palms up

Comes now the news that the Palm brand, last seen being ignominiously sold off to Chinese white-label conglomerate TCL along with Blackberry, RCA and who knows how many others, has today resurfaced with a new company whose leadership and creative design team includes…Steph Curry. Yeah, that one. Their product, which was leaked some months ago but dismissed as so out-there as to make no sense, is…a cellphone. The “Palm”, so-called, is more or less credit-card sized with a 3.3” screen, an 800 mAh battery, an electronic SIM that mirrors your existing phone (of which more in a moment), and a bespoke UI on top of last year’s Android that tries to make it easy to work with what is, by 2018 standards, an infinitesimal display. In a world where a 5-inch phone can be called “small” this new thing is absurdly so (not to deny that the iPhone had a 3.5” screen from inception until summer 2012).

So what is this thing for? Apparently it is explicitly meant to be a second phone, of a type I am well familiar with: the shutdown phone, the device you want to have when you want to unplug without being disconnected. The e-SIM lets you ring it with the same phone number as your primary phone – which in a way gets around the issue I’ve always had with a separate device. It’s the same process used by the LTE-equipped Apple Watch…which in a lot of ways seems like a much better way of doing this, since it’s possible to be contacted by Apple Watch but damn near impossible to do the toxic shit like social media or read the news or what have you. But then, if you have an Android phone you probably haven’t got an Apple Watch.

Because for now, this is definitely meant for a very specific group of people: those who are on Verizon and can use an Android device as their failover. Which can be done, if you don’t care about iMessage for whatever reason, and maybe you don’t. I don’t know if WhatsApp or Signal or the like would be cool with two instances on two devices with the same number, although it seems to me like that would play hell with the security model. I’ll probably never know, as I would rather get my cell service from ISIS than Verizon, but that Apple Watch concept is intriguing. Or would be if it didn’t have to be charged every damn night.

I’ve gone two ways with the whole shutdown-device thing. The use of the Downtime function in iOS 12 is actually working really well, if only because it puts a barrier between me and the stuff I ought not be doing (and the use of clumsy two-factor authentication for Twitter makes it even more so, helpfully). I can take the same iPhone X that I use for the workday and go down to the pub on Sunday night, listen to music, read a book, still be reachable on Signal and never have to bother with digging out a second device and making sure it’s topped up, or bringing the Kindle along with that second device, or working up some combination of Kindle and iPod shuffle and…

It’s true that the phone has really become our personal computer. We may still manage our pictures or our music on the PC, and it’s certainly a hell of a lot easier to blog, but I truly wonder for how many people (especially outside Silly Con Valley) the phone has completely displaced the traditional computer as the user interface of their online existence. That’s why, to me, things like Downtime are a huge and necessary thing: if the phone should be capable of being your Walkman and your pager and your Kindle and your camera and your GPS and your record store, it stands to reason that it ought to be capable of being your shutdown phone as well and thus not being all those other things from time to time. And there should be some way of gleaning the benefits of a connected world without having to take the firehose of shit with it.

I mean, think about it. If you want to know what the weather is going to be like tomorrow, it’s not going to drag you down a wormhole or ruin your night to look at Weatherunderground, right? You should be able to see what time is the light rail departing without being sucked into Facebook, right? And I’m sure the people who say “just don’t open those apps” are the same people who say “well just don’t get pulled over” or asinine stuff like that. You do things in this life to make it easier not to do things you don’t want to do, especially if there’s a time and a place when you do want to. But in the grand scheme of things, isn’t it better to have a way of constraining yourself that doesn’t cost $350?

Oh right, I forgot. This little slice of Golden State Warriors techno heaven will cost you $350, plus an extra $10 a month to add it to your Verizon plan. It’s one thing when you can repurpose a phone you already had (and to be fair, the Moto X so long ago was about the same, although it was bought with the hope of using it as a primary phone between jobs) but paying extra money up front to detach sounds…well, quite frankly it sounds like a dream business for extracting money from white people in Silly Con Valley. But the thing I always come back to – even in my own situation – is that nobody wants to manage two phones. It’s just not worth the hassle to have a second device, even when it becomes a Tamagotchi that you’re only tending once or twice a week to make sure you don’t find yourself 29 updates in arrears and two beta versions behind.

So yeah, one device that can be made to do (and NOT to do) whatever you want. Of which more in a bit.

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