Kicking and Screaming into the Future

By Shamus Posted Sunday Nov 9, 2014

Filed under: Personal 148 comments

We’ve talked about it on the podcast at various points, but I’m still using a 2008 style flip phone. Like so:

Inside, there’s a panel of 12 buttons, perfectly sized for infants and hobbits. Dialing a number on this thing is literally like trying to type with boxing gloves on.
Inside, there’s a panel of 12 buttons, perfectly sized for infants and hobbits. Dialing a number on this thing is literally like trying to type with boxing gloves on.

I did have a smartphone here that I used for testing the mobile version of my site (passed on by someone who didn’t need it anymore) but I never really learned anything about it beyond loading up a single website. (This one.)

But now my wife has upgraded her smartphone, and her old smartphone was passed to me. So I have officially joined the rest of the world:

It’s an old model, but it feels like the future to me.
It’s an old model, but it feels like the future to me.

I don’t know what kind it is, and I don’t even know how to check. In fact, after poking at the thing for half an hour or so my behavior was alarmingly similar to that of my grandfather when he was setting up a new VCR in 1987. I am spending more time being annoyed and perplexed than excited and amused. This is more worrisome than any of the aches and pains I associate with age.

I’d get on some screen, realize it wasn’t what I wanted, and then have no idea how to get back to where I just was. Eventually I gave up and used the “power” button on the top edge. It’s not a real power button, of course. It just turns off the screen and resets you to the front page. So I’d turn the screen off and on again every time I hit a navigational dead-end. I recognized this as classic old-man behavior, but I didn’t care. I was already busy trying to puzzle out three different things, and I didn’t want to drop all of those so I could figure out this new interface.

The answer, of course, is staring you right in the face in the screenshot above. In the lower right corner is a perfectly obvious back button. It took me a while to realize why this took me so long, if you follow me.

I’d mentally filtered out all of those edge buttons, with the expectation that the interface would exist entirely on the screen. I’ve spent my life ignoring the little buttons that frame a typical display. I mean, when I’m trying to figure out a website I don’t press the contrast button on my monitor to see if that does anything useful. The buttons on the screen are the interface, and the buttons around the screen are for manipulating the device itself. I was, without realizing it, using a wrong and inappropriate mental model for this new device.

Suddenly my grandfather’s flailing makes a lot more sense. He wasn’t dumb. It wasn’t that his brain has slowed down. (At least, not in 1987.) It was that he was dragging around six decades of preconceived notions and prior expectations and trying to fit this new thing into that old paradigm. I was a teenager. I didn’t have those expectations, and so I was open to possibilities that would have seemed unreasonable to him. What? You need to hold down two buttons at the same time to do one thing? Why? Also, I was a teenager with lots of free time, so I didn’t resent confusion as a drain on my precious few days off.

My experience with this device is full of moments like this. Most of them don’t take me a humiliating half hour to figure out, but they still happen. It does something other than what I expect when I poke an icon. When I drag the screen. When I hit the back button. The problem isn’t that I don’t know how the interface works, the problem is that I expect to know how it works and keep discovering I’m wrong.

Amazingly, this phone costs me the same as the old one, even though the old one didn’t even do text messaging and the new one is more or less a full internet device.

This is an interesting little adventure. I’m doing my best not to mutter at it while I figure it out.

 


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148 thoughts on “Kicking and Screaming into the Future

  1. Adeon says:

    I’m in a similar state. One of these days I really need to buy a smartphone and join the 21st century.

    1. General Karthos says:

      I don’t know why you’d need a smart phone, honestly, unless you’re always out of the house and away from all the OTHER devices you have that connect to the internet. Hell, I didn’t even bother with a cell phone until I went away to college (2006). My phone makes phone calls, and it texts people, and that’s everything I need.

      1. MichaelG says:

        Yeah, I have an old man’s flip phone too. The battery life is getting shorter and shorter though, and at some point I’m going to have to decide. Do I get another flip phone just because that’s all I need, or (for the same price) do I get a smart phone?

        Can you stay in the past on principle or does that just make you an old fart?

        1. Humanoid says:

          The thing is, with the battery life of your old phone is getting shorter and shorter, all it’s doing is slowly getting down to the maximum battery life of a new smartphone. So if that’s one of your priorities, a smartphone isn’t for you.

          It boggles my mind that a high-end smartphone is expected to be charged daily, but such is the price of cramming more and more gadgets into one tiny box. In contrast, a modern dumbphone might last a couple weeks, maybe more, with a single charge.

          1. guy says:

            It’s a matter of physics. The smaller you make a transistor of the same material, the lower the resistance across the closed path and the more current flows while it’s closed.

            1. Blackbeard the Pirate says:

              I am doing a project on CPUs at uni, and your comment interests me. The number of transistors has increased exponentially according to Moore’s law, but power use has increased more or less linearly.

              Surely the energy cost isn’t an increase per transistor, more because there are just billions more of them?

              1. guy says:

                I’m talking about leakage current. In an ideal transistor, the resistance across the closed path is infinite and no current flows when closed, while the resistance across the open path is zero. Neither of these are true in reality. As the transistors get smaller, the first one gets less true and the second one gets more true. The first determines current use when the chip is powered but idle, and the second determines current use when doing stuff.

                Obviously, if you disconnect the source voltage entirely this stops mattering, but it’s unlikely you’re going to be able to do that selectively.

                1. nm says:

                  Alright, so leakage does start to dominate as transistors get smaller, but that’s why there’s so much dark silicon in the world. Modern chips do disconnect the source voltage selectively from large areas of silicon when they’re not in use. And when they’re needed, they operate for less time (because they’re faster) and with less power (because switching is cheaper).

            2. nm says:

              Yeah, this is just wrong. Smaller transistors use _less_ power, not more. That’s why I built a computer in 2000 with a 200W power supply and my (according to Moore’s law) (2^9)-times-as-powerful modern desktop uses a 150W PSU. There are other considerations here, like dark silicon, but even if you get a pure die shrink your chip will draw less power.

              The reason smartphones use more power than their older dumber counterparts is because they do more. They have apps running in the background checking your email. Their screens are big and bright and power hungry. There’s the bluetooth radio talking to your watch and the wifi radio talking to your wap. They have GPUs and quad-core CPUs instead of little dinky embedded processors.

              Incidentally, if you’re interested in the physics, look at the power required for transistors to switch between on and off. That’s where most of the power consumption in a CPU comes from.

              1. guy says:

                Smaller transistors use less power when they’re on, because the resistance across the open path is lower. However, when you’ve got a phone in sleep mode in your pocket, the transistors are mostly closed.

              2. Eric says:

                Smartphones can last nearly as long as dumbphones if you disable all the apps, don’t use the screen, disable data, keep it in standby often, etc. Of course, then you lose the reason you’d want a smartphone in the first place…

          2. Sigilis says:

            It’s a matter of utility, you’d have to charge your old feature phone a heck of a lot more if you had any reason to use it other than just to talk. The radio in that thing is only maintaining a high power link when you deign to answer the phone, whereas a smartphone is expected to keep you in the loop at every moment of every day. You get push email, Twitter notifications, wifi tethering and all manner of semi-transient photo messaging apps which can be used to share perfectly reasonable things.

            Note: if you don’t have those and you barely use the phone, it can last a very very long time. Battery tests are predicated on constant use over that interval, not typical of daily use in my experience.

            1. MrPyro says:

              Yeah, it can be worth installing a power management app and seeing if any of the high battery drain options can be turned off if you don’t need them.

              For example, if you’re out of the house and just on the street, chances are you don’t need to be scanning every WiFi network you walk past.

          3. Wide And Nerdy says:

            The battery life on a Note 4 is much better. I can easily go a day and a half or more of normal use without running out and thats not counting the Ultra Power Saving mode that purportedly wrings another 24 hours out of the last 10%. My brother reports a similar experience with the iPhone 6.

            Fast charging is a thing that will make smartphones viable too. Mine can charge to full in about an hour. I’ve heard there are models coming soon that will charge in 15 minutes and researchers have discovered a new biodegradable battery that will charge in 2 minutes and will retain its charging capacity for 20 years.

            1. Peter H. Coffin says:

              That’ll complicate things. Changing a 2-hour charge time to 2 minutes means 60 times the current, which means moving up about 15 wire gauges. A thin USB has about 30 gauge wire in it. 15-gauge wire is about what’s in a heavy-duty computer power cable. 14- and 12-gauge is used in house wiring. OR it means proportionally higher voltage. Charging by 12 volts instead of 5 would mean only a 30-fold increase in current, and you can probably handle that with 18-gauge wire, which is like… lamp cord. That’s still a pretty big plug, and you’re out of the realm of being able to share a connector with USB.

              1. nm says:

                There are some proposals out there for high-voltage (I’ve heard 50V mentioned) USB charging standards. Personally, I don’t think it’s going to go anywhere any time soon, but it would enable some super fast charging (possibly with a change in battery technology).

      2. Mephane says:

        I also don’t have a smartphone yet, not because I couldn’t find good use for it while commuting, but because I find them far too expensive* for the benefit of portable internet access for those 2 hours dialy, when I could just as well read a book on the Kindle instead.

        *Not necessarily the smartphones themselves, depending on your contract you get them cheap or for free, but the contracts, which are ridiculous. 50MB/s mobile bandwidth for only 30€/month! … scroll down… 2000MB transfer volume included. Like, yeah, at that bandwidth I can use up my monthly data volume in half an hour. (Yes that is not typo. 2GB advertised as 2000MB, because that looks like it is a big number nowadays.)

        Oh and of course it’s a 2 year contract that cannot be cancelled once it has begun, and you better send us a letter written on dead trees 3 months in advance of the end of that period or you’ll get another year automatically added.

        1. Rick C says:

          “you'll get another year automatically added.”

          Oh, look, someone finally pointed out a place where US cell providers are better!

          1. Felblood says:

            Meh.

            We’ll get you for another two years when you take your “Free” upgrade.

            Though granted that is fading away in favor of “0% down” financing on your upgrade phone, with termination clauses that are even worse than contract termination fees.

            My $1 Wal-mart phone? $150 at $10 a month, if I finance it through my carrier. These markups are obscene, and they only exist so that they can threaten to make you pay it in full, if you cancel your service.

        2. harborpirate says:

          I’m a pretty heavy internet user on my phone each day, and I usually come up short of 2GB per month (I got a free bump higher than that, and I have my phone set to shut off data use when it gets close to my limit).

          What would you be using on a phone that would pull down 2GB in a day, let alone a half hour? I mean it’s not like you’d want to torrent a Linux ISO to your phone or anything.

          Are the phone companies predatory and eager to charge for anything? Sure. But competition keeps them in check such that your average user doesn’t get killed by massive overages. They only anger and alienate the 1% on the far end of the curve.

          1. Felblood says:

            Netflix.

            More than half the traffic on the net is HD video, and most of that is Netflix.

            Does anyone need 1080P resolutions to watch daytime TV on a 5 inch screen? –even if it’s a foot from your face, can you really tell the difference? People are sure paying for a lot of extra bandwidth, wether they get anything out of it or not.

      3. Adeon says:

        Well in my case I’m leaning towards a smartphone because my old iPod is also reaching the end of it’s useful lifespan. Getting a smartphone allows me to combine two gadgets that I need (phone and mp3 player) into one.

      4. adam says:

        At the risk of sounding like a jerk:

        “I don't know why you'd need a smart phone, honestly”

        That’s the classic Luddite attitude and it’s kind of silly. It’s the same attitude that leads the CEOs of Verizon and Comcast to claim that there is no demand for gigabit broadband in the US. Just because you can’t see the reasons for something to exist, especially having never actually used it yourself, doesn’t mean such reasons don’t exist and aren’t perfectly valid.

        Of course nobody really needs a smartphone. We also don’t need televisions, or radios, or video games, or computers, or the internet, or indoor plumbing. But I’d sure rather live in a world where those things exist than in a world where they don’t, and if everyone had your attitude that’s where we’d be.

        It’s not “cool” to be out of date or use less technology. Nobody thinks it’s awesome that someone doesn’t use Facebook and hasn’t watched TV in a month, and it’s annoying when they announce it as though we should.

        1. nm says:

          I think it’s awesome when people don’t use Facebook.

          1. adam says:

            Okay, in aggregate, yes. I do too.

            1. General Karthos says:

              Calling me a luddite for stating that I don’t think people need smartphones isn’t risking making you sound like a jerk. It DOES make you sound like a jerk.

              But leaving that aside, like you said, nobody needs a smart phone. (Which is what I said. I don’t see why you NEED a smartphone.) But I never said I don’t know why you’d WANT a smartphone. Those are two entirely different conversations. I never judged people for WANTING smart phones. I don’t even judge them for feeling they need smart phones.

              My attitude is not that technological advancement is bad, which is what you seem to be stating that it is. Again, you’re putting words in my mouth and making an unwarranted assumption. (Which is pretty much what your entire post consists of.) I’m also not saying that using an old style phone makes me cool any more than not using indoor plumbing would make me cool.

              What I AM saying is that I can wait ten minutes to get home to determine the grizzly bear population of North America. It’s cool that you don’t have to wait. (I’m sure you could if you wanted to, but you don’t have to.) It’s cool that you can do that on your phone. I’m a little jealous of the fact that you have a smart phone, but when I look at my list of priorities, it’s way down towards the bottom. I WANT a smart phone. But I don’t need one. And seeing as I’m in crippling debt to the U.S. government because I decided to get a college degree, I certainly can’t AFFORD one.

              If I NEEDED a smart phone, I could make room in my budget for one, probably by not paying for heat and subsequently freezing to death in the winter. But I don’t NEED a smart phone. I’m not a luddite. I’m just on a very tight budget, and the newest technology costs money that I don’t have.

              EDIT: Apologies for calling you a jerk. Not gonna edit my post to remove it, because I said it, and I should own up to it.

              I also don’t use Facebook.

              But I do use electricity, and I’m writing this from a computer, and I cook my food in a microwave just as readily as in an oven. (Though I prefer the oven when I have the time to spare, but who doesn’t?) And I do have indoor plumbing as well.

              1. adam says:

                I didn’t call you a Luddite. I said your attitude is Luddite.

                The argument between “want” and “need” is essentially semantic outside of the most basic requirements of human life. Instead we should be discussing quality of life. Do smartphones contribute to or detract from that? Depends on the person.

                I use my smartphone primarily for the following reasons:

                Texting
                Calling
                Internet access
                GPS

                Those four things are invaluable to me. Now, the first two I don’t need a smartphone for, but the latter two I do and they’re just as important to me. I need internet access for my job. Having it on my phone makes me better at my job. GPS prevents me from getting lost on at least a bi-weekly basis, if not more often, and in an unfamiliar environment it’s practically indispensable. I remember as a kid my dad navigating streets in strange cities when we went on vacation by using paper maps. He was good at it. And yet the moment something better came along (GPS, particularly on smartphones), there was no hesitation on his part to switch.

                The point is that claiming you don’t “need” a smartphone is kind of pointless, because we know that. Nobody “needs” a smartphone in the narrow definition you seem to be suggesting we use. Nobody “needs” a lot of things they have. But they sure are nice, and make life a lot more pleasant.

        2. Noumenon72 says:

          Also, to people who actually do need their smartphones, it makes you sound just dumb. No, I don’t need a calendar, flashlight, calculator, shopping list, camera, workout tracker, GPS, or access to Internet how-tos, why would I ever need such things when I could just carry around stone tablets and an abacus everywhere?

      5. rofltehcat says:

        It is very handy. I don’t need all the internet stuff either but I have a lot of music and podcasts on it as well as an e-reader app that works surprisingly well. I also have simple versions of board games on it (e.g. Catan, Carcassone).

        I can count the moments I need to use its internet functions on one hand per year. Accordingly I pay the 0,30 € or so it costs me to look something up instead of having a monthly flatrate (of 5-7 €, can’t remember).

        The only thing I’m missing is whatsapp but people can hit me up on facebook any time because I’ll be at home most of the time (or will not want to be distracted when doing other stuff).

    2. Humanoid says:

      I found myself needing a replacement phone at some point last year ….so I bought a new dumbphone that costs more than some smartphones. The thing is though, it’s not (just) a case of obstinance, my phone usage is so low that I easily get by with a net $5/month credit allocation (in reality $30 every 6 months). I suspect that with a smartphone, this budget would blow out in a major way.

      1. Lanthanide says:

        “I suspect that with a smartphone, this budget would blow out in a major way.”

        Why? I use about $5/month (or less) on my phone. Just txting. I don’t use mobile data. I just use wifi connections.

        1. Humanoid says:

          From, y’know, the features that make a smartphone a smartphone. Sure, I imagine I could turn them all off (at least I’d hope I’d be able to), but then that kind of defeats the point of a smartphone in the first place (with the poor battery life and awkward ergonomics as a ‘bonus’).

          Free Wi-fi coverage is spotty and security concerns would mean I’d also only be accessing a subset of features that I would on a secure connection.

          1. Sigilis says:

            RE: poor battery life,

            Do you live in an place where you cannot get access to an electrical outlet or USB port for a few hours once a day?

            For the Wi-Fi thing, other than ensuring that you access things via HTTPS there is a security risk, a mild one unless you are a secret agent person whose privacy and anonymity are literally life or death. You can basically eliminate it by running OpenVPN software on the system that you trust, though that takes a bit of labor to set up so you might not want to.

            An aside to the non-smartphone owning public:

            I’m kinda emphatic about this point because I don’t hire people without cell phones, and people without smart phones better be some kind of savant because I have to get them a company smart phone to make them useful. It has to do with my line of work, and my company (which relies on all that cloud stuff that people make fun of but legitimately revolutionized small business). But it also has to do with the fact that you lack the ability to look stuff up on the fly and communicate with me via email and a hundred other things. The damn machines are a force multiplier that is indescribably useful when you are trying to punch outside your weight class.

            There is an upside, though, I can hire people without smartphones for basically nothing since they are otherwise unemployable. Welcome to the future, get your damn CASIE aug.

            1. Humanoid says:

              Oh I work at a desk eight hours a day where I have a micro-USB cable permanently attached to the PC available. But it doesn’t mean I *remember* to use it. Heck, more than a few times I’ve been caught with a flat electric toothbrush – and that thing is next to the charger base 24/7. Regardless of accessibility, it’s still very liberating to not have to care about that kind of routine and just have the phone be something that lives permanently in my pocket.

              And yeah, desk job, so if I’m not at my desk, work has no right to be contacting me anyway. :P

              EDIT: To expand a bit, I only first got a mobile phone when I started a full time job, but it wasn’t the job per se that was responsible, it was the moving out (indeed moving cities) that did it. A landline costs almost $30/month. The cheapest prepaid mobile plan works out to a hair under $5/month, no brainer.

              1. Daimbert says:

                Same here. I have a cell phone that I often don’t carry with me and that about three people know the number to (and I’m not one of them), but I’ve commented that if I’m not at my desk and I’m not at home no one really needs to contact me that badly. I use it for emergencies, and so carry it in my jacket in the winter and when I drive on a longer trip. I can check E-mail from home if necessary, but I’m not Inspector Gadget; I’m not always on duty [grin].

                So in the rare case that my work needs me to be in touch 24 hours a day, they can — and have provided to other people at least — a phone to use. Since they don’t do that for me, it’s safe to assume that they don’t need that [grin].

                1. Trix2000 says:

                  This was basically me until I got my smartphone. For a while I didn’t see a good reason to get one – my old phone worked just fine for calls and stuff, right?

                  The thing is, after a while I started observing other people with theirs – mostly with my family – and started noticing what they were able to do with them. Eventually that turned into finding myself wishing I had one at a given moment (usually to look something up on the fly).

                  And when I finally got one, it completely changed my outlook. Things like being able to look things up online anywhere at a reasonable speed, always having a GPS handy, and more. I don’t actually use it THAT much all the time (you won’t find my nose buried in the thing all that often… I prefer a computer if I have one) but for those less-common occasions on the go it has proven VERY useful to me.

                  Still, it’s not strictly necessary to have. But I don’t think I’d want to go without anymore.

                2. Sigilis says:

                  Please don’t make fun of the good Inspector, he’s been through an awful trauma that he certainly didn’t request.

            2. krellen says:

              My smart-phone-required job doesn’t make me more useful, it makes me more dangerous. I am required to keep my status updated, which means my job basically requires me to break the law and text while driving. It’s a public nuisance, not a “force multiplier”.

              1. Sigilis says:

                I dunno what you mean, as far as a force multiplier, if your company’s goal is to get you to hit as many pedestrians as possible that’s the way to do it.

                Also, why in the name of all that is holy do you have to do anything for them to know your status while you’re driving? The beauty of a smartphone is that you can get it to send data from its sensors automatically, and only theoretically (if your company is super obsessed with wasting your time) have you put in general status changes like “Lunch” or “Curing World Peace” or whatever but before you are underway.

                The problem in this case may be your company not your phone.

                1. krellen says:

                  The issue is that I often am driving for 2-4 hours, and can only let a ticket sit unclaimed for an hour before they start harassing me about it.

                  1. Hankelhankel says:

                    It is obviously a wrong policy and you should make it known to the proper people, then. If you could set your status to “driving” just before turning on the engine and then forget about it until you arrived (other than taking speakerphone calls), there wouldn’t be any safety problem.

                    *bzzt* “There’s a 1-hour-old ticket Krellen, what are you doing??!!??!” *hits speakerphone* “As you can see I’m driving to [place 3 hours away], as scheduled. I cannot answer tickets while driving, so if you are in need me right now you should complain to the person who scheduled me for this 3-hour trip. That ticket will have to wait two hours.”

                    ^ I assume there’s some reason the above exchange couldn’t happen at your company, but I already suspect it’s not going to be a good reason.

            3. Torolf says:

              I’m guessing that you do not hire direct care staff for health care in the United States, then, since we are prohibited from bringing all devices that can take photos (including any type of cell phone or smart phone) onto the floors by law.

              Though your stance does sound wonderfully discriminatory. Again, I’d guess you don’t work in the US.

              Myself, I don’t own a cell phone of any sort, and haven’t since 2003. I couldn’t use one at work, or even legally bring one into the building. I’m a homebody, so I’m not away from home enough for it to be worthwhile if I’m not at work. And neither owning nor paying for one furthers my family’s financial goals.

            4. Felblood says:

              This REALLY depends on what your company does and how you do it, though.

              Since I sold phones over the phone, and thus handle people’s raw credit card data, I wasn’t allowed to have my cell phone at work.

              It’s kind of ironic.

          2. Matt Downie says:

            I have a smartphone and am not paying for regular internet services.
            I can still use it for the following:
            An internet device wherever there is a wireless network I can log onto.
            As an MP3 / audiobook player.
            As a camera.
            Whatever apps / games I care to download.
            In an emergency, I can enable mobile internet. This costs money, but gives me GPS if I’m lost, etc.

            1. Vermander says:

              Luckily my work helps pay for mine since I basically need one to do my job. I’d say the advent of smartphone technology has been a major boon to people who travel frequently. It’s still pretty inconvenient to use your laptop and rely on wifi in planes or in airports, so this way I don’t lose half my workday everytime I need to fly somewhere.

              I’ve never been what you call an “early adopter” but I’ve quickly become pretty dependent on my smartphone. It’s pretty nice to have my pda, ipod, camera and gps all be one device and I’m constantly using it to look up random information or avoid having to talk to strangers when I’m eating alone in a restraunt or riding in cab.

              They’re also extremely useful for distracting unrully small children at restraunts or in waiting rooms.

  2. Zukhramm says:

    Welcome to the pain that is Android.

  3. DrMcCoy says:

    I don’t even have a dumbphone. That’s right, I have no mobile phone at all. I already hate stationary phones with their ringing and interrupting me, demanding immediate attention. Why would I want to get annoyed when I’m out and doing stupid real world crap?

    If you want to get ahold of me, just drop me an email, or a line on Freenode IRC, or via Jabber. I can answer that whenever it’s convenient to me, and I don’t have to drop everything in this very second.

    1. Daemian Lucifer says:

      Funny thing,but cell phones are actually more convenient than fixed phones.Not only can you always mute them,but using texts is much more convenient than talking to someone precisely because you can answer them when its ok for you and not for the one sending them.

      1. DrMcCoy says:

        Yeah, I could carry a permanently muted phone around and look at texts when I sit down. Or I could just not. Same difference.

      2. Humanoid says:

        Landlines have the advantage of plausible deniability when you’re trying to ignore someone surreptitiously. :D

      3. Tizzy says:

        My phone is almost permanently on mute because ringtones and vibrations are distractions. But, on the plus side, I can change that, so that I can be reached if I’m expecting a call or email. People get used to the fact that there is no guarantee that I’ll get their call immediately, so the deniability is equal to that of landlines. For a long time, I didn’t have a cell phone because I really didn’t have a use for it, but now that I need it, I don’t really see a downside.

        1. Vermander says:

          Actually, with a mobile phone you have many more excuses for why you didn’t answer. “I left my phone in the car. I was in a loud stadium. I was at the movies/doctor’s office/a funeral, etc.”

          That being said, my wife and I are always frustrated with both of our dads, whose cell phones are almost always switched off or left at home. Guessing that’s just a generational thing.

          1. Daemian Lucifer says:

            Yeah,I never get that.The point of a cell phone is that you take it with you so that you can use it whenever you need it.Its an extremely useful tool for emergencies.All of it,the camera as well(Ive used mine for a car crash I had,so helpful).But if you dont want to be bothered by people everywhere you go,you just switch it off.You dont even need an excuse,just tell them “I wasnt in the mood to talk”.If they get angry at you for that,they are the jerks in that situation,not you.

          2. evileeyore says:

            Or, like me, you just turn it off. I turn my phone off all the time.

    2. Paul Spooner says:

      Awesome! I held out against having a cell until a couple years after I was out of college. I’ve still kept from having a “smart” phone. Mine looks basically like Shamus’ first picture.

      The event that changed it for me was getting stuck at a train station in a bad part of a bad town at midnight with no way to contact the person who was supposed to pick me up. Ended up walking a couple miles to a safe house, but then got a phone. I still resent it though, and I keep on considering ditching the thing and going back to only being reachable via the web.

      1. Kacky Snorgle says:

        You could try what I do: I’ve got a landline for all my ordinary telephone purposes, and a cheap prepaid dumbphone that lives in the glovebox of my car for emergencies.

        The latter isn’t turned on unless I need it (so the battery lasts months between chargings) and I don’t even know what its telephone number is, but on rare occasions I’m glad I’ve got it. It costs about $150 per two years, if I remember correctly from the last renewal. That price only includes something like 400 minutes of call time, but that’s okay since I probably won’t use 60. Allegedly the thing will do texting, but I wouldn’t know how or why….

        1. Moridin says:

          That sounds horribly expensive, to be honest. You could do with a $10 phone and a no bells and whistles contract here in Finland would cost something like €2-5 per month, plus a few cents per minute of talking.

          1. Kacky Snorgle says:

            $150 per two years works out to $6.25 per month. Isn’t that pretty close to your 5 euros?

            A few years back I looked into replacing the whole setup with a regular mobile phone, but it wasn’t cost-effective. I should probably check again, though; the cost of the landline keeps going up.

    3. Zak McKracken says:

      Many people I know stopped using any form of instant messaging because it interrupted their routine, and moved back to (mobile) telephone.

      Really annoying for me, the guy who moved away and tries to stay in touch via ICQ, Jabber and e-mail.
      (Really, why don’t more people use Jabber? Real-time, encrypted text chat, offline messages, even voice and video chat with the right clients, also properly encrypted, and free of charge — what’s not to like?)

  4. Daemian Lucifer says:

    My primary phone is this one,for the simple reason that I can use it to text and talk for more than a day before I have to recharge it(for more than 3 days of regular use,if we want to nitpick)and because no matter how many times it got acquainted with the ground,it still works like it did back when it was new,10+ years ago.The only thing I had to replace on it is the battery,but hey after a decade of use,Im not complaining.

    However,I do use an old smartphone as a backup,specifically this one.I use it mostly to read books,photograph stuff and listen to music,and as a work phone from time to time(my backup sim card).Its less durable than the old one,but still durable enough.Its main problem is the flat cable that I had to replace twice,once after 4 years and the second time 2 years after that.

    1. 4th Dimension says:

      “and because no matter how many times it got acquainted with the ground,it still works like it did back when it was new”

      Of course it still works. It’s a Nokia. A good litmus test o weather your phone is a true Nokia or a fake is to see what happens when you drop it from the second floor into the pavement. A true Nokia will break apart into all detachable parts (battery, back panel, phone and sometimes front panel) but not one will break so you will be able to piece it together and it will be good as new. A non Nokia or fake Nokia will unceremoniously crack it’s screen and die.

  5. I had the same problem when I got my first tablet. And yet I’m still rocking the flip phone (gets used only at cons and for AAA). Google voice lets me text from my computer, and if I need to surf the web I can always use my Nook (yes, I own a Nook tablet, it made sense at the time and I like reading on it even if the sound is weak at best).

    One of these years I’ll join the always connected brigade, but I kinda don’t want to. All of my friends are already there, and man, I hate having everyone around me be on their phones 24/7. Plus, ADD and a smartphone just seem like a bad combo, at least with my Nook I can’t surf the web without wifi (and it helps that facebook isn’t very functional on the browser).

  6. tmtvl says:

    Having played around with a PS Vita for about a year before getting a smartphone, most things were pretty much self-evident. I still hate the device with a passion, particularly the way it handles inline scrollbars (“No, I want to scroll the text inside that frame, not the entire page.”)

    I suppose a tablet would be more user-friendly, but calling on a tablet makes people seem like such utter dorks, and laptops are superior computers to tablets, so…

    Let phones be phones and let ‘puters be ‘puters, I guess.

  7. NotDog says:

    I’ve been starting to think about getting a smartphone too.

    Not to make calls. But something portable that has (a) a map/bus route planner (I don’t have a car and the public transit system in my city is unintuitive) and (b) something for note taking (say, I find some event poster whose details I want to get down). A web browser might also be useful for, say, looking up reviews of something I see in a store.

    I was given an iPad as a Christmas present, but that’s a bit bulky for travel.

    1. Rick says:

      They’re also useful for reading ebooks or news sites if your bus commute is long or when the buses are late.

  8. Eric says:

    I didn’t have any sort of phone at all up until earlier this year. It probably did real wonders for my social life, but honestly I didn’t really see the need to pay the money for it. With more disposable income now, it’s hard to live without.

    Just the sheer convenience of not having to physically be at a computer to check my email, look something up, etc. is great. And while I don’t call a lot of people I still have that available for emergencies. How did I ever live like this before?

    Of course, that does come with downsides… like never truly being off work. But then, that also gives me more freedom to work, at least in some capacity, while not chained to a desk. It’s an interesting paradigm shift.

    Didn’t take me too long to figure out how to become phone-literate either, but I have to imagine that a modern smartphone today is probably a lot more usable than one back from even a few years ago. The photo of your smartphone in the article fills me with dread… that screen looks tiny, it’s probably running a years-old version of Android, and that case (I hope that’s the case) looks like it’s an inch thick. Funny how different standards and reference points in technology can really make you change how you appreciate a device.

  9. Disc says:

    I’m decidedly against touchscreens. I can manage them, but with the lack of tactile feedback and way-too-easy precision mistakes when typing (tablets are a bit easier thanks to bigger buttons, but it still feels awkward to type anything at length) there’s no way I’m getting a smartphone until they can come up with a reasonable model with actual keys. I can write texts with regular phone keys in 1/10th of the time it takes me to punch it through the touchscreen.

    1. Humanoid says:

      It’s more an issue of physical pain for me. When using my convertible in tablet mode, I find that more than say, 15-30 minutes of touchscreen use and I’ll start to feel sharp pains at the tip of my index finger. But fortunately I rarely need to do that, and 95% of the time, the tablet is strictly anchored to the detachable keyboard base. It’s an awful, awful keyboard, the worst I’ve ever used, but still magnitudes more comfortable than the touchscreen. I use an external trackball or mouse with it whenever possible too though, trackpads are almost as bad as touchscreens.

      (The device in question a Samsung 700T, similar kind of device to the Microsoft Surface Pro)

    2. Colin says:

      I’d recommend you try Swiftkey or Swype for Android, or any similar software. As someone who didn’t like touchscreen keyboards, I think that they’ve not only solved that problem, but also improved on regular phone keyboards. Gliding your finger along letters to spell words works surprisingly well, and combined with their predictive software, I find it makes it even faster and easier to type than a BlackBerry QWERTY setup.

      1. Blake says:

        I used to have an HTC Desire Z, it was an android phone with a hidden physical keyboard. Replaced it after a few years because it was just too slow.
        Have an HTC One now, Swiftkey is my primary keyboard, and it is still SO much worse than a physical keyboard. There’s a reason offices everywhere aren’t using touch pads for typing.

        I’m always keeping my eyes out for another decent phone with a decent keyboard because they are so much faster and more accurate than a touch screen will ever be, but sadly the keyboarded models of smart phones tend to be pretty rare and not great models.

        1. Humanoid says:

          Makes it doubly amusing to me that MSI have gone all back to the future with their latest gaming laptop. The thing has a tenkeyless but otherwise full-function mechanical keyboard with Cherry MX switches. Essentially it’s a $100 desktop keyboard welded onto a laptop.

        2. Colin says:

          I doubt there are very many offices using phones to do serious typing, whether they have physical keyboards or not.

          Maybe it’s because I didn’t really text much when physical phone keyboards were a thing, but I don’t find them satisfying in the least. Add in the fact that I can accurately write out a 160 character text in around a minute on a touch screen, and I can’t imagine what utility I get from anything else on a phone. If I need to type something significantly longer I’ll go use a proper full size mechanical keyboard.

  10. Chefsbrian says:

    As someone who retails cell phones, I see that sort of confusion a lot. Kudos to you for actually being willing to sit down and tinker with it to figure out. I’ve had far to many people go out and buy smartphones from me “Because all my friends have one”, and then come back a week later incredibly frustrated with it, yet refuse to try and learn how it is.

    I’ve had a Galaxy S4 thrown at my head by a guy who left messages from his mistress on his phone and didn’t realize it saved message history before he gave it to his wife. So its nice to see someone trying.

  11. Lisa says:

    I always find it interesting to find out the blind spots technical people can have.

    I dived into the ‘smartphone’ era as soon as I could. In fact by the time I bought the Galaxy S, I already had a foldable keyboard for it, and installed a secure shell client as soon as possible.

    On the other hand, I haven’t touched graphics programming in a while, and while what Shamus writes here fascinates me, I can’t seem to get my head around a lot of it these days – even though I’ve coded everything from embedded microprocessors, to Linux device drivers – with various timing/memory issues that come with low level talking to high level.

    You’d think, that enjoying coding ‘direct to the iron’ would lead to me wanting to poke more at graphics programming, but…sadly, no.

  12. Rick says:

    It’s scary when you realise your kids (well mine, yours are already knowing stuff) will grow up assuming that every electronic device is attached to the internet, that every screen is a touch screen and so much more that I can’t even think of.

    Not to mention that a floppy disc will be known only as a save icon.

    1. Nick Pitino says:

      I think the younger generation is already there:

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uk_vV-JRZ6E

      As another amusing anecdote my mother has a coworker who’s grandchildren can’t read clocks that have hands on them, they can only read digital clocks.

      1. Ivan says:

        Ha, that was pretty good, although a little unfair. They didn’t give them all the pieces they needed to begin with. I would have liked to see if they could have figured it out with everything in front of them. Then again, maybe the point they were trying to make was that the people who bought these for their “hip/young” relations would have had no idea that 2 essential parts were missing if they expected it to be used on christmass day or whatnot.

      2. NotDog says:

        To be fair, I’m in my late twenties (I’m part of the original Generation Y) and it took me a while to read analog clocks too.

        1. Canthros says:

          I’m in my mid-thirties (tail end of Gen X or beginning of Gen Y, depending on which set of criteria you use), have been wearing an analog watch almost every day for years, now … and I still don’t read an analog clock face quite as quickly as a digital clock. It’s kind of handy for rough approximations, but I definitely don’t find it intuitive.

          1. Vermander says:

            I’m about the same age and I also wear an analog watch. Plenty of people ask why I bother since I have a smart phone, but I guess I consider watches more of a fashion accessory than a useful device. I’ve always shunned other types of jewelry for men, but I was raised to think that a man should have a good watch, preferably heavy and made of some kind of metal.

            1. Purple Library Guy says:

              I’m almost 50 and I’m almost the reverse–I was raised reading analog clocks and I’m fine with them, but I want my watch to be digital; there’s something about the number being instant and precise–I look at a digital and it SHOWS ME THE TIME, it doesn’t ask me to decode something. I particularly dislike those sort of minimal analog watches that have no or hardly any little numbers or dots around the edge so you’re like “Uh, I guess the minute hand is somewhere around where the 4 would be if there was one, so, um, it’s probably around 20ish past, uh, something . . .”.
              What I really want is a retro brass pocket fob with a digital display.

          2. Kacky Snorgle says:

            I’m also mid-thirties and feel the same way. I have a digital watch but my workplace has lots of analog wall clocks. Sometimes I end up checking my watch to confirm that I’ve read the wall clock correctly.

            My mother, on the other hand, has always had trouble reading *digital* clocks. Near as I can tell, in her mind the time *is* an angle, and the numbers on the digital clock have to be converted to that format to be meaningful. Similarly, if you tell her the time is “five forty”, she’s likely to give you a confused expression and say “Is that like quarter of six?”.

            I don’t believe that’s typical for her generation, but I haven’t taken a survey or anything.

      3. Rick says:

        Indeed, I have a two year old daughter, and I’m determined to make sure she can read analogue clocks at a glance and never mess up her left and right directions.

  13. Matt K says:

    Your old phone is literally the same as the one I currently use. My wife has a smart phone so I really don’t need my own.

  14. Daemian Lucifer says:

    So since we are on the subject of mobile phones,I wonder if there is a self charging phone?I have a watch that recharges its battery simply by being moved around,and I wonder if such kinetic charging is viable for larger devices.

    1. Humanoid says:

      There are a few standalone manual ‘charger’ devices that use some sort of crank or similar motion to generate power (generally advertised as some sort of emergency contingency). Thing is, they take a good deal of dedicated manual effort just to be able to charge the phone enough to make just one phone call – and presumably that sort of thing is already generating a magnitude or two more power than the incidental movement of some gyros in a watch.

      Scaling up the tech probably isn’t practical either because most of the internals of modern phones is jam packed with the electronics that make it work, with no room to spare what with the design mandate to make them as thin and therefore sexy as possible. Given “progress” in the mobile telecommunications field generally means “more power consumption”, the immediate future probably doesn’t look so rosy. For a start, I’d imagine such a phone would be stripped down to the base basic functionality, and would probably also need to reverse about two decades of miniaturisation.

      Imagine a bigger, fatter John’s Phone and there’s the starting point.

    2. McNutcase says:

      Put bluntly, nope. Compare the capacity of an average watch battery (24mAh, for an Energizer 377, which will run my wristwatch for a year or more) to that of a fairly typical smartphone battery (my Galaxy S2 has a 1650mAh battery, which’ll run it for a day of typical usage or about a half hour of playing Ingress) and you’ll find a factor of about 70 in the difference of the batteries. So you’re looking at a factor well over two THOUSAND in terms of power consumption, which is not insignificant. You won’t get any useful amount of power out of movement, even before allowing for the fact that a wristwatch will be on the end of your arm, while your phone is likely to be in the much less mobile trouser pocket.

      1. McNutcase says:

        Missed the edit window, but I rolled a failure on my arithmetic; it’s more on the order of thirty thousand times difference in power consumption, which means that not even having an Italian hold your phone will generate enough power to be noticeable.

        1. Sigilis says:

          Are Italians particularly… shaky? Is that a thing, or is it the same way that Irish people have traits associated with them?

          1. Humanoid says:

            Guessing it’s the very …expressive gesticulations that are often associated with Italian conversations.

            1. Sigilis says:

              Oh, I’m Cuban so they seem pretty normal.

            2. McNutcase says:

              The stereotype is that Italians constantly gesticulate while talking, and never stop talking.

              1. Humanoid says:

                Wild gesticulations, ridiculous parkour, and punching brick blocks to smithereens. You could power ENIAC with that.

                1. krellen says:

                  You probably could power ENIAC with that. Sadly, your average calculator watch has many times more computing power than ENIAC.

    3. Purple Library Guy says:

      My watch battery lasted for years, during which I even used the alarm and the little light a moderate amount. If your phone battery lasts for years, self-charging might be workable.

  15. Csirke says:

    Good luck with your new phone! I held out for a bit before getting a smartphone too, but that was mostly so I could be sure the technology is somewhat mature. I’ve had one for 2 years now, and I’m quite happy, except for the stupid short battery life.

    I understand you don’t move out of the house much, so your experience will probably be different, but I’ve found google maps to be the most useful feature. I mostly use public transport (which I know would be a rarity in the US, but here in central Europe that’s the standard), and it’s just so convenient to get a good route in 2 minutes to anywhere in the city.

    I also use it to listen to podcasts, so the Diecast has one more listener because of my smartphone :)

  16. Bryan says:

    I still use a phone a lot like your old one Shamus. Didn’t see much point in smart phones.

  17. Snarkangel says:

    I had my first cellphone when I was 16. It finally broke a year ago, so I replaced it. I was 25. The thing lasted nearly a decade!

  18. Kathryn says:

    The first day I had my first smartphone (an original Droid), someone stopped me and asked what kind of trees were planted next to the building where we were. I said, “I don’t know, let’s look it up,” whipped out my phone, and we had the answer within 30 seconds. (Texas mountain laurel, if you’re curious.) And that’s why I like smartphones.

    It’s also nice for my lunch break and when I travel – I can carry thousands of books on one small device. (I recommend FB Reader.) For someone who can easily finish a novel in a couple of hours, and who is reading basically any time she has both eyes and one hand free, that’s huge. I definitely don’t miss having to carefully ration the handful of books I could fit in my luggage over the course of a trip!

    There are disadvantages as well, of course. To each his own.

  19. Felblood says:

    When I was selling smart phones for a living, I won an HTC One S in a raffle.

    I sold it for rent money, and continued using my fold phone.

    When that fold phone died, I bought a fold phone for a dollar, at Wal*Mart.

    It’s not that I don’t want those features. Since teaching others to use them used to be part of my job, I could get quite a bit out of a smartphone.

    I’m just poverty stricken to the point that paying for those sort of features seems ludicrous.

    1. Sigilis says:

      Paying rent is arguably more important than having a new mobile computing device. To quote Twain, “that won’t keep me warm in the middle of the night”.

      1. Zekiel says:

        :-) I read the quote, then thought “Mark Twain never said that!”.

  20. Sigilis says:

    Glad to hear that you are making headway with this new form factor.

    UI design is all about tailoring to the preconceived notions of your target audience, something that breaks down when you have a target audience of “everyone on earth” and eventually the design is going to evolve to take advantage of the peculiarities of the system. The disconnect you are feeling is likely the result of you not interacting with the rapidly evolving medium that is telecommunications technology at all in the last half decade. Thankfully, it’s not fatal.

    Once you figure out the ideas that they are trying to push with a particular design paradigm, you might find that you can then assemble a more coherent picture. Not all of the ideas that you have been exposed to in your long history of programming and using computers has gone away, there have really only been a few tweaks to the formula as they discovered how best to take advantage of the screen real estate on a much smaller device with a completely different input method than the bulky room sized computers of yesteryear (exaggerated for comedic effect).

    It may be helpful to put yourself in the shoes of the UX designer in charge of making these phones work, trying to find ways to get the functionality that we take for granted from machines with precise mice and flexible keyboards with 101 keys. The affordances they employ are often just elaborations of the conventions employed in the GUIs you are familiar with.

    If you can’t inhabit the headspace of visionary designers, don’t worry so much there’s still another option before you are remanded to a remedial asylum for the helplessly obsolete. The API and programming documentation for Android contains extensive documentation for how the interface that each individual program should employ. Conventions for the behavior, location and appearance of the buttons, standard ways to present controls and descriptions in ludicrous detail of how everything is supposed to fit together. Also, while you are there, you might even have some ideas for a programming project or two.

    For the comment people who don’t have a smartphone for one reason or another, particularly the more technically minded among you, I heartily recommend acquiring one of these devices. There are ways to get cheap ones that function well and do not require selling your body on the street or your soul to a telecom company. You don’t even need to get an expensive data connection, just hook into Wi-Fi which has become ubiquitous. I’m sure there is something that you can do with on demand computing power that you can program at will.

    Be advised, I may be somewhat biased as to the ease of integrating technology, since I may or may not be a robot. Those darn NMR machines keep blowing up when I try to get a scan done.

    1. dhx0dhx says:

      I wanted to second this entirely reasonable response.

      Actually, what I really wanted was to snark on the fact that you’re two years younger than me and that there should be a 40- to 50-page help document hidden somewhere in the bowels of your “new” Samsung which explains the UI, so you really have no excuse, whippersnapper!

      But I won’t :-)

    2. Mephane says:

      Why would a robot need a smartphone in the first place? Just get the radio module of a smartphone installed into yourself and connect to internet, like, with your mind. :)

      1. Sigilis says:

        Would you want to have a big four locked radio with locked firmware integrated into your consciousness? Also, I get frightened by the idea of 4chan being capable of entering my thoughts at their will.

        That’s what I thought.

  21. GTRichey says:

    I’ve used smartphones for probably 5 years now and I’d have the same issue as the one you described in this article with that phone (or any android phone). What you describe in expecting all app controls to be on screen makes perfect sense to me since the only physical keys on Apple products are power (sleep/wake, which wouldn’t close the app), volume, silent switch, and the ‘home’ button (kills current app). While I could maybe get used to it, I would never cease being infuriated by it (especially since I’ve read that the buttons don’t even necessarily have consistent behaviour between apps, which I would insist is just wrong for hardware features). That’s not to say one is right, but you having this issues indicates to me that the iOS standard is more intuitive at least.

    1. Right, except there are also ‘hidden’ buttons. For instance, holding the home button down to summon Siri, or ‘double-clicking’ it to find all the apps you currently have open (the home button doesn’t ‘kill’ the app – just hides it). The latter one is relatively unintuitive – and not really a part of the iOS ‘standard’ as it caused a lot of confusion when it was introduced (about 2 years ago, IIRC).

      Also, it’s pretty clear that they are lacking permanent buttons, so they introduced the ‘control centre’ which is available on ‘swipe up’ and which has ‘buttons’ you might need – like ‘lock orientation’ and ‘do not disturb’. It might look prettier not to have those as physical buttons, but I am not sure that it is inherently better design!

      1. GTRichey says:

        Yeah, neither is inherently better, but for the most basic functions it seems more intuitive in general to have all app controls on screen (and thus dynamic). The control centre stuff and secondary functions for the home button definitely can’t be intuited and have to be learned, but are also unnecessary for basic operation. Again I won’t say it’s ‘better’ since that depends on the persons usage etc. but the basic function like the specific example in Shamus’ post are more intuitive in iOS.

        1. Kian says:

          I always felt the physical back button and menu button (the one on the other side) made sense. Contrast iOS and Android. iOS has a “back” button on every screen, because due to the way phones are used (one App at a time most of the time, everything shown as full screen pages) you need a quick way to go back to what you were doing.

          So if you’re always going to have a back button anyway, why waste screen realstate? Making the button physical seems better for me. And it’s not so far from other paradigms. In a dumbphone, every control is physical. In a computer, your keyboard has plenty of shortcuts to common controls (Alt+F4 to close an application, Ctrl+W to close a browser tab, etc).

          1. Jarppi says:

            I don’t think back button is necessary in any form in touch-screen device. My phone (jolla, Sailfish OS) has gesture based UI which means there is no real need for spesific buttons to be visible all the time. Of course, there is a button at the top left corner of the sreen that acts like ‘back’ button, but I almost never use it because I can just swipe from left to right to do the magic.

            Whenever I run Android software on that phone I am constantly trying to go back (and sometimes foward) with those gestures. Luckily, other OS gestures still work wiwith non-native software, i.e. I can minimize the app to “desktop” or close it with one swipe. Or check the notificatios.

            Obviously it is not the most intuitive system to begin with, but once you got hang of it, it becomes very convenient to use. It took me something like twenty minutes to learn the basics but after a couple of weeks it was like a second nature.

          2. GTRichey says:

            Th virtual back button is almost always part of the title bar which exists regardless and represents mostly unused space anyway so I don’t really buy the space saving argument. And neither is worse or better, I’m only talking about the inherent intuitiveness of one design decision which shines through in the example given (and the fact that I could hand my phone to nearly anyone and they would be able to operate it on a basic level). Gesture based interactions like Jarppi mentioned above, which exist on iOS for many apps and are largely how I interact, are great but still run in to the intuitiveness problem the first time someone picks up a phone.

  22. Andrew says:

    My girlfriend’s phone dates from the early 2000s. It has quite reasonably-sized buttons, but then it barely has a screen.
    I don’t own a mobile phone at all, and never have.

  23. I got a flip phone as well, aka a clam shell. You can call with it an text and that’s it pretty much.
    I prefer it since there is no external buttons that can accidentally be pressed while in a pocket (no butt-dialing).

    If my phone is laid on a table (and not carried around, sifting cell towers, or used extensively) then the battery lasts about a month, and that’s not an exaggeration as I often find myself picking up the phone, looking at the power bars and pondering how many weeks it’s been since I last charged it.

    A smart phone, you are lucky if if lasts a few days. If you ever go on a trip where you won’t be near power grids for a day or two then you should not bring a smart phone. Going hiking or skiing then you really should bring a basic function phone. Last thing you want is a dead smartphone when trying to call for help.

    A smartphone is great if you are in the vicinity of power grids and wifi etc. Then again, the same is true for tablets and netbooks, and similar devices.

    A smartphone today is a miniature tablet, and a tablet with a SIM card slot is a giant phone, attach a keyboard to a tablet and you got a laptop with a touchscreen.

    Also, did you know that touchscreens (monitors and tablets) do not really need to be capacities, ideally they should be pressure sensitive instead.
    Only reason the majority of touchscreens are conductive is due to the fact that it is less likely that the material I’m your clothes are conductive so chances of pocket / butt-dialing are less.

    Pressure sensitive screens can provide tactile feedback, pressure sensitive are less prone to jumpy pointer syndrome (a smudgy/dirty conductive touchscreen can have issues reading your fingers correctly), pressure sensitive screens can be used with gloves or any other material, conductive or not.

    Hmm! I said “conductive” but the correct term may actually be “capacitive”.

    I wonder if there are any clamshell smartphones out there though, I haven’t noticed any yet at least.

    1. Humanoid says:

      Phone design is subject to some localised trends, and one such trend is that clamshell phones are particularly big in China, making clamshell smartphones there a no-brainer. Apparently they have quite a few exclusive models, made by the usual big vendors like Samsung and LG but they don’t tend to be sold internationally.

      EDIT: Example

  24. Dovius says:

    I’m not that surprised that it doesn’t cost you any more and yet has full internet access. I don’t even have a monthly plan (I just buy credit whenever I run low, which comes down to, what, 20 bucks every 4-5 months? It’s ridiculous by how much Whats App has cut my phone bill) and I’ve still got internet because every damn phone these days can just go into open wireless networks without having to pay extra for it. You’re not gonna get any reception randomly on the street or something, but for someone who mainly stays at home like I get the idea you do it’s an ideal situation.

  25. Zak McKracken says:

    I’m sure you’ll figure that interface out alright. And when you do, I’d be hoping you write about it.

    Because I think that smartphone user interfaces still have a lot to learn. A LOT.

  26. Simplex says:

    On the risk that someone already wrote that and I am just repeating – there was a “transitory” period when smartphones had multiple physical buttons (i.e. a red receiver for terminating a phone call, green for accepting and the back button, etc), but most recent models have all the front buttons exclusively on the screen (for Android phones this was a UI guideline enforced by Google), and the only physical buttons left are the volume rocker and power/lock screen button at the side of the phone.
    So Shamus, if you got a newer phone, you would actually not have that problem :)
    I see many people taking pride in not having a smartphone, yet they probably all use computers (duh!)
    A smartphone is simply a small computer with small screen and not ideal keyboard, with a battery that lasts one day. It’s a tool and how you utilize it depends on you. On many occasions I helped strangers/tourists find their way.
    Tourist: Do you know where Shamus Young’s Street is? (I am sure they will name a street after shamus :) )
    Person without a smartphone: No idea, sorry.
    Person with a smartphone: No idea, but let me check on google maps – oh, there it is!

    1. Wooji says:

      “(for Android phones this was a UI guideline enforced by Google), and the only physical buttons left are the volume rocker and power/lock screen button at the side of the phone.
      So Shamus, if you got a newer phone, you would actually not have that problem :)”

      The Samsung Galaxy S5 and S6 still has the same type of home, menu and back buttons so it would have to be a very new phone since the S6 still havenät been released.

      1. Simplex says:

        You are right, seems like Samsung is not adhering to Google’s guideline. On my Nexus 4 phone those buttons are on-screen.

        1. Wooji says:

          This made me curious so i had a look around and your right, it seems like every other newer Androd phone i can find has the buttons on screen so it’s indeed just Samsung beeing stubborn about their design i think.

    2. Otters34 says:

      At the risk of losing the plot, your analogy perfectly summarizes what’s made the New World so frustrating. It’s increasingly felt to be an unreasonable hassle to learn stuff ahead of time(like the layout of your own dang city) when it’s possible to simply look it up on demand. Alo that’s why I haul a local map around with me all the time, since I’m too dirt-poor to afford an internet box and lack the meticulous memory of my grandparents for recalling the name of every avenue and side-alley.

  27. Mersadeon says:

    Wait, your flip phone didn’t do TEXT MESSAGING? That… is that even possible? Even the oldest bricks could do that! Even the phones BEFORE flip-phones could do that!

    1. Shamus says:

      To be clear: I’d disabled the text messaging feature with my provider. A few years ago they were charging me something offensive like $0.25 per text. I had a few friends who just texted everything at everyone (“ill c u @ 7 cuz i work late”) out of habit, and also the occasional spam. The simplest way to fix that was to just disable texting altogether.

      1. Jarppi says:

        Is there in the US a problem of an almost monopolised market in the mobile business as there is with the general internet providers? Because if some operator here in Finland would had, especially a few years ago, such a ridiculous pricing, that provider would go straight out of business. I still have an old-fashioned subsciption in which I pay for the calls and text messages (0.069 €/min or 0.069 €/text) coupled with separate 3G-subscription (5 €/month, 0.5 Mbps, no data cap but a slowdonwn after a certain amount) and I don’t even exeed the minimum sum for a bill to be sent in every month.

      2. Anthony says:

        That is an artifact of an old business model that hasn’t existed for a few years. Most basic plans now include unlimited texting services as part of basic service. The big deal now is internet access gigabyte limits.

        I was curmudgeonly against smart phones at first, until I got a job selling them. Now you are in a place where I can teach you something, I would like to dump a load of info on you to bring you up to speed.

        There are two major operating systems in Smartphones, Apples IOS on Iphones and Google’s Android. Apple keeps things simple, with as few functional buttons and limited customizability. Android has many more options than Apple products, with the downside that there are many more swipes, taps, and bloatware to deal with. You may recognize this as the exact same situation that played out between Apple and Microsoft on PC’s and Laptops.

        Also, Apple’s hardware is more closely tied with the software, which lets Apple get away with things such as smaller batteries and smoother transition effects.

        It even rears its head on the number of buttons. Android tends to have 3 buttons on the bottom for navigation, Apple only has 1!

        Every smartphone on the market today has GPS, at least one (many have two) 5 megapixel camera capable of 1080p pictures and 480p video, tilt and acceleration sensors, 150+ lumen LED. Not to mention the AMOLED display which gives good picture from any angle, the smallest of which is 3.5 inches diagonally. The touch screens are now almost pixel perfect. Internally they are approaching Laptops in terms of processing power.

        I apologize if I am starting to sound like a commercial. I just started loving smartphones after I got my job. They are really the new personal computers, and I can see why Microsoft is panicking. I personally own a phone with 480p screen and quad-core 1.2 gigahertz processor, 1 gigabyte of ram, and 8 gigabytes of internal storage. You may recognize those as stats from a Laptop in 2005 or a desktop PC from 1999, in my pocket. All that and I payed less than $100 because it is considered a “low end” phone! Without a contract or any messy business like that.

        You need to not look at them as phones with overcrowded features anymore, they are computers with phone.exe loaded on them. It’s how I stopped seeing them as expensive facebook terminals.

  28. Bloodsquirrel says:

    The big difference I notice between people who take naturally to a new piece of tech and those who struggle with it is the level of willingness going in. When someone gets a new piece of technology that they just want to make work and aren’t excited about actively using the device, there’s a low threshold of frustration. The thing isn’t doing what you want, so you get annoyed, which isn’t a good state to be in while trying to learn something. This results in a urge to just throw the thing at someone who knows how to use it and make them do it.

    By contrast, when you’re playing with something you’re eager to learn about, there’s a high tolerance for systematically poking at every part of it just to see what happens, googling things, and a level of bravery in messing with it rather than being afraid of messing it up somehow.

    I see it a lot with my mother, who doesn’t even want to try to hook some new device up to the TV. She gives up before even taking it out of the box, because she’s too intimidated by the prospect.

  29. Hal says:

    FYI, that button on the left side brings up a menu of options, similar to right-clicking on a traditional PC. It took me a very long time to figure that one out.

  30. HeroOfHyla says:

    My mom and I both upgrade our phones at the same time, so that I can show her how to use hers. This time I’ve got an LG G2 and she’s got a Galaxy Note 2. Personally, I much prefer the G2 over the Note. My favorite feature is being able to double tap on the screen to wake it up or put it to sleep.

    Both our phones have a pretty big drawback though: they’re on Verizon. We’re paying an absurd amount of money for 1 GB of data a month, and that data is also used for things like picture text messaging and visual voicemail. You can’t use wifi instead.

    Taking a class on Android app development has given me a pretty good understanding of how mobile apps work. Basically, every screen of a program is called an “activity,” and every new activity goes onto a stack. When you hit the back buttn, the current activity is killed and the next one down gets unsuspended. When the stack is empty, the application is closed. It also restarts the activity when you rotate the phone, which you have to manually disable when making a media player app (you probably don’t want the song stopping or restarting), along with deciding what kind of behavior you want when the phone falls asleep or you return to the home screen without ending the app.

    1. Zak McKracken says:

      Thanks! That explains some behaviour my phone shows.

      Now I only need to figure out why the music stops at random points in time while using Firefox or OsmAnd …

  31. I’m going to be inheriting my mother’s old smart phone soon, so I’ll be joining you shortly Shamus!

  32. RTBones says:

    Smartphones these days are hand-held computers.

    I am neither an Android, IOS, or Windows Phone fan. I prefer Blackberry and the Blackberry 10 OS. I’ve used Blackberries of various sorts for work for several years. When I needed a phone of my own, I tried several of multiple varieties. Eventually, I came back to Blackberry – because while the other OSs may have eleventy billion apps, the vast majority of that eleventy billion is useless to me. Further, if I need an app, chances are that there is an Android version out there.

    1. RTBones says:

      This should have been an EDIT, but my comment wouldn’t display in the Comment Editor. So…

      EDIT: For those unfamiliar to the BB10 OS, it has the ability to sideload Android applications in addition to running BB10 native applications.

  33. Dreadjaws says:

    I’m on a different kind of boat. I’ve been using a smartphone for a few years now, but I’ve refused to change it because it’s the only relatively advanced model that still comes with a physical QWERTY keyboard. I can’t stand digital keyboards, and a bunch of elitist people keep telling me they’re the future or some BS (completely ignoring the fact that the only reason they’re able to write correctly is the phone’s dictionary).

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t the reason for upgrading that something new should be easier and more convenient? If I don’t find it easy nor convenient after repeated use, why should I upgrade? This is not just about overcoming muscle memory (though that does play a big part), it’s about maximizing your efficiency (why else would we fit so many devices into one?). So, if I’m not able to do such a thing, why the need for upgrade?

    1. Noumenon72 says:

      Have you used Swype-style keyboards? Their ability to detect what you’re typing just from swooshing your finger approximately over the right letters on the keyboard is magical, and faster than pecking things out on even a physical keyboard could be. (I’m sure you are the equivalent of those 200-words-per-minute thumb-texters by now, though, so this may not apply to you.)

  34. Purple Library Guy says:

    Don’t have a cellphone at all, me. I understand my wife’s smartphone better than she does, but I’m (a) cheap, and (b) don’t like people disturbing me. There are times every now and then when I’m on my own somewhere and wish I could call someone–almost invariably my wife–but it’s a use case that isn’t worth spending $X/month on for me. And if I want to type on something, it’s going to be paragraph-sized or longer and that’s what my little laptop is for, not a teeny weeny screen with a fake keyboard on it. If I could get a cell phone that was genuinely pay-as-you-go, like I paid up front for the physical machine and then paid them $30 or something and then they’d deduct however much every time I made a call even if it took 5 years to go through it, I’d go for that. But I can’t find anything like that, so nope, not paying another monthly fee that I don’t have to.

    We live in a world where it feels to me like there’s ten gajillion outfits trying to get me to pay monthly fees for this, that and the other thing so they can have guaranteed long term revenue streams and I can be poor and in debt. I anticipate being completely debt free (mortgage, nearly done) in approximately 1 year in part due to determined resistance to unnecessary sources of monthly fees.

    1. Matt Downie says:

      Genuine pay-as-you-go that works like that is easy to get in most countries. I don’t know why US phone companies hate their customers so much.

      1. Purple Library Guy says:

        Neither do I, but the only country where the cell companies hate customers worse than in the US is Canada, and that’s where I am. In Canada, the reason is one word: Oligopoly. They mess with us because they can.

  35. Ingvar M says:

    I suspect the phone passed down from your wife is more powerful and cooler than the one I sent along. I don’t recall in what state the firmware of the one I sent was in, but I actually think it had a “Welcome to Android, here’s a few basic things about the phone, press this button if you want to skip” as the very first thing it displayed (but, then, it’s been almost 4 years since I started it for the first time).

    Actually getting the phone to you was hilariously complicated, though.

  36. Miguel D says:

    As a relative youth myself I’ve had the opportunity to play around with many modern smartphones, most of the running some version of Android. From this wealth of experience I beg you to please not judge all modern Android phones by your experiences with that one. What you have there is a Samsung Galaxy Ace Pocket Duo Plus Mini etc (not its real name). While Samsung have made some very good smartphones (the Galaxy S2 being the best) they also make the most terrible low end phones. Using those phones will try anyone’s patience with problems including terrible lag, lack of app compatibility and frequent lock-ups/failures of essential services that require you to restart the device. The interface is also somewhat dated and convoluted as that is running Android 2.3 (at the most) with Samsung’s ugly skin while the current gen is 4.3.

    I’m not saying don’t use it, I’m just saying beware that some shortfalls may be device specific and not representative of smart phones as a whole.

    1. Anthony says:

      Current android generation is 5, Android Lollipop.

      1. Miguel D says:

        Haha, do you have Lollipop friend? I should have clarified that the latest version for Samsung phones is 4.4 (.2 to be exact).

    2. Noumenon72 says:

      Oh god, I assumed that was an S2. I wonder how many of the apps in the huge suggestions list I just posted will actually run.

  37. MrGuy says:

    If you haven’t read Don Norman’s book “The Design of Everyday Things,” you really should. It talks about exactly this problem – things where the design of “how it works” and “how the interface is designed” work together in good design. The key concept is what Norman calls “affordances” – designs that naturally pull you to the right interpretation of how the thing works.

    Steve Krug’s “Don’t Make Me Think” is along similar lines, but much more computer interface design oriented.

    If you’ve ever designed an interface for ANYTHING (be it a web page, a washing machine, a refrigerator, or even a lobby door), IMO you should read DOET first. And if it’s on a screen, read DMMT.

    Disclaimer: I am not Steve Krug or Don Noman as far as I know.

  38. Noumenon72 says:

    When I got my first smartphone, I had a list of apps I had to try. I guess you’re not like that, but here it is updated anyway.

    Here’s my list of useful phone apps for when you get one.

    APPS
    Flashlight by smalltech
    Where’s My Droid — to find your lost phone by having it ring or send a GPS signal when you send it a text
    Out of Milk — great shopping list app that can also track your pantry and to do list. Share shopping list with your spouse so you can both add items or split up the shopping.
    Evernote — I use this more and more, for example so I can reference the hours the YMCA is open in one touch, or I can open the note for the link to the hours their Childwatch is open.
    Adaptive Rotation Lock — so your screen rotates only when you want it to
    Pride Rainbow — for a beautiful color-shifting background on your phone, I never get tired of it
    QR Code Reader
    The Picture Frame widget under Apps, Widgets tab — To show photos on your home screen
    CamScanner — to scan documents with your phone
    QuickPic — for a much faster and easier version of the photo gallery
    Pomodroido — for productivity
    Accuweather
    Pocket — for saving things to read offline
    Target — you need swim goggles at Target, this app tells you they’re in aisle C34. Every store should have this, but only Target does.
    Fitocracy — great workout tracker and support network
    MyFitnessPal — makes calorie tracking feasible even when eating out, has all foods already in its database
    Proximity Actions — your phone turns off in your pocket, on when it’s out of your pocket, it’s like it’s always on! Set it so the phone won’t turn off when it’s in landscape mode.
    Motion Actions to open an app by shaking your phone
    Firefox — because it syncs your browser history with your home Firefox so you easily find the page you were just on at home.
    GasBuddy — to find good gas prices
    Sleepbot — to track your sleep, silence your phone, and wake you up
    Google Authenticator — so your Gmail doesn’t get hacked
    DiskUsage — if you’re running out of storage space and don’t know why
    Shush! Ringer Restorer — so you can silence your phone without forgetting to turn it back on in an hour.

    This looks like a lot, but you will eventually get even more based on your lifestyle — your car insurance, Pinterest, crime tracking map, Pathfinder rules, bikeshare locations, Pandora, MapMyRun, 3D Dice, Instagram, Facebook/Google+, feedly, a compass, the app that just sends “Yo” to someone when you press the Yo button… I know people who only have five apps installed, but those people are not worthy to be called my sister.

    GAMES
    10000000 — don’t miss this one.
    Pixel Dungeon — permadeath, but days of fun.
    Shelter — a perfectly designed zombie-themed single-player collectible card game.
    ArkanoidX — The best Arkanoid clone on the market and better than the original.
    Sector Strike — Like Gradius, pretty challenging
    DoodleGod F2P

    Games I haven’t finished:
    Cut the Rope Free — you and your kids will both take to it intuitively
    Dragon Slayer — just to see what graphics your phone is capable of.
    #sworcery — beautiful game, I just got stuck
    Paper Artist — not a game, just a toy for your kids. Take photo, then rub away the dust to “colorize” it with a bunch of fun filters like watercolor, comic book dots, etc

    Finally, this isn’t an app, but turn on “OK Google” anywhere and you’ll be able to just ask your phone, “OK Google, what’s the temperature?” “OK Google, navigate to Burger King.” “OK Google, what song is this?” Truly amazing technology.

  39. Blackbird71 says:

    I got my first (and current) smartphone a little less than three years ago, and I’m contemplating going back to a simple flip phone.

    Don’t get me wrong, sometimes it’s nice to have all those features right at your fingertips. But I have two main problems with current smartphones:

    1) Most don’t work well at their supposed primary function – being a phone! Between the positioning of speakers and microphones, poor reception due to internal antennae, multiple keypresses/swipes required just to get to the dialer, being unable to dial by touch, and dialer software glitches, I miss having a phone that actually works as a phone!

    2) Size. The current trend seems to be to keep making smartphones bigger. I have a Droid 2; it’s a great size, easily portable, and fits in my pocket without too much difficulty. But any larger and it’s not going to be so comfortable to just tuck it into my front pocket anymore, and I’d probably have to start wearing the thing on my belt (something I’m against for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the likelihood of it bumping into or snagging on things and breaking). The problem is that now I can’t find any decent smartphone that’s even close to my old one in size. The Droid “Mini” is about a half inch larger, and it’s not even that good of a phone.

    So really, I may as well just go back to something that I can carry without worrying about it, and that will do the job it’s supposed to do.

    P.S. Shamus, I don’t know if it’s been mentioned in the comments above, but that power button that’s “not a real power button”? Actually it should be, if you treat it the same way as the power button on your computer – that is, hold it down for a few seconds, and then it should power off.

  40. meyerkev says:

    OK, so I rode my Android 2.2 phone into the dirt and picked up an Android 4.0 phone last year.

    Yep, this. This article right here.

    No idea how to do anything. (Among other things, they got rid of my “I have no idea what’s going on, push THAT” button).

    I still have to google where certain settings are, and I spent 3 years on an Android phone.

  41. Sledge says:

    I have been on smartphones since my Palm TX died a horrible death. I love my android and run custom ROMs all the time. I think I’ve been immersed in phones so long that I cannot understand non-phone people.

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