Stupid mobile tricks: 7 stories of smartphone horror

If the word "smartphone" has ever struck you as ironic, you aren't alone. Thank your lucky stars these horrors didn't happen to you

For a device with "smart" in its name, a smartphone sure can help you do a lot of stupid things. Whether it's racking up thousands of dollars in international roaming fees or encouraging dozens of eye rolls with your misrouted voice dialing -- I'm looking at you, guy who calls Ben O'Lynn in accounting every time he means to call Bennigan's for lunch -- our modern-day mobile devices provide plenty of opportunities for tech-tinged embarrassment.

We tracked down seven of the most unfortunate smartphone disaster tales we could find. The stories are fun to laugh at now, but most of them were anything but amusing when they actually occurred. Some cost companies money; some cost employees their jobs. Others cost something even more difficult to recover: a slice of their victims' dignity.

[ Follow the latest tech shenanigans with Robert X. Cringely's Notes from the Field blog, only at InfoWorld.com. | Keep up on key mobile developments and insights with the Mobile Edge blog and Mobilize newsletter. ]

So read on, and remember: It could have just as easily been you. (Note: Some of the names have been changed or withheld to protect the guilty.)

Smartphone horror story No. 1: The accidental autocorrect When you think about it, letting a gadget guess what you want to say is really just asking for trouble.

"Scott," who works at a marketing and Web design firm, learned that the hard way. He was emailing back and forth with his brother, using some colorful language, when a message from a client came in to his phone.

The client's project had a four-letter acronym that started with a "c." It was just a letter or two off from a certain other four-letter "c" word -- yes, that one -- and as luck would have it, the more vulgar variation had made its way into the memory on Scott's phone.

"My brother and I exchange some pretty insulting emails, and like all smartphones, my phone remembers what I type in," he explains. "When I emailed the client back, it jumped in and swapped out the project's real acronym with that other 'c' word."

Scott fired off the email, not realizing it described his client's project as the "C--- project" (I'll let you fill in the blanks). The client -- who, naturally, happened to be especially conservative -- was appalled. He wrote back within minutes to let Scott know.

"I was mortified. I couldn't believe it went through that way," Scott says. "The worst part was trying to explain away the fact that I had used that word enough to get it in the phone's dictionary."

The moral: Never blindly trust a machine. Proofread everything, especially messages tapped out in a hurry. Otherwise, you might just end up calling a client a ... well, you know.

Smartphone horror story No. 2: There's an app for what?! Smartphone apps have revolutionized the world of mobile business. With the right set of programs, you can stay connected to your company, keep up with important news, and maintain close contact with colleagues. Of course, with the wrong set of programs, you can land yourself in some seriously hot water.

We've all heard of a coworker getting caught with, shall we say, inappropriate materials on his work PC. But finding naughty stuff on someone's business-issued smartphone is still a relatively new phenomenon.

It certainly caught the folks at OneCall Manage off-guard. The agency works with corporations to analyze their workers' cell phones and spot any potentially problematic areas.

During a routine checkup with a major national company, the OneCall consultants found something that stood out. It was a game being played on a company device -- and it wasn't Pac-Man. In fact, the game was called Sexy Cougar, and no, it wasn't about mountain cats.

OneCall CEO Berylle Reynolds smiles when she thinks back on the discovery. It's a sharp contrast to the frowns that formed when Sexy Cougar first came to her agency's attention. "We had to go in and actually block all the phones to prevent the workers from downloading anything in the future," she says.

Oh yeah -- there's one more twist: "It wasn't just one person," Reynolds reveals. "There were four employees who had downloaded the Sexy Cougar game in the same office."

Hey, at least we know they weren't using iPhones.

The moral: Remember the old adage "Don't mix business with pleasure"? It applies just as much between a man and a smartphone as it does between a man and a woman. Don't forget it.

Smartphone horror story No. 3: The literal smartphone launch Everyone loves a good startup story. When your company's history involves throwing expensive technology, however, sharing your roots can quickly turn dangerous. Just ask the guys from Mutual Mobile.

These days, Mutual Mobile is known for making apps focused on productivity -- things like Sales Report and Polycom for the iPhone. But in the beginning, the team had a slightly different focus.

Mutual Mobile's founders made their way into the mobile market by creating a little program called HangTime (Apple later removed it from the App Store). HangTime, if you've not heard of it, encouraged people to throw their precious iPhones into the air. The app measures how high the phones go and how long it takes for them to come back down. (Yes, really.)

Silly as it seems, HangTime showed the Mutual Mobile guys how lucrative a field that app development could be. They credit the creation with helping them expand their for-fun business into a full-time venture, and they frequently tell their clients the story. "It's generally well-received," says CEO John Arrow. "One time, it was too well-received."

Tags Mobile platformsapplicationstelecommunicationMisadventurescareerssoftwareIT managementMobilizemobilemobile applicationsAdventures in IT

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JR Raphael

InfoWorld

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