Where smart devices fail, dumb stuff reigns supreme

The most mundane devices which are designed to accomplish a simple task extremely well, and in some cases, they still execute those duties better than their high-tech brethren.
by Yehia El Amine English YehiaAmine

8 March 2018 | 17:34

Source: by Annahar

Signage for the Google Assistant is displayed during CES 2018 at the Sands Expo and Convention Center on January 9, 2018 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (AFP Photo)

BEIRUT: It still feels magical to turn on random pieces of electronics by simply saying “Alexa, turn on the TV.”

But with the entire hype surrounding so-called smart things, everyday devices which are connected to the Internet, it becomes easy to forget that sometimes the dumb stuff is just as good if not better.

Currently, tech companies are adding eyes, ears, and brains to almost every product imaginable, from thermostats, surveillance cameras, mosquito zappers, and coffee makers – the works.

And smart devices are on the rise.

According to a study by Research & Markets, 15 percent of households owned a home automation device, up from 10 percent in April 2016.

But before people get carried away setting up the Wi-Fi connections on all their appliances, lights, and fashion accessories; many need to consider that some of the most mundane devices which are designed to accomplish a simple task extremely well, and in some cases, they still execute those duties better than their high-tech brethren.

So let’s take a moment to appreciate some of the best dumb things. Here are the top picks:


The Apple Watch, by all measures, is a hit. The latest iteration of the Apple Watch, called Series 3, is fast, water-resistant and versatile with long battery life, making it a superb smartwatch for tracking fitness activity.

Yet a normal wristwatch is still superior at one crucial task: Telling the time.

The Apple Watch’s screen wakes up when a person tilts their wrist at an angle, which indicates they are trying to check the time. That helps conserve battery life. But any Apple Watch wearer is familiar with situations where this feature gets frustrating.

“While riding a bicycle, for example, you often have to let go of the handlebar and lift the watch toward your face to check the time,” Tony Farha, a 23-year-old student at the American University of Beirut who’s a big advocate of the Apple Watch, told Annahar.

“When you’re standing on a bus and holding onto a pole, it is difficult to tilt your wrist at the correct angle to look at the time; or when you’re in a meeting and want to see if you’re staying on schedule, flicking your wrist isn’t very subtle,” he highlighted.

Until the Apple Watch manages to constantly display the time without sapping the battery, a normal wristwatch is better for telling the time in all those scenarios.


Many cars are now equipped with a touch-screen on the console that essentially mirrors a smartphone screen. Android phone users get to use Android Auto, and iPhone users hook into CarPlay.

These smart car systems are designed to seamlessly work with a smartphone. Plugging in an iPhone, for example, loads a screen of apps like Apple Maps, Apple Music, and Apple’s podcast app, which you can then control on the console or with Siri instead of fiddling with your smartphone screen.

The problem with this concept is there are a limited number of apps that work with these smart infotainment systems. For example, if while using CarPlay you prefer to use Google Maps or Waze, people are out of luck and are stuck with Apple Maps.

That’s not to mention the tremendous hassle of keeping the systems fully up-to-date.

Using a phone mount is a cheap and simple solution that is far less frustrating. “You just attach the mount to the dash, a CD player slot or an air conditioning vent, mount your phone and plug it into a power charger via the accessories port,” Karim Halawi, a Lebanese Uber Driver told Annahar.

“Voilà, your phone has become your infotainment system, capable of running your favorite navigation and music apps and using voice controls to place calls over speakerphone,” Halawi added,

The cabbie noted that the screen on a regular smartphone is large enough to clearly read maps, and allows people to manually update the operating system on their own.


Amazon recently introduced the Echo Spot, a smart alarm clock with a touch-screen and the Alexa virtual assistant. A less desirable feature is a built-in camera for placing video calls.

A camera on a nightstand that is constantly pointed at a person’s bed? It’s like asking for privacy to be violated.

Amazon promises the camera software on the Echo Spot can be turned off whenever it isn’t being used. But it’s an obvious feature for hackers to target with malware.

So if the primary goal is to have a device that wakes people up on time to go to work, just get an old-school alarm clock.


One of the most common uses of Alexa is to set a kitchen timer.

Just say “Alexa, set a timer for 80 minutes” while busy chopping vegetables. But there are reasons a cheap kitchen timer can be superior.

Cooking timing can vary depending on your heating element, among other factors.

So when checking on the food’s doneness and change the kitchen timer, an old-school timer — either the analog variety or the types with a digital time display and two or three physical buttons — can be easier.

“It simply dings or beeps when the time is up and it’s quicker to add or subtract a few minutes by turning a dial or pressing a button or two,” Dolly Chidiac, a stay at home mom who was gifted Alexa by her daughter to replace her old kitchen timer, told Annahar.

“You can also constantly see how much time is left on the timer, whereas with Alexa, you have to open a smartphone app to see the remaining time or ask Alexa to tell you how much time is left,” Chidiac said frustratingly.

Over the long term, using a smart speaker as a timer gets tedious.


When people buy new tablets, they often give their older tablet a second life by designating it for the kitchen. Voila, the ancient tablet gets mounted to the refrigerator with a magnet and becomes a glorified recipe reader.

Chidiac, who tried this experiment, considers it to be a hassle.

“You often have to clean the tablet after smearing food on the screen; the battery eventually needs to be recharged,” she added, highlighting that if one were to double or halve a recipe, “you have to do some mental math, which makes multitasking more challenging when you are busy in the kitchen.”

Printing out or jotting down a recipe on a piece of paper is just simpler.

“The old-fashioned way is much better since you can easily scribble additional notes, like changes and improvements to the recipe,” Chidiac said.

And if it gets covered in food, it’s easy to just throw it away.

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