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.

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