Satellites use accelerometers, batteries, software that can be updated from the cloud, cameras, LED lights and more. And as such satellites have led us to what is now a common lifestyle; having a smartphone with you all the time. I wanted to reflect on how my use of smartphones have changed over the past few years.
I haven’t owned as much phones, smartphone or otherwise, as most other people. I have owned just six phones over the past fifteen years, though really I have only used four, because one of those was stolen after just two weeks, and another became unusable after just a day due to a software bug. There were no over-the-air software updates, so that was that.
Three of the remaining phones are considered to be smartphones. I got my first smartphone in 2010. In the time between I had exclusively used Personal Digital Assistants, or PDAs, of all shapes and sizes. They didn't get stolen, because nobody knew what they were for, and they had swappable batteries, and were cheap most of the time. I still have my HP 300LX palmtop, it was the most expensive, but it still works even though I got it in the late nineties.
Because I’m not out on the road a lot, I don’t have a mobile plan. This means that every smartphone I buy costs full price. My first smartphone was iPhone 3GS (iPhone 3G S on the box) and it costs €520 at the time. Today the cheapest iPhone costs €700. Realistically, because the iPhone’s hardware is fragile you also need a case, and because the cable is not standard I also need an adapter. In other words, the actual costs would be something closer to €750.
It should come at no surprise then that I switched to Android, but not only for price reasons. My second smartphone, HTC’s HTC One X, came with Android 4, which I considered to be the first release of Android that was mature. The then newest iPhone costs €610, which was a combination of price increase as well as a taxation increase. By contrast, HTC One X, which had a considerably faster processor, much bigger screen, more memory and other things, cost €454.
That’s still a lot of money, but at least it was going to work really well, and not require adapters or cables. At the time, most of the applications that I needed were also available for Android, most of them free when their counterparts for iOS costed money. One great benefit that some Android-based smartphones have is that their batteries last more than a day.
Finally last year I got my Nexus 5, my current smartphone, for just €370, half the price of iPhone. My previous smartphone had a notification light, but it was the tiniest LED I had ever seen. But I liked the idea and had gotten used to it, so I’m glad that the LED on Nexus 5 was much bigger. Having a pulsating LED means you can turn off notification sounds for notifications that aren’t time critical, like a notification of a reply to a tweet. Instead the LED will pulsate blue, and I will know it’s Twitter related. It is simply more peaceful.
Android smartphones can be made more secure out of the box. Even though iPhone smartphones have a fingerprint sensor, you can still access the data on these devices by plugging them in and using simple software to access their files. Apple offer protection against this, but only using special software you wouldn’t ordinarily have and the tools are unsuitable for most people. Android offers the ability to lock software-based access to the device when the device is locked with just a simple checkbox.
Neither of these solutions are great if somebody has extended physical access to your device, but it will prevent anyone from snooping around if you’re not paying attention and leave your smartphone on the table while you head for the bathroom.
The type of apps I use and have used on my smartphones over the years has mostly stayed the same or have evolved in some way. I used to have various converter apps on my devices, for converting U.S. dollars to euro. I don’t need this anymore, because the value of the dollar is roughly identical with the increased taxation Ireland currently has. If Irish taxation increased further, I still would not need the app, because I simply would not buy in Irish euro any longer, as the local value would be too low. Put differently, it would be cheaper to fly to any given E.U. country and buy it there.
I also used to convert mile to kilometre, and similar conversions, but those can now be achieved through my search engine of choice. I don’t frequently use search engines either, but for the odd time I still use them if needed.
I still use a third-party Twitter app, a third-party web browser, a third-party reading app, and a third-party messaging app. Something you can't do on iPhone's iOS is change the app launcher. I'm happy with Apex Launcher for Android, which I have been using. Some of the annoyances of the default launcher that Google offers are that it has a search bar a the top. As I said, I don’t search often, so that is useless to me, and it can’t be turned off. Apps can have beautifully designed icons that are perfectly recognisable without their name underneath them. Apex Launcher fixes all these issues.
I also like to have my own choice of what icons each app has, because some apps don't have the greatest icons. I also like to have some consistency. For all of Google's design efforts of late, their icons are all over the place. I really like the Belle UI icon pack. I have since bought the paid versions of Apex Launcher and Belle UI.
I also use Event Flow Calendar Widget, which are two calendar widgets which are highly customisable. At the time Google’s Google Calendar widget wasn’t ideal. It’s better now that it has been updated, but of course I had already switched ages ago.
Unfortunately, Android is complete rubbish when it comes to support for calendars on anything that uses the standard CalDAV protocol. Rubbish, because it doesn't support it in any way out of the box. Fortunately, there is CalDAV-Sync. Having tried several CalDAV adapter type apps, this one is the best and works with Android 5 without a hitch. I can use Google's Google Calendar app and Event Flow, with my Fastmail calendar this way.
I am browsing more and more on my smartphone, and less on my tablet and notebook. Responsive web-design has basically made this possible. Gone are the days of special website with different functionality depending on what size screen you're using as your looking glass. I used some reading apps such as Google's Play Newsstand, but I have used it less since their most recent redesign. The actual content starts halfway down the screen now, and it's just not efficient any more. I already did most of my reading on my Kindle Voyage, and will continue to do so it seems.
Even though Android 5 has broken a lot of things, I’m happy with it overall. There is a consistency of look and feel between the apps that I use, which is great. I’m sure that developers aren’t as happy. I see it from the eyes of a customer though. Having every app look different just makes everything feel disconnected. What if every sheet of paper had a slightly different shape depending on which manufacturer of paper you chose? What if the front element of your camera’s lens was different depending on the brand? You get my point.
You may notice that I haven’t brought up the word tablet yet. The truth is that I’m using my tablet less and less, and I am seeing this behaviour in other people as well. The core difference between a tablet and a smartphone is that only the latter is a lifestyle device. A tablet is a literal hybrid between a smartphone and a notebook, and that’s all it may ever be. Being a hybrid means it has a little bit of both sides of the computational spectrum. In other words, it overlaps.
I can do half of what I can do on my tablet on my notebook, and the other half on my smartphone. Basically speaking, a tablet is an extra device, it doesn’t stand on its own like a smartphone does. Tablets can only make a comeback if they fine a way to do something unique, rather than offering a way to do things you already can do elsewhere. I don’t think I’ll become a tablet person otherwise. Then again, I’m not a smartphone person either.