said that, I still have optimism that the the Ubuntu Phone will become the world's first truly smart phone, respecting its owner and "doing the right thing".

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dumb phone image by Tom Hoyle
https://www.flickr.com/photos/tomhoyle1985/

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Then there's von Neumann's quote:
"You insist that there is something that a machine can't do. If you will tell me precisely what it is that a machine cannot do, then I can always make a machine which will do just that."
Apps that have a good take on describing what your phone was not able to do previously have a pretty good chance of making your phone smarter. Perhaps it is because of the capability to run custom-made apps that we can call them smartphones.

 
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The whole premise of this opinion piece is wrong, many phones do indeed not ring or alert when used in a vehicle.

Does the author concede that Windows Phone is thus highly superior, as it switches to Driving mode when connected to a car's Bluetooth? "Driving Mode in Windows Phone can help reduce distractions from your phone while you're behind the wheel. Turn this feature on to limit notifications on the lock screen (including texts, calls and quick status alerts) until you’re safely parked. You can even send automatic replies when someone tries to contact you, so they won’t worry when you can’t get back to them."

Surely apps can make the phone as smart as you like when they take advantage of all the sensors they're equipped with.

 
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If that is indeed the case, then kudos for attempting the feature on that particular phone. I'm personally *not* interested in the company that is behind it though. So, I'll concede the feature, but I won't support the business model.

This "don't alert when driving" feature shouldn't require the "user" to do anything special aside from sit in the driver's seat and drive. If hoops must be jumped through to achieve safety, then it's a fail.

 
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I have a Motorola Moto G phone and it has already this feature installed. It is called Motorola Assist (http://www.motorola.com/us/consolidated-apps-page/motorola-assist.html).

 
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That looks very promising. Do you know how they do it?

 
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Understanding "smartphone" as in phone that is smart is as thinking that "butterfly" is a flying butter..

 
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Military intelligence and jumbo shrimp ;)

 
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1. If you think a Ubuntu phone is going to manage this by using, say, speed detection (GPS), your Ubuntu Phone will have a battery life that'll earn you a lot of press.
2. How do you detect the common cases where you're on a subway, bus, taxi, the passenger in a car, etc.? I won't answer a call on a bus ride (ruuuuude), but I certainly will if in the passenger seat and the caller is, say, the host of the dinner party we're driving to.
3. If you're smart enough to run an Ubuntu Phone, you're smart enough to install Tasker on an Android phone and set your phone to not ring when you're near your car's Bluetooth device (if it has one). That still fails you horribly when you're the passenger, but maybe you're okay with that.

The problem you're describing is Hard. Complaints about unexpected behavior are a good starting point, but complaints without looking at the solution space don't really move us ahead.

 
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If you think a Ubuntu phone is going to manage this by using, say, speed detection (GPS), your Ubuntu Phone will have a battery life that'll earn you a lot of press.

Except that cars have power sources.

2. How do you detect the common cases where you're on a subway, bus, taxi, the passenger in a car, etc.? I won't answer a call on a bus ride (ruuuuude), but I certainly will if in the passenger seat and the caller is, say, the host of the dinner party we're driving to.

Proximity to the one thing the driver is closest to: the steering wheel.

If you're smart enough to run an Ubuntu Phone, you're smart enough to install Tasker on an Android phone...

Sorry Jon, that's a non-starter.

 
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Charging could be a useful cue. I like that! Sadly:
1. USB slaves don't really get much information about their hosts, so while requiring the user to be plugged in (ugh, unfriendly) would help on the power end, it doesn't provide much in the way of useful cues about what you're plugged into. So you could, say, freely run the GPS when plugged in, but that only tells you if you're moving (fast).
2. The majority of people (at least at the last time I worked in the industry, admittedly now a few years past) don't charge their phones in the car. Having a phone connected was more common in the past (though still not dominant), but the advent of Bluetooth-enabled media players in cars has somewhat reduced that. Of course, you could use the fact that you're connected/near that BT device as a cue, as I mentioned, but then you still have the remaining points. In particular:

Driver position proximity might be a useful cue, but it turns out that it doesn't work because:
1. there's no current technology to support it. What technology do you propose an Ubuntu Phone use to detect the distance to the steering wheel? What would that technology look like? How are you going to convince car manufacturers to add your technology to their steering wheel / seat?
2. over half of users (again, based on the last data I had to play with) don't carry their phones in their pocket, but rather in a bag/purse/briefcase/etc., and that isn't any nearer the steering wheel or driver's seat than a passenger is.

Surprisingly, audio and accelerometer cues may be the closest thing we currently have to automatically (and battery-feasibly) detecting automobile operation, but that's also a Hard problem.

 
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I like that image; it's cute.

I agree. A "phone" is only as smart as its user. The device is now like an extension of people's brains.

Just because it/you can do things, it does not mean that it/you knows what it's/you're doing.

I like your idea of the device detecting when a person is in a situation when it's not safe to be distracted. It could then alert the calling party that the person doesn't want to crash the car and will not respond. Contrary to this, I now see cars that will display text messages on screens whilst driving.

 
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I personally think smart phone can be very smart, however, in order to achieve the smartness I expect, it must be able to do smart things for me, even when I'm *not* actively using it. It should be able to tell my appartment when I'm home or not, it should be able to notice when I'm watching TV/listening to music, or when I'm not, and behave differently depending on the situation. For that to work, the device needs to be able to run the software I want it to, and it needs to run it in background, not only when I keep my finger on its screen.

I think my previous phone was quite smart, at least it could achieve the above things.

 

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