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What should we do with questions where there can't be such a hardware, typically because the problem is at the software level?

In my opinion, we should allow an "answer" which explains why there can't be such a hardware, even tho this "answer" doesn't actually provide a direct answer to the question. This is so the question doesn't linger unanswered as if it's just waiting for someone to find the solution, which is (or would be) misleading.

To give an example: Smartphones with UMS (mass storage) support

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Ignore the question and leave it unanswered.

An unanswered question isn't a bad thing. It simply means that we either don't know a valid answer or we aren't interested in answering that specific question for some reason.

However, leaving a "this doesn't exist" answer, or worse, closing a legitimate question that was well written but doesn't have hardware to recommend removes that question from the unanswered tab.

I stroll through this tab (here and on other sites I visit) occasionally to see if I missed an interesting question. At best, I find a question and can provide an answer. If I don't know an answer, but the question is good, I can provide a supportive upvote. If the question is bad, I can provide a downvote and possibly vote to close it.

But, if we are providing a "this doesn't exist" answer on any question that survives a period of time without an answer, all of these unanswered questions are suddenly harder to find.

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    I'm not talking about the "this doesn't exist" case. I'm talking about the "this can't exist" case.
    – Stefan
    Oct 26, 2015 at 13:32
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    "Can't exist" is temporal in nature. Just because it "can't exist" today, doesn't mean it won't exist tomorrow. I think the better solution, at least for your example, is exactly what you've done: provide a comment. Down vote it too, if you feel the user should have know about such limitations (ie. lack of research)
    – Andy Mod
    Oct 26, 2015 at 13:35
  • No, I didn't provide a comment, I provided an answer (which was later turned into a comment, which hence prompted my question here). In this case, there is no lack of research on the part of the poster. It is just a fundamental limitation of the way UMS works. While it is possible in theory to make it work, it's hard to do, and there really isn't much motivation for anyone to try and solve this problem since MTP provides a much simpler solution. So it's not really a hardware question and I'm willing to bet that there will never be a positive answer.
    – Stefan
    Oct 26, 2015 at 13:43
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If you think that there's no such hardware just because you failed to find any, leave the question unanswered.

But if you know that such hardware can't exist, for example because you know that similar hardware is significantly more expensive, or that the requirements would violate the laws of physics, or you're an expert in this kind of hardware and you know that nothing meets the requirements, then do write an answer explaining why the requirements cannot be met, and ideally providing alternatives that come as close as possible to meeting the requirements, keeping in mind the intended purpose.

Similar discussion on Software Recommendations: Impossible/impractical requests?

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  • Hmm... based on this my answer shouldn't have been turned into a comment, should it? It maybe should have been improved instead?
    – Stefan
    Oct 26, 2015 at 23:13
  • @Stefan Your comment (hardwarerecs.stackexchange.com/questions/712/… I presume? I didn't see it before it was converted from an answer.) reads to me more like “I don't think it can exist”. It could exist, and AFAIR early versions of Android did have a mode to expose the SD card as USB mass storage. And this could still be done independently of the hardware, it's a software issue on the phone. I find the question problematic in this respect. Oct 26, 2015 at 23:20

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