The Dream Phone Initiative… Apple edition?

Due to a change in life circumstances, I need to switch from Android to the iPhone. I often equate the stress of getting a new phone to moving to a new apartment. Switching from Android to iOS feels like moving to a new country where I don’t speak the language.

My life with the smart phone cult

The smartphone has unified calling, messaging, and computing into a single, albeit flawed, package. The smartphone is more than just a mobile phone combined with a portable computer. It is a whole new category of technology. My only complaint about the smartphones is that when it comes to calling, messaging, and computing, smartphones suck compared to the computer and the telephone. The new thing that comes with smartphones is virtual assistants, like Siri or Alexa. Right now the technology is primitive. You give them commands and they either return a value or an error. It’s the verbal equivalent of DOS in the 1980’s. But that technology is getting better, at a dizzying rate.

Don’t get me wrong, I love smart phones, I have like 3 of them. I love being able to put all of those services into my pocket. It’s just that mobile communications, where I am on-the-go with no access to a desktop, laptop, or tablet, is maybe 40% of my life. The rest of the time I am at a desk, sitting on a couch, or lying in bed. You clearly cannot use a desktop computer when you are in line at the grocery checkout, but for every other situation, there is a much better tool for the job. I prefer to use my tablet when I am on the couch or in bed, and to use a PC and a desk phone when I am seated at a desk.

In general, a dedicated piece of equipment is a superior experience to item that tries to do multiple things at once. A desktop computer with multiple screens and a 104 key keyboard is the superior working/gaming experience. When it comes to talking on the phone, a full-sized business handset or speaker phone is best for long conference calls or talking on the phone while doing something else. When it comes to writing and reading messages, smartphone screens and keyboards, even on phones with 6 inch screens, are a pain to use.

I have been writing about my desire to have a single phone number for calling and texting that I can use on a desk phone, desktop computer, a laptop, and a tablet, as well as on my smartphone. I have been doing *most* of this through Google Voice. I ported my “real” telephone number over to GV more than a decade ago. Now, I use the GV app on my smartphone and iPad for calling and messaging. On a PC, I use the Google Voice website. There are tons of great features, like being able to use multiple phones for calling.

The phantasy fone

The “phone” of my dreams is a plain box with no screen that I wirelessly access with different screens. So, when I am at home, the box sits on an end table or night stand, and I can use a 10 inch touch screen with it. When I am in my office at work or at home, I can plug it in to a USB port and access everything from my desktop computer. When I am in the car, I can connect the box to my stereo head unit for music, navigation, and calling.

Separating the “phone” from the screen lets the device be as bulky and ugly as it needs to be and lets the hardware of the screen be as slim or large as it needs to be. Maybe you need an 8 inch screen. Maybe you miss the old 4.5 inch screens from 2012. Maybe you just need earbuds and a watch. Whatever user interface you may require, the calling, messaging, broadband, and your virtual assistant should work consistently regardless of the screen, keyboard, or lack thereof.

The thing that frustrates me about the separation of the computer and the smartphone is silly things like accessing files. Getting a file off of a network server and onto a smartphone is eye-gouging-ly frustrating. And the price per GB of storage space on a smartphone is outrageous. Now imagine completing the process of copying files, and paying the price for storage on a phone AND a tablet.

If the device that I am describing sounds like a mobile hotspot with an SD card, you would be close. The problem of course is that a lot of hotspots have difficulty with intense real-time media like Facetime or some online games. So it’s not just a fantasy about hardware, it’s a fantasy about breaking free from the rent-seeking that is baked into every facet of the smartphone.

The hour grows late and Chris rides to The Apple Store seeking my counsel.

So now I am on the eve of changing over from Android and Google Voice to iOS and iMessage. Yes, I could continue to use GV on iOS. But I think that just giving in and doing it the Apple way will yield better results. Apple prefers iMessage for SMS, and will let you send messages even when you have no service. Also, iMessage and Facetime is the way that all of my children prefer to contact me, and right now it only works when I have my iPad.

There are a few challenges to this plan, however. Such as making calls and receiving calls from a desk phone. I am looking into an analog handset and a Bluetooth link for the mobile phone. I am also looking into getting a Mac Mini for desktop use of iMessage and Facetime. Using iMessage from my latop when I am at work is another challenge. I am looking at software to connect my phone to my laptop through Bluetooth. The issue with buying all of this Apple crap IS the incredibly hefty price tag. A used iPhone is close to a thousand dollars. A used Mac Mini is more than half that. Not to mention the electronic waste associated with replacing phones and computers.

Love, Death, and Laptops

Wall-E holding a pile of srapTo combat the waste problem, I am also contemplating a lifecycle management plan for the electronics in my life. The idea is spend this next year buying the gadgetry that makes up my smartphone/tablet arsenal and then vow not to buy any more for four years. I know that this is a difficult challenge since I am like a dope fiend for gadgets. I chose 4 years because I have 3 basic technology hobbies: gaming, homelab, and amateur radio. I figure 1 year I buy/upgrade Apple gear: phone, tablet, watch, ear buds, the next I buy a gaming PC, then a servers for the cluster, and on year 4: focus on upgrading the gadgetry that I use for my radio activities.

I still have some Android gear, and pretty much always will. When it comes to utilities like wifi scanners Android really can’t be beat. I also have a second phone that I use for outdoor adventures, which given the price of an iPhone, will now see significantly more use when I’m outside.

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