Nothing Better to Do: Gripe about Smartphones

I’m taking it easy because I just had my lower wisdom teeth extracted this morning. In case you’re wondering, I’m feeling fine. Really great, actually, considering I was told I’d feel like hell. Anyway, since I’m making a point of doing nothing today (and probably most of the weekend) I thought I’d write about something that has been annoying me about smartphones.

It seems intentional to me that smartphones are given cripplingly little RAM. We are now seeing the first phones with multi-core processors on board. But those same phones are only now pushing the 1GB mark for RAM. I am more than happy with the single core, 1GHz Hummingbird processor in my Droid Charge. But 512MB of RAM? Really?

When was the last time you used a modern, traditional form computer with only 512MB of RAM? I’m going to just throw out a number: 10 years. In addition, we always had the option of upgrading our traditional computers.

So why are these modern personal computers crippled?

I think this is an especially egregious short-coming because we expect our phones to do so much. I need it to MapMyRun while still monitoring and pushing messages from my email, Twitter, Facebook. Oh, and I’m listening to music while I run, so it needs to play my media smoothly. If I see something while I’m out on my run, I need instant access to my camera too.

I'm supposed to get by with access to only 100MB of RAM?

Right now my phone is connected to my home wi-fi network but I have no apps open. It says I am using 206MB of RAM, leaving me with only 100MB should I want to actively use some of the many capabilities of this powerful little device.

It doesn’t take much for me to get this little device to stutter and bog down.

Really, I don’t understand why 1GB is only now becoming the standard. Why weren’t we cramming 2 gigs of memory in these things from the get-go. I am going to go ahead and thank Apple for starting the race at a pathetic 128MB.

So, yeah, the immediate solution is for device manufacturers to start putting more memory into new phones. But, the long-term trend that has yet to even begin is user-upgradeable devices. Hopefully within the next couple of years it will be as trivial to pop open my device and double the processing memory as it is to do the same to my little netbook.

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2 thoughts on “Nothing Better to Do: Gripe about Smartphones

  1. Well while that may be true that computers need much more ram a good smartphone OS does not. Case and point windows phone 7(.5 now) only has 512mb of ram, yet i have never had it stutter, ever.

    It is all in how the OS manages it’s ram, but before going into that point realise that programs made to run on our tiny little screens are not massive complex beasts like Word or Google Chrome with addons and a need to destroy ram with every tab. These programs are small lightweight apps, not applications. Even MS word on my phone is a miniscule shadow of its desktop self. These are highly tuned little programming marvels that are typically made to use less than 20Mb of ram.

    That said a good mobile OS will schedule multiple running apps in the background to not use thier full ram but be suspended and ready to come back at a moments notice. WP7 handles this with ease through tombstoning, background tasks (which are small agents that programs use to acomplish things like getting mail, or texts), and a well designed programming language built for ultra small footprints which results in a fluidity in all things.

    Also note that the apps must be small and lightweight not because of ram limitations but due to battery limitations, the more active cells in memory you have the more energy drawn and the smaller the battery life until our uber smart phones become 10 minute wonders.

    In all the time I have had my Gen 1 WP7 phone I have never had it stutter, video, music, mail from multiple sources, MMS and SMS texts, wifi, calander updates, alarms, reminders, and then popping on angrybirds just for fun has never resulted in less than buttery smooth performance :)

    It’s not the specs it’s the engine and droid and ios are the 3 stroke GEO’s of the mobile world :)

    • I’m actually thinking of switching to Windows Phone when I get a new device. I am waiting to see what happens with Windows 8 on the phone front. I’m a fan of 8’s improved task manager.

      Android is a very open platform, which is one of the strengths I appreciate about the OS, so I wonder exactly how much control the system can exert over apps’ memory management. And even these resource-light apps’ meager 5 to 20 megs of memory usage adds up quick when I only have 100 megs to play with.

      I think the big thing that bugs me is that this is just forced obsolescence. Why upgrade the RAM in your phone when you can drop $500 on the newest device with a high-energy marketing campaign? Then just throw that outdated one away! No one wants it. I originally planned to talk more about the planned obsolescence in my post.

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