Top three problems the mobile industry needs to solve

top three problems the mobile industry needs to solve nexus one teardwon ifixit 001The mobile industry has seen some meteoric advances in the last 20 years. What was once in the realm of science fiction now passes for pedestrian. There are more mobile phones than people in the U.S. and in March of this year a Nielsen report confirmed that a majority of U.S. mobile subscribers (50.4 percent) now own smartphones.

Smartphones have claimed the ultimate convergence device title, but as awesome as they are, they still have some glaring weaknesses. The mobile industry needs to think about how to solve these problems as it strives to push smartphone penetration ever higher and convert the last remaining holdouts.

1. Battery life

While smartphone technology has advanced quickly, leading to ever more powerful devices with more features, battery technology has been left behind. A report from J.D. Power and Associates confirms what we already knew – battery performance is the least satisfying aspect of smartphones by a distance. What’s worse is that the dissatisfaction with battery life is growing as power-hungry 4G devices hit the market.

It’s great to have a device that can perform so many functions, but if it dies after a few short hours, then the original point, mobility, has been forgotten.

Power prospects

News about new battery technology comes and goes while we’re still left waiting for a solution. The lithium-ion batteries that most of our consumer electronics rely on were first used commercially in 1991. They have improved a lot since then, but nowhere near as fast as processors. Throw new features and higher data consumption into the mix and batteries are being asked to do more and more. Their limited performance is exacerbated by heat and age.

As energy density improvements are too slow to meet new demands some are betting on wireless charging technology. The downside is that wireless charging is not very efficient and it only offers a slight convenience boost over traditional charging.

Bottom line

Right now, unless you are willing to buy a larger device that can house a bigger battery, carry a spare, or bulk up your existing device with a battery backup case, you’re stuck with limited battery life.

2. Fragmentation

The more diverse the selection of mobile devices becomes, the more difficult it is for app and game developers to produce a product that works on every device. The issue is complicated further by multiple versions of operating systems and by a multitude of different manufacturers with their own software overlays.

Hardly a day goes by without some mention or visualization of Android fragmentation. Google’s competitors have been quick to point the finger, but the truth is that Android is merely the worst example of a problem that affects the whole industry. The news that Windows Phone 8 will not roll out to existing Windows Phone devices is fragmentation, and Apple is no different since iOS 5 is not available for the original iPhone or iPhone 3G. Even the iPhone 3GS and iPhone 4 miss out on some features that the iPhone 4S offers.

The end result is a slightly different experience for owners of different models. For Android owners, the problem is more serious because manufacturer overlays delay the roll out of updates to the platform. How clear it is to a consumer buying a budget Android phone running version 2.2 that they will not be enjoying the features advertised as part of Android 4? Does someone buying a new iPhone 4 realize that they won’t be enjoying the heavily advertised Siri?

Developers have it even worse, because they have to make sure that their apps and games work on as many devices as possible. This is certainly a much greater challenge on the Android platform because of the lack of restrictions imposed by Google. Microsoft keeps tighter controls on Windows Phone and Apple is in control freak territory with iOS. It’s still worth mentioning that fragmentation is nothing new in software development, as anyone who has developed a PC game can attest.

One platform to bind them all

There’s probably no end to fragmentation. To fully eradicate it there would have to be just one platform. That certainly doesn’t look like happening any time soon. Every update to that one platform would also have to be backwards compatible and that would seriously limit new features. More importantly, it would limit manufacturer’s ability to get consumers to buy new hardware every couple of years. The reason you can’t get Siri on the iPhone 4 has more to do with Apple selling the iPhone 4S than any technical limitation.

Bottom line

Consumers need to make sure that the device they buy offers the features they think it does. Developers need to accept fragmentation is here to stay and plan accordingly.

3. – Coverage

When you see the latest adverts showing super-powered smartphones streaming high-definition video, no one stops to tell you that certain features are only really supported if you live in the right place. We can all agree that the growth of 4G is a good thing that will enable greater data consumption, but the network coverage is seriously limited right now. Verizon’s 4G coverage is currently the best, but it still only covers just over two thirds of the U.S. population.

Even unlimited is limited

The fact that only limited pockets will enjoy the maximum speeds advertised is not talked about. Of course, as demand grows with increased sales of 4G devices, carriers will have to throttle your access anyway. They have already put unlimited data plans to death. The demand is only going in one direction. You may be able to enjoy massive data consumption at great speeds, if you live in the right place, but it’s going to cost you.

Bottom line

Carriers are always improving their networks, but they do focus on populous areas for obvious reasons. If you don’t live in the right place you could be waiting a long time for real 4G speeds.