How to Make a Great Smartphone
You would think that in 2016, most manufacturers, especially the big ones, would have nailed the basics of making a good device, smartphone or otherwise. You would think that in 2016, you can have a phone that ticks off all of the necessary parts, and I’m not talking about the internals. You don’t need the latest and greatest processor or GPU, the most RAM, or a metal build. You need a phone that can do the simplest things perfectly. I’m here to tell you five things that most smartphone manufacturers can’t seem to get right and why they should.
Yes, the lowly buttons. Home buttons, power buttons, volume buttons. All the buttons. I cannot believe that there are some devices out there that still come out with mushy buttons. Buttons that can’t be felt or reached easily. Buttons that don’t have a satisfying click or enough travel so you know you’ve hit it properly. We talk about buttons, but we don’t seem to be holding anyone accountable for making them good. Not everyone taxes their processor by running all their apps or multitasking like a boss. Not everyone spends time putting strain on their GPU with the most graphically intensive first person shooter there is. But everyone, absolutely everyone, uses the buttons on their phone at some point or another. Please, device manufacturers, spend some time and just nail the buttons. Get them right. It can’t take that long, and once you’ve figured it out, just keep doing the same thing on each device.
Probably the biggest one here, but with such a wide variety of devices available nowadays, we’ve seen everything from the best to the worst. In 2016, we’re finally starting to see a bit of parity here with most devices. However, as good as the best are, there are many, many devices that are terrible. Cheaping out on the camera is the one area that many manufacturers use to cut costs, but they really just shouldn’t. Spend the extra few bucks to put a great, heck, just a good, camera in there, and watch it pay off. Soon, no one will have anything negative to say about the device on the camera side, which again, most all people use.
I’m not talking about which headphone jack to use. I’m not ever sure if there are options for that. What I’m talking about is placing the headphone jack in the right place, i.e., the bottom. I’m sure some people will want to disagree with this one, but let me lay it out for you. Literally, lay the phone out on the table. Unless you’re a descendant of Leonardo DaVinci, you’re placing the phone with the bottom of it towards you. If you have headphones plugged in, that cord can come straight out of the bottom towards you, and you won’t have to worry about it getting tangled or flowing some weird way on the table as it snakes down from the top.
Not convinced? Ok, let me talk about this one. You place your phone in your pocket? Which way do you place the phone? I’m willing to bet most of you place it with the top into your pocket first and the screen towards your body. Well, if you have a bottom-mounted headphone back, your cable can then flow perfectly out of your pocket as it will be facing upwards. If it’s on the top, you either have to put pressure on the cord to push it down against the bottom of your pocket and then have it curl upwards. Or, you have to place your phone in your pocket in a completely new orientation to achieve the same thing as you would if you just placed it in your pocket normally with a bottom-mounted jack. Changing muscle memory is not something most people will want to do, so really, just put it on the bottom.
Let’s all just come out and admit that wireless charging is not the savior we all thought it would be. You’re still tethered to the wall, and while the convenience of placing your phone down is there, it bugs me that you still can’t really comfortably use your device when it’s charging. Taking an extra two seconds to find a cable and plug it in, especially now that we’re moving towards a reversible-plug port, and still being able to use your phone while it charges is what you should want. That ties into another point, which is fast/quick charging. No matter who you are or what device you’re making, whether it’s budget or flagship, include fast/quick charging. Everyone will thank you. Heck, charge $5 on the price just to include it. If we’re not going to spend any money researching how to make devices last longer through software or investing in finding new battery technology, give us fast charging in the interim. There’s just no excuse these days, and you look cheap if you don’t have it.
Yup, you had to know this was coming. I get it. Research and development costs a lot of money, and when it comes to essentially making an entirely new battery, I’m sure that’ll cost even more. And yes, we’re partly to blame by giving pretty much everyone a pass when it comes to battery life. We say we want more, but we still go out in droves to buy the latest and greatest. I’m not advocating a boycott here, but with the amount of money we spend on external batteries, I’m sure most people would rather have a device that lasts a week on a charge. I know I would. Batteries are heavy, expensive, and clunky at best. There are some slick solutions out there, but you’ll pay for it with your wallet. If you’re asking me, I’d rather leave my big, blocky battery at home and leave the house with a phone I know won’t die if I spend 3 hours browsing Imgur.
So folks, there you have it. We have all sat around and hoped against hope that one day, we would have a device that we really wanted that hit all the boxes. To my mind, if someone can nail these five things, you’ve got a winner on your hands. After all of this is done, then you can focus on fingerprint sensors, extraneous features, and bloated software skins. After all, specs will only get you so far. When it comes to using your device, you’ll be happy they got these things right since everyone can enjoy the fruits of these labors.