back to article Maps and alarm clocks best thing about mobes, say normies

Having access to the world's information at your fingertips is a handy feature of smartphones, but it's the alarm clock function that folk really appreciate, according to a survey by uSwitch. The comparison site asked Joe Public to name their favourite smartphone features. But in the survey of 2,002 British adults, it was the …

  1. Electron Shepherd

    Intriguingly, the ability to make a phone call did not appear on the list.

    That's not terribly surprising, really. If you asked someone what they liked best about their car, I bet the response "it can transport me from A to B" wouldn't make the list either. If the feature is such an intrinsic part of the object, it tends not to appear on a list like that.

    1. ratfox Silver badge

      I do think this case is different, since people really do mostly use their smartphone for other things than making a phone call... To the point that there are devices that are sold that are exactly like smartphones, minus the ability to make phone calls.

      I don't think there's a major car manufacturer which sells car-like devices that cannot transport you from A to B.

      1. AMBxx Silver badge
        Joke

        Um

        I don't think there's a major car manufacturer which sells car-like devices that cannot transport you from A to B.

        Fiat used to manage it.

        1. tr1ck5t3r
          Trollface

          Re: Um

          And Skoda, in fact they made very expensive premium branded wheelbarrows in their days.

          1. Dave 126 Silver badge

            Re: Um

            Skoda made brewing plant and iron work for roads, too, amongst other things.

          2. Trigonoceps occipitalis

            Re: Um

            I had a 16 valve Skoda, 8 in the engine and 8 in the radio.

      2. Dave 126 Silver badge

        > car-like devices that cannot transport you from A to B.

        They're called sheds. Comfy seat, stereo, reading light, heater, USB power outlets... why d'ya even want to go anywhere?

      3. SVV Silver badge

        Well, the ipod touch is a lot more limited in reality than you're implying. It has to be tethered to a fixed wifi point, so all the things you can do on the move with a smartphone can't be done. For example using maps on the move, the first thing cited in the title.

        Surely smartphones are just small easy to use portable computers for most people? With network access avaiilable via wifi or mobile phone networks. Making a voice call then becomes just another application, and the preference for messaging over voice calls arises because many people may be very busy and being able to reply when it is convenient for them is preferable to being constantly disturbed.

      4. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        "To the point that there are devices that are sold that are exactly like smartphones, minus the ability to make phone calls."

        One of those & an ancient Nokia & you're good to go.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          In my experience which seems to be born out by this survey most people make calls, send texts, use the alarm clock and perhaps do a little messaging too.

          People install the odd app from time to time run it for a while and then forget about it.

          Of course there are a smaller percentage of people who use all kinds of odd apps, do their banking, make payments, etc. but they don't seem to be in the majority.

          I ran a survey in an IT group of several hundred people and found most don't do more than make calls, messaging and trivial usage of a few other apps.... which surprised me. The feeling was that the majority of those questioned had access to a PC all day long so used that for browsing etc. and they didn't trust the security on their phones.

          1. Captain Hogwash Silver badge

            THIS!

            "...they didn't trust the security on their phones."

    2. Mark 85 Silver badge

      That's not terribly surprising, really. If you asked someone what they liked best about their car, I bet the response "it can transport me from A to B" wouldn't make the list either.

      I'd be more inclined to say that many users don't do phone calls. They text only. We have many friends (for some value of "friend") and relatives that will never pick up a call but will grab every text sent and respond. Many of my business acquaintances have noticed the same thing. Perhaps one day, the phone part of the 'smartphone' will just disappear.

      1. Terry 6 Silver badge

        mark 85

        As to that, voice phoning while you are out and about where you can be seen, rather than safely indoors, with a small handheld device that can't be close to the mouth and ear at the same time (or needs a wire stuck in your lug 'ole) in public, with ambient noise and usually lousy sound from a tiny speaker is no encouragement - but even so there are very few days I won't see a few people ambling along either doing just that, or quite often apparently talking to themselves. So people clearly do make voice calls, despite the significant disincentives. And lets be honest, it's a small minority of times that people in the street really need to make a call so urgently that it can't wait till they get home

  2. gv

    Improvements

    "the real value for developers lies in improving already established features"

    I'm guessing there's only so far you can go with an alarm/clock app.

    1. AMBxx Silver badge

      Re: Improvements

      Use your imagination - random time zone switches? Even better, charge people for a better alarm sound - works for ring tones.

    2. paulf Silver badge
      Boffin

      Re: Improvements

      Perhaps the statement implies more general debugging + reliability improvements all round (both in the OS and the built in/installed Apps) rather than the constant dash for ever more new features when most of the current features aren't aren't that compelling for the majority of users? That could include tweaking useful features like improving the ability to control user privacy settings with respect to what Apps want access to?

      IME I can think of a few problems: Plugging the iPhone into the Mac and seeing it reboot occasionally is pretty crappy for the premium styled shiny shiny. Also if a file is deleted from a playlist in iTunes, iTunes will then create a copy of the modified playlist when syncing to the phone. Right click on track in playlist and click Delete from Library - iTunes deletes from playlist. iTunes did have a habit of randomly deleting podcasts that are marked don't delete when listened but that seems to have been fixed. The other day the music app refused to play anything until I rebooted the phone.

      I know I'm shooting fish in a barrel with iTunes but it's a necessary evil for the user to get things into and out of the walled garden. From my experience quality has gone to shit at Apple in the last few years, and I have no evidence or reason to suggest it's much better over in the Android world.

  3. Dan 55 Silver badge
    Windows

    Maps and alarm clocks best thing about mobes, say normies

    Well they were. Remember the days when you could turn off* your phone and you could rely on them starting up and notifying you for alarms and calendar appointments? Nowadays it's pot-luck if it notifies you at the right time after daylight savings time changes. That's progress.

    * We all know it was never off, but anyway.

    1. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: Maps and alarm clocks best thing about mobes, say normies

      Old Nokias and feature phones would wake from power-off for a scheduled alarm, but not all Android phones will. Therefore, if I'm low on battery but need an alarm to wake up I'll put the phone in Airplane Mode.

      1. AMBxx Silver badge
        Thumb Up

        Re: Maps and alarm clocks best thing about mobes, say normies

        My old Blackberry Bold used to do an excellent job as an alarm clock. You could turn it off and it would turn back on in time to wake me.

        There's no way I'd trust any subsequent phone as an alarm clock.

    2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Maps and alarm clocks best thing about mobes, say normies

      "Nowadays it's pot-luck if it notifies you at the right time after daylight savings time changes."

      Or if the battery lasts that long.

  4. Rich 11 Silver badge

    It's true

    My phone is indeed the most expensive alarm clock I've ever owned, but also the most flexible and most useful.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: It's true

      "but also the most flexible"

      ... there speaks an iPhone6 owner

  5. Dave 126 Silver badge

    Pareto analysis

    It's the old rule-of-thumb that 80% of the time you're only using top 20% of features. Much as 80% of failures can usually be attributed to 20% of components. I haven't used Windows Phone, but I did note that the sizes of tiles on its home screen reflected this (phone, SMS, clock, maps, email, calendar), and it seemed good to me.

    However, the top phone features in this article are averaged out across the survey. Whilst most people do make use of the alarm clock and maps, one normal person might also use the guitar tuner app on a daily basis, another normal person might use iPlayer radio etc.

    1. Anonymous Custard Silver badge
      Headmaster

      Re: Pareto analysis

      I do use WinPhone, and can bear out your comment (at least for the default tiles - the size can be changed easily either larger or smaller on a few different set sizes).

      The phone (a Nokia 640) is good for what it does - calls, SMS, WhatsApp, Slack plus the usual tools like the alarm clock, email, calendar etc, and has a battery life of between 2-4 days if I don't hammer it with excessive wifi etc.

      In light of the articles comments, it's still a bit surprising that the OS didn't do better than it did, and indeed quite a shame as for at least the basics of being a phone it does work well. And for everything else, there's my Android tablet...

    2. DropBear Silver badge

      Re: Pareto analysis

      In my case it's more like 99% of the time 1% of the features: the alarm clock, exactly as they said. Everything else is in use only 0.0001% of the time (each), including calling, so yeah... for me it's more like "you hardly ever need a <whatever>, but when you need a <whatever>, you REALLY need a <whatever>".

    3. Tikimon Silver badge

      Re: Pareto analysis

      While it might be true that 80% of "features" on a phone go unused, has anyone asked why?

      I believe I know. Phone makers (among others) have a business model of constant "upgrades" and "refreshes" to justify us buying their next phone. We users don't need and didn't ask for most of the new features they cram in with every version. We're using the basic functions and quite happy with them. So we have devices packed with things 95% of users will never need. And more fluff every version.

      1. Dave 126 Silver badge

        Re: Pareto analysis

        >While it might be true that 80% of "features" on a phone go unused, has anyone asked why?

        It isn't an observation peculiar to phones, or even technology in general. The 80/20 rule of thumb holds true across a staggering range of natural and man-made phenomena. So yes, people have asked 'why', but the answer lies in statistics, not in phone OS design. Oh, not every rarely used phone feature is 'fluff' as you put it: in ten years of using feature/smart phones, I have only used '999' once (It is a feature that I can dial '999' without a SIM and using any availavble network).

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pareto_principle

  6. luminous

    I can't ever take the majority of these surveys seriously considering that they are only asking 0.003% of the population. Is it really that hard to poll more than 2000 people? Surely you can do this online rather than calling them all? Even facebook (shudders) has polls now.

    1. Voyna i Mor Silver badge

      "Is it really that hard to poll more than 2000 people? Surely you can do this online rather than calling them all? Even facebook (shudders) has polls now."

      Such polls are worthless because they are not random samples. The problem first became very obvious when a large telephone survey during a US presidential election got the result completely wrong - because half the US did not have telephones and were also typically Dem voters. A Facebook poll only gets results from Facebook users. An online survey only gets results from people who complete online surveys - which is only a subset of people which, in turn, have Internet connections.

      Years ago research showed that if a survey sample is sufficiently well randomised for the target set, only a few hundred respondents are needed. The better the randomisation, the smaller the sample needed (within limits, obviously; if you want high accuracy you do need a bigger sample.) 2000 people is a pretty big sample for something like this.

      Malice and stupidity are quite evenly spread around the population, so a bigger sample doesn't reduce their effects (e.g. if 10% of people always lie on polls, 10% of your respondents will lie regardless of sample size.)

      1. Dave 126 Silver badge

        >... according to a survey by uSwitch. The comparison site asked Joe Public to name their favourite smartphone features.

        From this we can assume the vast majority of respondents use electricity, internet, phones and insurance. Not a randomised selection, but visitors to uSwitch are a not terrible proxy for the bill-paying population at large.

      2. herman Silver badge

        So if it is perfectly randomized, you only need one sample...

    2. Filippo

      Actually, polling 20000 people by contacting them online would result in a far _worse_ poll.

      2000 is already a very good sample size and increasing it tenfold would have basically no effect on accuracy. On the other hand, doing most of the contacts online would grossly skew the sample towards people who respond to Internet polls, and I'm pretty sure that has correlations with smartphone usage.

      Hint: when it comes to polls, size is nearly irrelevant, randomness is everything. Statistics is not that hard, but it IS extremely counterintuitive. That's why its results get constantly abused.

      1. John Robson Silver badge

        Surely correlation with smartphone usage isn't a bad thing when you are asking about smartphone usage?

        [Yes I know it's actually biased towards a specific subset of smartphone users]

    3. phuzz Silver badge
      Facepalm

      "Surely you can do this online rather than calling them all?"

      Oh yes, ask the internet their opinion, what could possibly go wrong...?

  7. tr1ck5t3r
    Trollface

    So Mr Average uses his smart phone as an Alarm clock and map.

    In other news Mr Average also found a hammer to be a versatile adaptable tool when not in the possession of dedicated tools for specific tasks., whilst Mr Below Average who couldnt afford a hammer found a brick was equally as versatile and adaptable.

    1. P. Lee Silver badge

      >So Mr Average uses his smart phone as an Alarm clock and map.

      Well, I use it as an alarm clock every day.

      I don't call people every day though. (What can I say, I'm antisocial!)

      A smartphone's advantage is that its one device which does lots of stuff. I don't need to carry an extra map, though a map larger than 5" diagonal might be better. I don't need to carry a music player, I don't need to carry a book/ebook reader or a laptop for browsing/email or (at a push) a DVD player for video. I don't need to carry a diary and an alarm clock. Oh, or a phone.

      Actually, an alarm clock and a GPS are probably the few functions for which a smartphone has a better interface than its standalone counterparts. Phone/SMS and podcasts are the other ones which spring to mind, but mostly, phones are a compromise of extreme portability over UI.

      1. tr1ck5t3r

        Re: >So Mr Average uses his smart phone as an Alarm clock and map.

        True buts its all about pro's and con's or compromising when your battery hasnt gone flat.

        I'd not use a smart phone as a map in a high risk situation like on the mountains and other wild country area's, but for getting around civilisation if you dont feel like interacting with other humans to ask directions, it can and does work for many when thinking of satnav. Perhaps direct overt isolation is something that appeals to you, by being able to go from A to B efficiently?

        I'd not use a smartphone as a replacement music player because analogue is infinitely better if you really like listening to music and/or prefer to not damage your ears through over exposure of loud stepped noise, although I note someone has now added a valve to a raspberrypi audio hat to improve the sound quality.

        Books wont damage your eyes as much or keep you awake due to being exposed to too much blue light at night which suppresses melatonin, a useful hormone which not only increases the release of Mesenchymal stem cells to repair the body, but is also 4 times more potent when compared to the antioxidant Vit C, something we need in order to clean the brain in order to form memories, not helped by todays high usage of SSRI anti depressants which inhibits the brain's ability to take up serotonin to convert into melatonin and probably explains why its been called beauty sleep for hundreds of years.

        I can read newspapers, listen to the radio, watch tv or watch a film if I dont want to waste time doing the job of an editor, programming director to filter out the rubbish content which infects the biggest websites so easily manipulated by mindless lemming herd mentality when its not being done by a swarm of bots which seems to infect search engines and other online content providers.

        I can take comfort in the fact that spooky hackers are not reading my every thought and predicting my actions if I carry a diary or filofax around with me.

        I can enjoy wearing a nice watch instead of carrying around a device more loaded with bacteria & virus than you will find in your local public conveniences both metaphorically and physically speaking.

        I can enjoy my time to a higher degree by not being at everyone elses beck and call which happens most often at the least convenient times, which frequently correlates with the need to evacuate a part of my body, which further adds to the general stress of life by having to ignore said device.

        Sure I can see the appeal for a mobile computer with the form factor attribute of smartphone, but I guess its how needy and dependent you are or others are on you which dictates to a certain degree whether you should carry a personal tracking device around with you at all times for your own safety and the publics safety.

        I'm also reminded of the fact for thousands of years humans have survived without such technology which it could be argued has provided for a better method of distributing intelligence useful for the survival of mankind than we have now, when considering the implications of dopamine reward & addiction from instant gratification that technology gives us.

        How does an addict quantify accurately quality of life, let alone acknowledge technology is an addiction which seems to be infecting the whole of mankind?

        1. John Robson Silver badge

          Re: >So Mr Average uses his smart phone as an Alarm clock and map.

          "I'd not use a smartphone as a replacement music player because analogue is infinitely better if you really like listening to music and/or prefer to not damage your ears through over exposure of loud stepped noise"

          What does that even mean?

          The DAC in most phones is pretty much perfectly transparent, the headphones you choose to use might be awful of course...

          And the inbuilt speakers are generally awful.

          What is 'stepped' noise - is it a waltz whilst being danced?

          1. Nick Ryan Silver badge

            Re: >So Mr Average uses his smart phone as an Alarm clock and map.

            What does that even mean?

            I think it means that the headphone cables and jacks have not been made out of unicorn hair spliced with unobtanium and the levels noise balanced with the device resting on 99.8% pure copper pins set in a 1970s breeze block in a large sonically padded and magnetically shielded room.

            Blue light. Meh. Just have to love the impressionable. Just switch the damn ebook reader to the yellowish colour scheme as this somewhat reduces the blue component output in the RGB display. Or engage the OSes blue colour reduction screen profile.

            As for the wrist watch comments? Huh? A device that has no, or few, buttons compared to a device with loads of them is more unclean? I'm yet to understand the logic on this.

            Also, if somebody calls there is no requirement, legal or otherwise, to answer the bloody thing. How about putting the device on silent or low volume unless you're expecting calls, then you can call back if you like. Actually, this is the one thing that a "smart-watch" actually does well, you can quickly check the caller without taking the phone out of your pocket.

        2. Dave 126 Silver badge

          Re: >So Mr Average uses his smart phone as an Alarm clock and map.

          >True buts its all about pro's and con's or compromising when your battery hasnt gone flat.

          Not a valid complaint: if your battery has gone flat because you are using your phone instead of a discrete camera, calculator, book etc, then you can carry an extra battery pack and still be making a saving on weight and bulk over carrying discrete devices.

          >Books wont damage your eyes as much or keep you awake due to being exposed to too much blue light at night which suppresses melatonin...

          You can use a blue-light filter such as f.lux to have the phone screen emit similar light to that reflected from the page of a book. I believe Google have it baked into their eBook app, as Apple have done with iOS.

          >I can enjoy my time to a higher degree by not being at everyone elses beck and call which happens most often at the least convenient times,

          Android has a 'Do Not Disturb mode, with settings (so, for example, the phone will block all calls except those from a frail family member, for example). I imagine iOS has something similar.

          >I can enjoy wearing a nice watch instead of carrying around a device more loaded with bacteria & virus

          I wear a watch too, but my phone makes a superior alarm clock because it is louder than the alarm on my Casio, and offers more useful options. Oh, and most of the time I wear a mechanical watch wich doesn't have an alarm function.

          >I can read newspapers, listen to the radio, watch tv or watch a film if I dont want to waste time doing the job of an editor, programming director to filter out the rubbish

          Me too. However, the science and cultural output of Australian radio is superior to that on my native Britain's BBC radio stations. Luckily, http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/scienceshow/ just lets me listen to it. Also, the pop music stations on FM in the UK are largely shit, whereas Radio 6 Music (on DAB and Internet) is good... in my it is easier to listen to it (or thousands of other music stations from around the world) over WiFi. You can boost or relay your WiFi signal; you can't do the same for a dodgy DAB signal. I do like FM though - especially the brilliant battery life of an FM receiver.

          >I can take comfort in the fact that spooky hackers are not reading my every thought and predicting my actions if I carry a diary or filofax around with me.

          And then kick yourself when leave the only manuscript of your great novel on a rail platform, as did T.E Lawrence. Or have someone take a peek at your diary when you're not looking - no hacking required! There are pros and cons to all approaches, and I still read books and newspapers, and listen to FM radio, know how to use a map and compass etc (in fact a major point you could have made is that of redundancy). However, I feel that the examples you provided aren't as clear cut as you presented them to be.

          1. John Robson Silver badge

            Re: >So Mr Average uses his smart phone as an Alarm clock and map.

            As I took an unexpected trip on Sunday (borrowed a van to shift a sofa) I realised that I'd charged my wife's phone the night before, so the battery was low (~30%).

            Since it was my GPS and my comms system I had to take a decision on whether to head home first (pain, and the collection was time limited)... I didn't.

            I just turned the screen off for the journey - prodded it on at the approach to junctions that looked complex. Made it back home with >20% battery.

            Seriously battery life on a device that is sensibly used has come a long way in the last few years...

  8. AndrueC Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    I have perfectly good alarm clock of my own but otherwise my list would be:

    Music player, Camera, Online Banking, Satnav, Mail on the move, Texting (one or two per week).

    I almost never use my phone for calls. In fact yesterday it rang while I was at work and at first I didn't even know what it was. I then had to go to my coat and dig it out of a pocket. I've long said that if all it did was make phone calls I wouldn't bother with it. For me it's the sum of the parts that makes it into a thing worth having.

    I'd like to use it more often to browse the web but the small screen just makes the experience too irritating.

  9. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
    Holmes

    There is another use...

    Smartphones are used for looking busy and standoffish in public spaces.

    1. Nick Kew Silver badge

      Re: There is another use...

      Yep, it's the fashionable modern "keep off" signal. But you don't actually need a smartphone for that. ;)

  10. ch0rlt0n

    Music

    So everyone's still using iPods and mini-disc players? Isn't music, either streamed or on the device, a massive use case?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Music

      Music?

      More like ear-damaging levels of machine noise, amirite?

    2. Nick Ryan Silver badge

      Re: Music

      Many phones come with a pathetic amount of storage compared to media players (iPods or other), particularly those pushed on contract and with an exhorbitant price hike for larger capacities.

      However even with this, I tend to observe that most people I see on London's underground and mainline trains use their phones to play music. There are the odd exceptions though, for example I used to regularly share a carriage with somebody who regularly used a portable DVD player which was a massive, bulky thing with a poor quality screen and undoubtedly heavily laden with batteries as well. On the other hand, they were happy using and carrying this monstrosity around and it would have been compatible with their home DVD collection.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    it's a beer GPS

    All I ever seem to use mine for is the traditional "where are you/where's the crawl" call or SMS, checking pub beer lists on Twitter to plan the route on the hoof and setting an alarm so I leave the last pub in time to avoid the long walk home. Truly a wonderful gift for the committed drinker.

    Used to have a GPS alarm set to wake me before my bus stop as well but it turns out I can stumble off the bus at the right stop and navigate home asleep better than hear an alarm!

  12. foo_bar_baz
    Windows

    I'm a normie

    By conventional nerd wisdom the lack of applications for Windows phone was a huge drawback. When I had a Windows phone I found it perfectly adequate and I actually liked the user interface, despite getting shouted down for saying so on these forums.

    1. Terrance Brennan

      Re: I'm a normie

      I still have a Windows phone and have no intention of getting anything else. It is cheaper than the alternatives and I simply don't care about all the must have apps on the other phones. I use the phone, text, alarm clock, calendar, and sometimes the mapping feature (you never actually learn a route if you simply follow the navigation instructions each time). The music quality on every tiny electronic device sounds crap (including the iPod I used to have), watching videos or browsing the internet on a tiny screen is just not happening (I remember having a 10-inch black and white TV and see no reason to go back to miniature screens, I love IMAX movies not micro movies), and I don't have enough faith in mobile security to do anything involving banking or buying on a phone. Oh, and I wouldn't touch Farcebook with a barge pole let alone a phone.

  13. Alister Silver badge
    Coat

    Ernest Doku, telecoms expert at uSwitch.com

    I'm sure I've asked this before, but anyway... Is his wife called Su?

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I have a stand-alone alarm clock, and I have the alarm function on my phone.

    I can stop the stand-alone clock's alarm without properly waking up. The snooze and cancel buttons can both easily be found by touch.

    My phone's alarm requires rather more wakefulness. I need to look at its display (orientation check) before I can tell it to stop. This alone makes it by far the better choice.

    1. Dave 126 Silver badge

      >I can stop the stand-alone clock's alarm without properly waking up. The snooze and cancel buttons can both easily be found by touch.

      'Hardware hacking' is your friend! Just prise off the plastic buttons with a screwdriver - you will then have to hunt around for a pen or matchstick to silence the alarm!

  15. Terry 6 Silver badge
    FAIL

    The comparison site asked Joe Public to name their favourite smartphone features

    "favourite"

    And there's the FAIL. Wrong question = wrong answer. GIGO

    1.) What's a favourite?

    2.) How well does this correlate with most/ how often used

    3.) Is favourite even related to routine, regular of frequent use in any way?

    4.) Do we even like ( let alone treat as favourite) our most used or most important things?

    So. I use my everyday watch and wear my everyday shoes most days - my "favourite" watch and shoes sit in a cupboard waiting for special days. My favourite computer is an i7 box with 16Gb ram, graphics card and so on - well overpowered for my routine needs. My routine computer is used daily, lots.and it's an i5 laptop. If I had a favourite programme it certainly wouldn't be WORD which is the one I've used most over the years.

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