final impressions

Nine weeks on, I haven’t missed my Apple Watch at all. The Charge 3 has had its flaky moments, but they are few and far between, and I have to take it off to charge once a week (usually Wednesdays, as it happens). The sleep tracking and step counting seems reliable enough, and the notifications are as reliable as they were on the series 0 Apple Watch – which is to say, not perfect, but close enough. Aside from the occasional need of Duo Push at work – which I have contrived to reduce to once every couple months – I haven’t missed the Watch in the least.

And this concerns me. Because I also find myself grasping for my personal iPhone SE instead of the iPhone X on nights and weekends. My iPad mini from Christmas 2013 is still mostly functional and I have no plans to replace it. And the first phone since the SE that has tempted me to spend my own money is…the Google Pixel 3A, the $400 mid-range version of the Android flagship. It’s not difficult to see why the iPhone isn’t really in a growth spurt: too much money for not enough improvement over the pocket rocket of three years ago.

This is of serious concern, just because every dime I’ve made since 1997 has been in some way connected with the support of Apple products. As I approach 50, there’s no getting around the fact that my professional life is tied to the Beast of Cupertino and that if they start to falter, I may find myself in a hell of a fix. The move to “services” is no comfort: I don’t think anyone is going to need support administration for AppleTV+ anytime soon.

The trick is going to be this: is a premium-and-service Apple going to be something that people continue to buy and just keep and use longer, or is the “cheaper and good enough” model going to do them like the 1990s again? After all, if they can’t compel me to keep laying out money, how are they going to lure cash out of wallets of people who don’t depend on them? 

so which is it?

Are things really worse now than they’ve ever been, or are we just now able to see it more clearly? Is it just because of YouTube and cameras that UFO sightings are down and police brutality reports are up, or is the state of the world getting materially worse?

Why can’t it be both?

There’s a very good case to be made that technology is letting us see more of what was always there – the hate, the ignorance, the general bullshit. But twenty-five years ago, if you wanted to be a white supremacist terrorist, you had to find people through badly mimeographed flyers and post-office boxes, try to build some kind of bomb, and hope that one of your pals wouldn’t turn out to be an undercover FBI agent. Now it’s as easy as buying an AR-15 and several magazines, posting a rant on the same message board you learned everything from in two clicks off Google or Facebook, and going on a shooting spree while live-streaming the whole thing.

A lot of this shit was always with us, but we had at least established some unwritten rules that said it was wrong, and even if people didn’t follow the rules they were obligated to acknowledge the breach. What has changed is that the quiet parts are now said out loud – which means that yes, it was always bad, but also there is now nothing against saying them out loud, which is a worsening. One of our political parties is trafficking in the kind of talk that as little as twenty years ago would have been beyond the pale even for the kind of Southern Republicans who had just taken control of Congress – although they went to great lengths to bend the curve of what was acceptable and pave the way to where we are now.

And now people have the gall to talk about how dishonest this era is, as if the 21st century doesn’t sit on a quivering foundation of lies and bullshit and choose-your-own-reality. And that’s why the next challenge, if we survive, is the struggle to write the unwritten rules into law. This administration, the Confederacy at its apotheosis, is about codifying the underlying racism that was starting to find itself on the ropes as its practitioners aged out of power. Conversely, we need to be writing the guardrails into law to prevent yet another Republican minority presidency running wild. Income tax disclosures? Mandated by law. Electoral college bound to the result of the popular vote? Mandated by law. Anything that was “tradition” or “the way it’s always been done” or otherwise limited only by norms and manners? Has to be mandated by law, because norms and manners are worth nothing if you have a big enough asshole.

And the risk you take at this point is that people don’t care. The indolence and indifference, the tuning out of “it’s just politics” and “this isn’t important to my life”  is all it takes for one side to dig in. You won’t get a Watergate reckoning now, and you may not get an electoral solution if you don’t take all three branches of government – and the Supreme Court is probably lost for a generation at this point, which means you’re back to trusting that the norms of stare decisis and judicial review are all that’s preventing nine old men from wrecking shit for the rest of our lives.

It’s past time to fight, but it’s also time to start making plans for losing.

one device

So I ordered a new Bluetooth keyboard for use with my phone. It’s a pretty good size, not pocketable, but neither is it as big as the default Apple wireless keyboard. It’s the sort of thing that could go in the travel bag if I wanted to do this abroad.

I’m still carrying the iPhone X, despite the fact that it’s bigger than I want, simply because it’s impossible – or at least highly impractical – to carry two devices. Even though everything is in the cloud, or most of it anyway, it’s just easier to have one device with all the work apps and all the personal stuff and the Downtime protocol to weed out what runs when. And nobody wants to have to keep track of two phone numbers for you, which means that unless literally everyone in your life is on iMessage, you’re going to have to have some kind of hack to use a different phone. In my case, it means creating a group in Signal with both my numbers and a friend’s number for every friend I want to have unimpeded contact with me. Which is a hack. A workable one, but still a hack.

I’m reminded of the old slogan “what’s on your PowerBook is you.” That was an era when the only place I ever saw Apple specs was not at the Apple stores (there weren’t any) nor on the Web (there wasn’t any), but at college bookstores. It was an era when you’d have all your papers on the laptop, I suppose, or maybe programs if you were taking computer science. Now it seems like everything is in the cloud, enough that an iPad is probably more than enough for work – but at root, your phone is in that spot now. What’s on your phone is you. It’s your camera, your daybook, your Personal Data Assistant in a way no PDA could ever be at the edge of the 21st century, because it’s always on the network and always on your person and because asynchronous communication is the stuff of life now whether it’s Slack or WhatsApp or whatever.

And it’s only getting worse, because of 2FA. Two factor authentication is a functional necessity of modern life, a crucial tool to ensure you don’t get hacked or fleeced or worse. Because what’s on your phone (and in the cloud) is you, the locks have to be tight. Which means some sort of 2FA…which probably only runs on one phone at a time. So if you’re going to break out a second device, you also need to have Duo installed. Or Google Authenticator. Or LastPass’s tool, or something. And having two separate 2FA pieces is…problematic. And we’re back to one phone for everything.

Which means that you need the perfect phone for you. Whether it’s screen size, battery life, hand ergonomics, whatever – your phone is too critical to your daily life to be anything less than a perfect fit. And the iPhone X is bigger than I want, but Apple won’t make anything smaller. Maybe that’s my itch to keep looking at things like the Pixel 3A, the first Google-branded phone since the original Nexus One to draw my attention (and the first Android phone to do so at all since the original Moto X). It’s possible to turn out a phone that does everything you need and nothing you don’t and bring it in for half the price of a flagship device. I still think that you could make the perfect phone by putting the chipset and components of the iPhone 8 into the body (and battery) of the original Moto X, with its customizable polycarbonate and 4.7” OLED display and 2200 mAh battery (still bigger than any non-X non-Plus iPhone ever made). And it would be one-handable but not too small for Kindle or video consumption, frankly.

But that’s the problem: the 3A is not materially different from the X in terms of hand size, and for all the chattering bullshit about how Android is open and flexible, I can’t find one single current Android device with a screen smaller than 5.2 inches on the diagonal. You can have small, or you can have current, but you can’t have both. And moreover, you can only lock down Android so far. Google still has you by the nuts, and unlike Apple, they don’t make any bones about how important your data is to their business model. And if no one on Android is going to make a one-handed phone anyway, there’s nothing to do but punt while acknowledging that we crossed the finish line in 2013 and peaked in 2016 and that it’s not your imagination: things really are worse than they were before.

Of which.