What tomorrow's phones really need: smarter Wi-Fi

Mobile broadband is still pricey and has its limits. So why don't phones do a better job at switching to Wi-Fi?

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There are apps that try to automate the Wi-Fi password process, and, theoretically, Google should sync your Wi-Fi passwords between all your Android devices. But what’s really needed is a Dropbox-like service for Wi-Fi: an app that runs on every platform, Windows/Mac/Linux and iOS/Android/Windows/BlackBerry, that automatically connects you to Wi-Fi networks you know on any device you’re carrying.

Wi-Fi can be annoying when there’s a weak connection

This is the more complicated, engineering-based solution to at least one downfall of Wi-Fi: it’s a pain in the rear when it doesn’t switch off cleanly. When you connect to a Wi-Fi signal at home or in a public space, all is well. But as you walk or ride away from that space, your phone will often keep a connection active, or at least report a connection, for a long time and distance after you leave. So as it tries to check for new messages, pull up the directions you need, or do anything on the web, it tries to do it through Wi-Fi, and it comes up short, because you’re no longer in a usable range. Sometimes this is due to the Wi-Fi spot having a wide-reaching but weak signal; sometimes it’s just your phone taking a long time to realize its connection is dead.

Whatever is to blame, it drives me nuts, and it makes me switch off Wi-Fi as I’m leaving certain places. It’s emblematic of the little things that could be improved to make Wi-Fi a natural part of the smartphone experience, and which could help carriers and customers reach some sane middle ground on pricing and usage.

Image by Victor Hertz (available as a print).

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