We all wrestle with the frustration of love affairs with fresh new phones that end in frustration as they become ageing grumps. ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK looks at reasons and solutions.
When that fresh new smartphone enters our lives, it often matches both our budgets and our lifestyles. It’s an expression of ourselves and of the hope that, this time, it’s going to be a long-term relationship.
A year later, it’s just like all the rest of them. Slow, cantankerous, temperamental, and prone to shut down on you just when you need a meaningful conversation.
Are phones designed to become ageing grumps? Is this a form of planned obsolescence that guarantees the manufacturers will keep selling new, improved devices as we become more addicted to the faster, better and – the real hope – fresher?
Well, yes. If phone makers didn’t keep making better phones, they would go out of business. But the truth is, they can’t help it. The technology going into the phones that are made today is simply not advanced enough to cope with the demands that we all make of the devices tomorrow.
As new apps emerge that give us new capacity and capability in our work, social, and entertainment lives, we push last year’s phone to the limit and are surprised that it groans under the weight of our expectations.
It’s not just that new apps are ahead of their time. In most cases, they could work on phones made six years ago or more. It’s that there are just so many of them. This is the main clue to The Case of the Grumpy Smartphone.
The core reason why smartphones were so much faster than humans is that they are not smart enough to clean up after themselves.
There are a number of specific reasons. These include two major slowdown factors:
1. Most apps run in the background on the phone, even when you’re not using them. As you install more apps, more apps are running in the background, using more data, more battery power and more system memory. This gradually slows down the phone, even in the absence of any use of these apps. Because they are also constantly draining the battery, they reduce the life of the battery.
2. As your storage fills up with saved files (photos, videos, documents), as well as cached files from websites you visit or attachments to your chats and received emails, each new file is stored in small chunks of data spread across the phone’s drive – the storage that lies within the device. As more chunks of data are spread more widely, it makes retrieval of the files slower, but also slows down the storage of new files.
You would think that deleting a file or app would solve the problem, but it does such a messy job, it’s almost as bad as spilling coffee on the handset. As one does. When you delete files, the freed up space is spread out across the drive, and new files have to find enough space in all these new holes to fit in comfortably. All of this results in the phone becoming less efficient over time.
There are many workarounds to clean up the mess, but none of them represent a real solution.
The first smartphone to address the problem directly, the Huawei Mate 9, was launched in November 2016. It introduced machine learning algorithms that monitor the user’s behaviour, shuts down unused apps, optimises processor use for the tasks at hand, and prevents fragmentation of files.
In short, it cleans up after the user, using artificial intelligence (AI). Not the kind that will graduallly develop self-awareness and take over the world, but rather the kind that has context awareness and keeps doing one job better as it learns.
At the launch, Huawei claimed that, over an 18 month period, you would end up with a more efficient, better performing phone.
We’re now at the halfway mark in testing Huawei’s claim, so the phone still has 9 month to prove itself. If it performs as advertised, “machine learning” may well be the next standard feature in smartphones.
“In future we will introduce more AI fucntions, like components in charge of different aspects of the phone’s performance,” says Likun Zhao, GM of Huawei Consumer Business Group in South Africa. He feels strongly that the evolution of the handset is about to enter a third era, following the early feature phones as the first and the basic touchscreen smartphone, pioneered by Apple, as the second.
“We think the big change from version two to version three is AI. The smartphone plus AI equals the intelligent phone.”
Huawei, he says , defines the intelligent phone according to three key features: “First, intelligent interaction, which is very simple: the phone will be like your eyes, your ears, nose, tongue and brain; the smartphone can listen, hear, taste, and feel.
“Second, is borderless display. Today it all depends on the screen, text, and voice, but we think in future it will also be based on the actions of users, behaviour of users, and even proactive perception, like tracking your eyes automatically. This means the screen is no longer the border; it extends to your body.
“Third is proactive, intelligent services, starting with machine learning, but with AI becoming like the brain, where the phone can think, and can study behaviour.”
At that point, the phone begins to refresh itself, which means it is also likely to start treating its users better. But this could be anything from two to 10 years away, so what do you do in the meantime?
First, on most Android phones, there is a maintenance option. On the latest Samsung S8 devices, it’s labelled Device Maintenance, and allows the user to optimise the phone’s “maintenance status”. With one click, you can close apps running in the background, free up storage from temporary files, identify apps that are making abnormal use of the battery and shut those down, and clean up apps that are vulnerable to malware, which can infect and damage the phone’s software.
The function also balances battery life and screen resolution for everyday use, or enhances specific functions for games, entertainment or other forms of high performance. Most Samsung and Huawei smartphones have similar functions.
If the function is not available on your phone, or it does not offer a powerful enough set of maintenance tools, many apps perform a similar role. For example, AVG Cleaner conducts an analysis, doing a particularly good job of identifying content that has been cached and can be deleted if not needed on the phone. Its only drawback is that it demands payment for a Pro version that allows automatic cleaning and to optimise battery use.
It’s worth shopping around in your app store to find equivalent phone maintenance apps that don’t demand payment for every additional function. However, it may also be worthwhile forking out a few rands or dollars to protect your investment in a device that cost hundreds or thousands when you were first persuaded to enter a relationship.
Samsung unfolds the future
At the #Unpacked launch, Samsung delivered the world’s first foldable phone from a major brand. ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK tried it out.
Everything that could be known about the new Samsung Galaxy S10 range, launched on Wednesday in San Francisco, seems to have been known before the event.
Most predictions were spot-on, including those in Gadget (see our preview here), thanks to a series of leaks so large, they competed with the hole an iceberg made in the Titanic.
The big surprise was that there was a big surprise. While it was widely expected that Samsung would announce a foldable phone, few predicted what would emerge from that announcement. About the only thing that was guessed right was the name: Galaxy Fold.
The real surprise was the versatility of the foldable phone, and the fact that units were available at the launch. During the Johannesburg event, at which the San Francisco launch was streamed live, small groups of media took turns to enter a private Fold viewing area where photos were banned, personal phones had to be handed in, and the Fold could be tried out under close supervision.
The first impression is of a compact smartphone with a relatively small screen on the front – it measures 4.6-inches – and a second layer of phone at the back. With a click of a button, the phone folds out to reveal a 7.3-inch inside screen – the equivalent of a mini tablet.
The fold itself is based on a sophisticated hinge design that probably took more engineering than the foldable display. The result is a large screen with no visible seam.
The device introduces the concept of “app continuity”, which means an app can be opened on the front and, in mid-use, if the handset is folded open, continue on the inside from where the user left off on the front. The difference is that the app will the have far more space for viewing or other activity.
Click here to read about the app experience on the inside of the Fold.
Password managers don’t protect you from hackers
Using a password manager to protect yourself online? Research reveals serious weaknesses…
Top password manager products have fundamental flaws that expose the data they are designed to protect, rendering them no more secure than saving passwords in a text file, according to a new study by researchers at Independent Security Evaluators (ISE).
“100 percent of the products that ISE analyzed failed to provide the security to safeguard a user’s passwords as advertised,” says ISE CEO Stephen Bono. “Although password managers provide some utility for storing login/passwords and limit password reuse, these applications are a vulnerable target for the mass collection of this data through malicious hacking campaigns.”
In the new report titled “Under the Hood of Secrets Management,” ISE researchers revealed serious weaknesses with top password managers: 1Password, Dashlane, KeePass and LastPass. ISE examined the underlying functionality of these products on Windows 10 to understand how users’ secrets are stored even when the password manager is locked. More than 60 million individuals 93,000 businesses worldwide rely on password managers. Click here for a copy of the report.
Password managers are marketed as a solution to eliminate the security risks of storing passwords or secrets for applications and browsers in plain text documents. Having previously examined these and other password managers, ISE researchers expected an improved level of security standards preventing malicious credential extraction. Instead ISE found just the opposite.
Click here to read the findings from the report.