Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Are Smartphones Thinking Too Much?

Everyone would agree that mobile phones have revolutionized the way we communicate, entertain and inform, and just when we thought we had seen it all, along came the smartphone, with just more features, more apps, better user experience, good quality mobile browsing, always connected and taking that revolution to the next level, turning our phone into the one thing that we cannot live without…the one thing many people would take to a desert island (even though it would be rather pointless there).

So while there is no doubt that smartphones are doing a lot of smart things, they are also doing a lot of “not so smart” things that we are unaware of, constantly trying to figure out stuff in the background, even when we are not using our phone.

On one occasion, I crossed the border with my phone on and as soon as I arrived to my destination, I started receiving all the usual SMS (3 or 4 too many in my opinion) from my host operator telling me that I was welcome. I didn’t think much of it at the time, until 5 hours later, I received a phone call from my operator back home, telling me that I had already reached some data transfer limit and that these 5 hours had already cost me 150$. I had not used my phone during this time, apart from one odd SMS or two, BUT my mistake was to cross a border with my smartphone on. My phone started doing what smart things do, they think, search, locate, adapt etc…resulting in a huge cost on my phone bill.

All that thinking smartphones are doing is rarely hurting the operator, who is cashing in heavily in the process.  But consumers should be aware of certain things especially when travelling with their phones.

Data roaming is your worst enemy and it should always be switched off as a rule of thumb when travelling. Then, once you are savvy enough, you can turn it on and off as you wish, but this needs to be a manual process decided by the mobile user, not by the “not so smart” phone who suddenly ramps up an astronomical bill for you…well it’s not the phone’s fault really, as it was simply trying to help you by telling you that you were now in a different country (which you knew already) and had just passed a McDonald’s and maybe wanted to check in with your App (which you didn’t want to) and so on. A bit like Microsoft office formatting things on your behalf because of course you wanted that sentence in bold and centered and in that font size (which of course you didn’t).

An Australian woman returned home after a 9 weeks holiday in Europe and got a bill for $150,000.

She was travelling, so her smartphone kept changing visiting networks, and scanning for new location-based services or content, to “help” her. And she also made calls, but she didn’t know anything about the roaming principle, which is “your visiting network does not care about you WHATSOEVER” so the various networks passed ALL the charges to her home network operator, who passed them on back to her, of course.

The connections between operators during a roaming situation can be very complex and your call may transit through a lot of various operators before reaching your interlocutor, and guess what? Each one of these transits is charged to you so you will pay a few dollars per minute when calling from abroad, while the same call would cost just cents normally.

Another extreme phone bill was that of an Orange customer in the UK, who was hit with two bills amounting to nearly £20,000. The bill was later waived by the operator, who said it was due to a “fault” in the customer’s device, which kept sending and receiving vast amounts of data unexpectedly. In this case, it could have been truly a hardware fault, but the reality is that smartphones are thinking way too much. Because they are always online, they keep connecting, sending and receiving data all the time, to update software, look for your location, check the apps’ version, checking for new emails and many more things.

The absolute record phone bill is too funny to leave out of this post. If someone received a bill for a billion dollars, would that make you laugh? Well think one million times more, as last year, a French woman received a phone bill asking her for 11,721,000,000,000,000 Euros (that’s a quadrillion, a high enough number already itself, but as a phone bill, it is just hilarious). Of course the bill was waived and was due to some glitch in the system.

Making phone calls doesn’t have to be expensive and why is it that when you travel, or call abroad, the cost suddenly multiplies by ten?

Fortunately, there are some smart ways out there to make cheap calls anywhere in the world and shrink that phone bill.

The Yelo App for iPhone, iPad and Android allows you to call any phones, "smart or not" as well as landlines in over 200 countries, with extremely low rates, way cheaper than your mobile network operator, cheaper than your IDD service, and even up to 5 times cheaper than SkypeOut and other providers for some destinations.

Start using Yelo for making international calls and save money on your phone bill!

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