Have I bought my last smartphone? I really kind of hope so.


Yes, this is another post about goddamned phones. One of these days (soon?) I’ll exhaust my own interest in this subject, but until then…

This is an update of sorts to my previous semi-anti-Android essay, and a continuation of my quasi-anti-smartphonesingeneral post. Topics to be discussed:

Jump to whichever one bores you the least, or just read on.

Android: I like it much more now (but I still don’t love it)

Almost all of my gripes about the Android operating system have been extinguished now that I finally have a phone — the Droid Incredible — with a chip fast enough to run 2.1 without crashing every other second. Basically, the damn thing just works when I tap the screen, so I’m more or less a happy camper. Plus, it’s very pretty. In its case, it could practically pass for an older-gen iPhone:

mmm... iPhoney

Of course, having it look so much like an iPhone only makes some of the design details that are not iPhoney all the more apparent. The nice round button on the bottom front? Just like the iPhone! The fact that it’s a next-to-useless optical joystick instead of something more obviously functional, like “power on”? Not iPhoney. D’oh. (I take cold comfort in knowing that because it’s Android, I could theoretically hack the phone to give the round button that functionality, but I’m not a hacker and never will be, so… yeah.) Also, it’s just slightly larger/longer than an iPhone, which means it feels just ever so slightly too big in my hand/pocket. Just a smidge on the brick side of things. The bigger screen is nice, but I don’t really care much since I’m not watching movies on this thing (I have no idea how I would, without a deadsimple iTunes-like app); I actually prefer the smaller size/easier grippability of the Droid Eris.

But overall I’m very, very pleased with it. And hey, with that 1Ghz of processing power under the hood, I can run all kinds of cool-ass apps now that I couldn’t before on my pokey Eris!

But I don’t.

The truth is that after a day spent crackheadishly downloading and installing all kinds of goodies like Layar, Google Goggles, Foursquare, etc etc, I just ended up deleting all of ’em… because after the novelty wears off, I just don’t use or care about any of that crap. My homescreen is boring: functional necessities like Maps, Gmail and Voice Search, a shortcut to dial my wife, and a few clock/weather/calendar widgets. That’s the stuff that Google and HTC actually do well, so I might as well stick to it.

Basically, I realized that I don’t want to be fiddling/playing with “cool stuff” on my phone all the time. Ironically, Android’s overall “B+” nature makes that much easier. Which is why I may like it, but I’ll never lurrrrrrrrvv it like I probably would an iPhone. It’s just a tool, not a lifestyle.

After I came to that realization I went even further, and turned off Gmail notifications and buried my Twitter client in the bottom of the app drawer. After all, if I don’t want to be fondling and staring at my phone every other second, why should I set it up to be constantly tempting me with dings and pings and sleektouchythings?

So, yeah: I bought a top-market smartphone just so I could be-dumben it. Oh, this modern world…

iPhone: You’ve lost my trust, and you’re not getting it back

Meanwhile, there I was lusting from the sidelines over the iPhone 4, hoping that it would come to Verizon eventually, and licking my chops in anticipation of that blessed moment.

Then, just like that, I wasn’t. Not because the iPhone’s industrial design was faulty — although that’s quite a blow — but more because of how they’re handling it, and what that says to me about how much I can trust them going forward.

Apple’s brand image rests heavily on their supposedly rock-solid synthesis of stellar design and top-notch function/usability. Up until now, their products have borne out that loyalty. Sure, iPhones have had their niggling issues, but what wasn’t AT&T’s fault seemed pretty minor. And regarding the whole open-vs-closed debate, I couldn’t give two shits. Apple’s line was, “If you want it to be this good, it has to be done our way,” and I accepted it because it was true.

Now they’ve released a significantly-flawed product whose flaws are literally baked into that product as a result of its (outwardly pleasing) design. Those flashy design elements (band antenna, specially-treated glass) they made so much hay about on apple.com are actually the source of the product’s fatal flaws.

Apple’s bad design resulted in a bad product. This is shocking. This is like saying water isn’t wet. But it has finally happened. Apple’s vaunted design has jumped the shark — there’s damning and mounting evidence implying that beautiful, sexy form has finally trumped solid, A-grade function at Apple.

So here’s where the trust part comes in. Apple has actually made crappily designed, bad products before. But to my knowledge, they have never flat-out lied about it before now. They have never just plain said, “black is white, and up is down. Your argument is invalid.” Until now. So far, Apple has said that the iPhone 4 problems

When other companies try to pull this shit and get called out on it, no one debates whether or not they were flat-out lying to cover their ass: it’s just obvious. But when Apple does it, we see partisan reality-bending that would make Fox News blush. (Any Daring Fireball fans reading this: Yes, I do read Gizmodo; no, I do not think they are scummy hacks conducting a smear campaign. I think they are reporting major flaws that real, live humans are experiencing and that Apple is denying, obfuscating or downplaying instead of solving — and they’re not the only ones reporting it. Are these problems happening to every user? No. Does that mean that those problems therefore do not exist, and that those people who are experiencing them should be made to feel like they’re crazy, or be essentially told to fuck off? Also no.)

A company that behaves like this does not value you as a consumer of their products. They cannot be trusted. Ergo, Apple can no longer be trusted. (At least not in the phone business. I still think their computers are the best money can buy.)

So, this is all just a long-winded way of saying: Verizon iPhone or no Verizon iPhone, beautiful design, great apps, the whole ball of wax — I can’t trust ’em, so none of that matters to me anymore. They’ve lost me as a potential customer for that particular product, and considerably damaged the overall loyalty I have to their vaunted brand. I’ll probably stay an Android user by default, if only because Google hasn’t gone out of their way to flip me the bird.

I hope I never have to buy another one of these #@$*ing devices ever again (but probably will)

All this bullshit (which, I’ll fully admit, I have a borderline-unhealthy fixation on) has gotten me thinking this summer about how and why I got onto this crazy smartphone train, and how or if I might ever get off of it.

A few weeks ago I was having dinner with some dear friends visiting from out of town. My wife was coming late to meet us, so we all had our phones on the table to catch her call. And I could not stop staring at my friend Rachel’s phone. A slinky new iPhone? A specced-out Android powerhouse? Some sci-fi Korean gadget that won’t reach our market for 5 years? Nope. It was just a cheap plastic candybar Nokia dumbphone.

It was well-designed. It was sturdy-looking. It had a color screen and buttons in easy-to-reach places that looked like they felt good to touch. It was small.

I wanted it.

Not in a rational, “I wished to go and purchase one” kind of way — more like in that purely emotional, scratch-an-itch, iPhoney kind of way.

Crazy, right? I’m not sure. The same feeling cascaded over me a few days later when I saw one of Rachel’s sustainability-geek friends using a phone designed for customers in the third world. E-ink screen, mega battery life, lightweight minimimalist design, virtually indestructible… and dumb as a rock.

My Droid Incredible, per its name, has powers that are indistinguishable from magic. It’s gorgeous and I often find myself playing with it like Gollum with the One Ring. But it’s also fragile, expensive, and already headed for obsolescence — a very real concern when your phone is essentially a computer. Its amazing powerful-ness really means that it’s occupying a slice of my attention almost continuously, even when I’m not actively using it — some semi-conscious part of me is wondering if its battery needs charging, or whether I can find a cooler background picture — maybe I’ll take one with my new camera app? — or whether it’s in danger of slipping out of my pocket and shattering, or what new Tweets have come in just now, or whether Froyo will be available soon, or whether I left the GPS transmitter on because I didn’t exit out of Maps, or I just wonder what else has happened online since I last tapped that lovely-looking AMOLED screen?

Plenty of that is cool and fun and interesting to pay attention to, sometimes. But I can’t help but wonder if that attentional “payment” constantly being deducted is worth it, in exchange for that smartphoney magic and powerful-ness. After all, before I got a smartphone, I never knew what I was missing. And I survived. And as I admitted way, way above, I’m already configuring my smartphone to act “less smart,” so I’m clearly wary of its ability to constantly suck at my awareness.

Could I go back to dumb after experiencing smart? A lot of things about dumbphones are a pain in the ass, but only in relation to how much easier they are to do on smartphones, if at all. Maybe by going backwards, I’d just be reclaiming that tiny attentional dividend to spend on other things besides How Easy/Difficult It Is to Do Various Things on My Phone.

Or maybe I’d just want to shoot myself.

What I do know is that smartphones do one thing really, really well, perhaps better than anything else: they make you consider what your next one should be like. I’m doing it right now. And now that I’ve opted-in, this hedonic tech-treadmill will keep carrying me forward automatically. Unless at some point I decide that I’m upgraded and connected enough. But that’s the thing about computers, and therefore smartphones — they’re always morphing and getting more flexible and extensible, and it’s hard not to want to go with the flow, as your old/current one gets to the inevitable point where it can’t keep up, even for simple tasks. Opting-out completely and going back to a non-computer just-a-phone dumbphone is one possible response to that problem, but it’s kind of like the nuclear option.

Something to consider, I guess, when my current contract is up.


4 Responses to “Have I bought my last smartphone? I really kind of hope so.”

  1. 1 Mims

    Truer words were never spoken. But you forgot the part where your phone company gets to extract $1000 a year from your bank account, or around twice what you’d pay for voice alone.

  2. 2 Me

    You mean one should consider the ultra-nuclear option of not having a cell at all and just using Skype…? I’m confused about your point.

  3. 3 Me

    OH wait… you’re referring to the very significant real-life payment that actually comes out of my bank account for smarphone data plans, in addition to the handwavey “attentional payment” I discussed above. 🙂

    Yeah. There is that.

  4. 4 Megan

    I enjoyed this article. I don’t have a smartphone, though my husband does – a Droid. If there’s one thing he hates about it, it’s having to bring his work with him everywhere he goes. I’ve never seriously considered getting one, but this article makes me feel very good about sticking with my crappy old dumb phone. Besides, there’s nothing worse than hanging out with a friend for the first time in a while, and they’re on their freaking smartphone the whole time…

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