App of the Day: No app

I can’t remember the last time I got an app for my phone that actually excited me. As phone technology has improved, I’ve found the way I use the phone has, in some ways, regressed.

I’ve commented on this before, but my phone habits have probably shrunken even more since then.

My typical usage now is:

  • text messages, either with my partner using the default Messages app, with friends using Facebook Messenger (ugh) or at work using Slack.
  • taking photos of things, sometimes work-related (these are typically deleted after, as they are only useful in the moment, but mostly just flowers and scenery I find interesting
  • occasionally checking email
  • occasionally checking something in a browser (usually Firefox)
  • occasionally adding something in the Reminders app
  • using the PayRange app to buy something from a vending machine (I do this at work to avoid long lines in the cafeteria when all I want is a beverage).
  • occasionally taking or (even less occasionally) making a phone call

Everything else, like playing games, checking news, other apps, the weather, maps–are all edge cases I only do once in awhile.

AR (Augmented Reality) is something Apple is pushing but it excites me about as much as putting on socks in the morning. VR is even worse, and doesn’t work for me, anyway.

I am more likely to delete an app than install it. In fact, iOS 13 (coming next month) will offer a new feature that will make this easier, by presenting an uninstall option when an app offers an update. This is kind of clever, really. “Hey, here’s an update for an app I installed a year ago and never use. But look, there’s a handy uninstall option right here, too!” This might make some companies like Facebook rethink their strategy of constantly pushing updates to keep the app in the user’s mind.

Anyway, it could be that I’ve just become a boring old sod and the app world is actually exciting and innovative, but when I look at the upcoming iPhone launch, I wonder why on earth I would spend so much money to do so little, especially when the phone I have now seems to be good enough.

To all the phones I’ve loved, er, owned before

UPDATE, January 19, 2021: Added the iPhone 8 (RIP) and iPhone 12, corrected several egregious typos

Way back in the primitive days of 2008 I had something now known as a landline. This consisted of a telephone that was connected, via physical wires, to a dedicated telephone system that connected not just to my abode, but to pretty much all others, as well as businesses and even little structures known as phone booths. Any time of the day or night the landline meant I could pick up the receiver and hear the comforting drone of a dial tone, ready for me to punch in some numbers and get with the calling.

Today I have no such device. After getting my first cell phone in 2009 it grew increasingly obvious that I did not need two phones that did the same thing and especially two bills that did the same thing–expect me to hand over money willingly. And also especially considering my propensity to rarely call people or otherwise receive calls. Why pay two bills totalling $70? (This turned out to be a naive question now that we have companies like Telus trying to entice people into two year plans for a mere $95 per month.)

But never mind that, this is a list because I like lists and so here are the cell phones I’ve owned since 2009.

2009: The Year I Make Contact (with a cell phone)

Device: Samsung M320 (retail value: $40)
Fun Fact: Samsung has released 15 billion different cell phone models

My first cell phone was a Samsung M320, which sounds more like an airliner model than a cell phone, though to be fair, the phone could fly–briefly–if hurled with enough force.

I got this phone with my first mobile carrier, Virgin Mobile. When I eventually switched from Virgin to Telus, the customer support person at Virgin called me a “naughty boy” for switching. Things were different back then.

I actually still have this phone and on a lark connected it to USB’s charging! Here it is in all its charging glory:

I still think having a red button labeled END is a bit ominous.

In terms of style, this is my favourite phone, though it’s a mere “feature phone,” meaning it doesn’t have a fancy touch screen interface and all that jazz. While it’s not a smartphone, it’s not entirely dumb, either. It’s more of a dim phone. The best part is it flips open like a communicator on the original Star Trek. I confess to flipping it open multiple times and uttering, “Beam me up.” This was especially confusing to people when I did it while I was on a call with them. The phone had a low resolution colour display, a Tetris demo that worked about as well as you’d expect, and had TALK and BACK buttons next to each other, which I’m sure was just a coincidence. It was neat to me in that whole “wow, you can actually take your phone with you anywhere” way, but in 2009 it was already obsolete thanks to a little phone introduced two years earlier you may have heard of. I moved on quickly to…

2010: I phone, You phone, We All iPhone

Device: iPhone 4
Fun Fact: Steve Jobs made out on stage with the iPhone 4 at the 2010 Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC)

Here is a stock photo of an iPhone 4 from Apple’s support page because mine has probably been recycled into a transistor radio by now:

My iPhone 4 was black back when black was black and not space grey.

What convinced me to get my first iPhone was the Retina display. It really did look sharp. Steve was right! I downloaded bunches of apps that I promptly ignored, because apps were new and amazing. I kept a handful that were actually useful. Actually, I lie, I kept all of them because for the longest time I had no idea how to get rid of them. I was now ensconced in the iOS ecosystem, but it turned out that in 2010 that wasn’t enough. I wanted more. I wanted something…bigger.

2013: Bigger is Better (in theory)

Device: Samsung Galaxy S3
Fun fact: I spent more time moving icons around on screen than actually using this phone

Stock photo because my Galaxy S3 by all rights should have been shot into the sun (see below):

Now picture this phone going dead after a few hours of not doing anything at all. Grr.

Three years later (phone contracts were three years long in the olden days) I jumped ship to Android, or at least to Samsung’s version of it, dubbed TouchWiz, which reminds me too much of Cheese Whiz. What seduced me away from the iPhone was again the display–this time due to the Samsung Galaxy 3 offering an absurdly spacious (at the time) 4.7” display. I loved the larger screen. The phone was a little slippery to hold, though. Very slippery, really. It would squip out of my hand like a bar of soap. And to be honest, it felt pretty cheap and plasticky, pretty much the opposite of the classy iPhone 4. Also, it turned out the phone had a mysterious battery drain issue that could not be resolved. It would sit on the desk while I was at work, in sleep mode, and be drained before my shift ended. I spent oodles of time troubleshooting it, turning on power-save modes, disabling Wi-Fi, placing it in a pentagram on the floor and offering my first born. Nothing worked. It was the first time this fancy new technology let me down. Telus kindly allowed me to swap the S3 for any other phone they carried, up to the same value. This led to…

2013, Part 2: Back to the Fruit

Device: iPhone 5c
Fun Fact: This phone was an experiment of sorts for Apple. I loved it and so it was killed dead after one year.

So green. So groovy. Image courtesy of MacRumors.

By the fall of 2013 I had returned to the Apple fold by getting a funky green iPhone 5C. Design-wise, this is still my favourite phone. It also fit nicely in hand without needing a case. It wasn’t slippery like the S3 and the plastic looked nice, not cheap. The display was larger than the iPhone 4 at 4 inches, but still smaller than the S3. I didn’t mind, though, it was enough for me. I downloaded more apps and for a time was content, but eventually chafed at the 16 GB of storage. My music collection alone would come to surpass this. So my next phone was based on something other than the display or battery/reliability.

2014: Big and Not Really Beautiful

Device: iPhone 6
Fun Fact: I’m pretty sure Steve Jobs rolled over in his grave at the design

Space Grey: The new not very black

In late 2014 (like, a few days before the year ended) I got an iPhone 6 after nearly three months of searching for a store that had the model I wanted in stock–a 64 GB Space Grey. The iPhone 6 was the first “big” iPhone and was popular as all get-out. This had the same 4.7” display as the S3, and like the S3 it was also very thin and slippery to hold. I got a green silicone case for it, to make it look a bit like my beloved 5c and to keep it from shooting out of my hand. That case turned out to be a little too grippy, making it somewhat difficult to get the phone out of my pocket. I opted for a black leather case instead, since green leather cases were not available and would probably have been hideous, anyway. Speaking of hideous, I am 100% certain that Jobs would have barfed at the way-ugly antenna cutouts on the back of the phone (the Space Gray colour made them a little harder to see, at least). I didn’t care about the looks, though, because with 64 GB of storage I was able to comfortably load all of my music on the phone, plus all the apps I’d never use.

Three years later and that same iPhone 6 is trucking along, albeit more sluggishly than before. I’m long past my two-year contract, so I’ve been eyeballing possible replacements and trying to decide what’s important to me now. Really, if the iPhone 6’s performance was still top-notch I wouldn’t even be looking at all. Since I have an Apple Watch I am more or less beholden to Apple (I rather like the watch) and where once Apple offered an iPhone and that was it, they now sell:

  • iPhone SE
  • iPhone 6s
  • iPhone 6s Plus
  • iPhone 7
  • iPhone 7 Plus
  • iPhone 8
  • iPhone 8 Plus
  • And next month (November), the iPhone X (that’s 10, not the 24th letter of the alphabet)

Yes, Apple has gone from the simplicity of offering one phone model to octupling the choices. The Canadian prices range from $469 to $1319, or from the sublime to the ridiculous, if you prefer.

I have made no decision as of yet and so my cell phone story has reached a pause, for now. I’m finding it hard to imagine I could justify $1300+ (before tax) on a phone that doesn’t actually do impossible things, like shoot money at me or do the laundry, so the iPhone X is probably a no-go. Plus it’s all-new first generation technology and Apple is pretty good at borking that sort of thing. Better to wait a couple of versions, then get the second generation at a discount.

Or just buy a cheaper phone, because as I mentioned near the start of this, I have a propensity to rarely call people or otherwise receive calls, which makes a $1300 phone seem a little silly, even if it can recognize my face.

UPDATE, January 19, 2021

I have acquired two more phones since this post was originally made. See below!

2017: Slightly improved

Device: iPhone 8
Fun Fact: Really just a refinement of the 6, though with a glass back, so Steve Jobs is probably no longer rolling over in his grave

By 2017 the performance of the iPhone 6 was getting noticeably slower, thanks to Apple’s “We’re totally not trying to get you to buy a new iPhone” updates to iOS. I decided to upgrade and because I was off contract, opted to buy the phone outright (I did a comparison and buying the phone and paying monthly over two years would have saved me about $20), so I took my 6 to an Apple store, considered the $1,300+ price of the then new iPhone X, chuckled quietly, then got an iPhone 8 in space gray with 64 GB of storage. I was essentially getting a faster version of the 6, with a better camera, wireless charging and Force Touch1Or 3D Touch, or whatever name Apple gave the phone version. This was maybe part of the problem–even Apple seemed confused by the feature. (which Apple later went on to kill, anyway). I immediately got a case and the phone never left it. It is in that same case right now.

Phone-wise, the 8 is so close to the 6 that I can’t really say anything new about it. I did appreciate the camera improvements and it led me to ultimately getting an actual camera, so that was a plus (except to my bank account).

The iPhone 8 served me faithfully for over two years, but in its third year, things turned sour. See below.

2021: The future is notch-shaped

Device: iPhone 12
Fun Fact: My biggest phone yet that strangely doesn’t feel that big

In 2020, the Worst Year Ever, my trusty iPhone 8 started developing battery issues. Specifically, the battery was not able to hold a decent charge. Then it got worse. The battery would drain so rapidly that it would go from 100% to 4% to “I’m shutting off now” in a matter of minutes. It got to the point that if I went out taking photos with Nic, I would need to bring along a portable power bank and run the iPhone tethered to it. At first I considered getting a new battery, but given the age of the phone, I ultimately decided to wait for Apple’s new models to come out and maybe get something on contract again, and using the “spread the pain over multiple years” to get a so-called Pro model with a telephoto lens.

In the end, I did everything differently, in a way:

  • I replaced the battery of my iPhone 8. With a new battery I can sell the phone used. Without a new battery, no one would want it unless they were mad. Or willing to deal with the hassle of replacing the battery themselves. But the battery replacement was more complicated than expected and the phone had to be shipped off to Apple.
  • The delay prompted me to finally move forward on getting a new phone, but in the meantime I had also decided to get an actual camera, so I went from considering the iPhone 12 Pro/Pro Max to settling on the regular iPhone 12.

The iPhone 12 model I have is Graphite, which is apparently Apple’s new version of Space Gray. I also bumped the storage up to 128 GB just to be on the safe side, even though I will now be taking more photos on my actual camera (a Canon EOS M50–more on that in another post).

This is my first iPhone with the new design language of “full screen” display, camera notch at the top and such. The larger display (6.1″ diagonally) is nice, and because the bezels are so much smaller, the phone is not actually much bigger than the 8. The flat sides also feel nice for holding it. It feels solid.

The camera is improved again and night mode works as advertised–handy for grabbing pics when lighting is bad and I am sans dedicated camera.

Other than that, it’s an iPhone and works like an iPhone. It’s fast and slick, but I use my phone much less than other tools these days. I made a rule only to install apps as I need them and I’m keeping the home screen free of any apps I don’t use regularly. It’s mostly empty.

Oh, it has 5G support. I have not noticed this making a difference anywhere at any time. So woo on that.

The evolution of the smartphone (more smart, less phone)

My current phone is an iPhone 6 and I’ve had it for a little under three years, which is something like 20 in phone years.

It’s been paid off for nine months so I’m free to get a new phone anytime. I’ve resisted until now because there’s nothing wrong with it, though of late it has been a little more sluggish and battery life seems worse. It’s still perfectly usable.

But with the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus out and the iPhone X (10) due out in a little over a month, I’m mulling a replacement.

The weird thing is the phone part–where you make calls and take calls–is probably the aspect I’m least interested in. I’m a lot more interested in the rear-facing camera as my iPhone has replaced my Canon point-and-shoot camera. I’m also more interested in getting a newer device that would be snappier when running apps, retrieving information and other non-phone tasks. I mean, yes, I expect it to handle phone calls, too, but I actually don’t really talk much on the phone anymore and I kind of like it that way.

The other thing I’m mulling is moving to a larger phone. When I am on a call it’s often via ear buds, so I’m not holding a giant glass and aluminum slab next to my ear, anyway. The benefits are better battery life and a larger display for all those non-phone things.

The downside to this contemplation is Apple evolving back to ludicrous pricing territory (last seen prior to Jobs returning in 1997), which, combined with the Canadian dollar, means the 8 Plus and X sell for between $1,000-$1,300.

Or maybe I could just get a new sim for the $40 Samsung flip phone I still have tucked away in a drawer. Granted, it could really only do the phone part, but I could use the leftover $1,000 on, I don’t know, $1,000 worth of apple fritters or something.

Anyway, smartphones are expensive, which sucks, but they do all kinds of nifty things now, which is neat. The end!

Brain cancer and spam

When I finally broke down and got a cell phone last year I was aware of all the stories that suggest the devices could cause brain cancer, impotence, itchy skin and other assorted afflictions. I don’t really care about all that since living on this planet appears to be fatal no matter what.

What does annoys me, though, is it only took nine months to get my first spam message. It came from some company calling out of Quebec, peddling their unwanted wares under the guise of me ‘winning’ travel dollars or somesuch. No, I will not press 1 to claim my ‘prize’. Yeesh.

In the Star Wars universe, all telemarketers would be based out of Mos Eisley.