When Is Bigger Better?

Samsung Galaxy Note 3

Samsung Galaxy Note 3 (Photo credit: Janitors)

Chocolate bars?  Sorry.  I’m referring to phones at the moment.  Anyone who answered anatomically – no comment, but you know who you are.

In the last few years smartphone makers have been simultaneously racing to make the thinnest phone whilst also ensuring their screens are bigger than everyone elses – bigger numbers sell it seems.  For years Apple played no part in this, with Steve Jobs apparently saying that bigger screens were impractical, until they then made a bigger screened phone and suddenly it was an obvious thing to do because it is the perfect fit for your thumb’s range of movement.  Right.  What they haven’t done (yet) is make a 6″ screen phone, what many tech bloggers mockingly referred to (when Samsung unveiled the Note) as a Phablet.

How they laughed.  Until millions of people went out and bought them.  25.2 million shipped in the Asia-Pacific region during the second quarter of the year, according to IDC.  Samsung still has around 50% of the market tied up in Notes.  The larger screen smartphone trend was really started by the Dell Streak but the Galaxy Note really made the form popular, especially with its s-Pen stylus which gave back touchscreen devices truly precise pen-like use even though, again according to Steve Jobs they were an outdated way to control a device.  People like to doodle and make handwritten notes though and this is easier with a pen, as it properly drawing something, annotating a plan etc…

One reason that larger phones are catching on is that they’re not really that big, the screen size has increased but the surrounding bezel has reduced almost to the point of non-existence so, combined with thinner chassis the phone doesn’t feel too bulky – though despite the idea that we’ll evolve different shaped thumbs due to texting is a massive misunderstanding of evolution our trousers may evolve bigger pockets.  Or sales of jackets and cloaks with poachers’ pockets may increase.  A particular user group for big-screen phones is apparently people with impaired eyesight as the larger on-screen keys are easier to read and type on.  Lastly the availability of high-speed mobile internet and the fact that smartphones can connect to wi-fi internet whenever possible makes them popular for watching films and tv or gaming on the move, though personally I wouldn’t want to watch a film on anything less than my 7″ tablet.

Some have aired concern that as manufacturers battle to have the biggest screen size consumers will be forced to accept bigger phones in order to get higher specs elsewhere in the device and this could be a problem, as this Gizmodo UK article points out they should also release smaller versions too and it seems that this is happening with smaller but not spec-crippled phones beginning to trickle out from companies like HTC and Sony.

One considerable downside is the size of the phone when you actually make a phone call, I know, it’s crazy but some people still do that.  I’ve not tried it but I’ve read that after so many years of phones becoming so tiny and inconspicuous that you’d sometimes appear to be talking to yourself it feels odd to have something the general size and shape of a thin paperback novel stuck against your head whilst talking to it.  This is the difference between today’s big phones and the eighties bricks – back then you wanted people to see your expensive mobile and didn’t care how big it was.  To this end phone makers have come full-circle and are developing tiny satellite handsets which look eerily like late-nineties GSM phones, with buttons and everything, connected via bluetooth for the purposes of making voice calls via the smartphone lurking in your pocket or bag.  It’s only a matter of time before we get these add-on handsets made to look like classic Nokias or Motorolas, I suppose, with the current retro obsession in other areas of technology.

Taking all this to its (il)logical conclusion in the future perhaps the smartphone will become a hub, connected to your smartwatch for notifications, your Google Glass style eyepiece for even speedier updates and navigation, and your peripheral handset for talking.  At which point we’ve gone from carrying many devices doing various jobs to many devices doing various jobs but connected together.

Past Time

Longines pocket watch

Longines pocket watch (Photo credit: xddorox)

A piece by David Yanofsky on the Quartz site recently highlighted a trend that I’d not thought about but I now realise I do and a few people I know do too.

Mobile phones have become the modern equivalent of the pocket watch.  I still always wear a wristwatch, most of the time when I need to know the time locating my phone would take too much, time.  But when I’m in a pub I’ll pull out my phone to check the time rather than look at my watch for some reason – though probably it’s more an issue of visibility in some places.

The article goes on to suggest that as phones increase in size and complexity this is not a good habit to get into as retrieving devices from pockets and bags is inconvenient and that tech companies are already eyeing up the wrist real-estate vacated by ticking timekeepers and replacing them with smartwatches which will keep track of your messages, calls, fitness, reminders, oh and tell the time while your phone stays tucked away safely somewhere on your person.

An interesting idea, true, but I like my analogue watches (yes, I collect them too) and if I don’t want to look at what my phone is trying to tell me I can leave it where it is – even if it is on the shelf, at home, because I forgot it.

[Quartz]

I <3 My Smartphone

Android 4.0.1

Android 4.0.1 (Photo credit: laihiu)

There, I’ve said it.  Ok, so I don’t love it, it’s not like I cuddle it, much.  But as someone who for quite a while didn’t bother to find out what was so smart about smartphones having one is a revelation.  I’ve written before about how useful it is to be able to share information across phone, tablet and laptop but this time I’ll share a few recommendations for apps that I’ve found invaluable to my life.

Interestingly I also found the other day that this little device even makes old fashioned phone calls.  Ha!

As someone who has intermittent memory Android’s notification bar is a joy.  For example, I have a checkup at the dentist next month, it was booked six months ago, I need to book a day off work to go – I don’t need to, it’s just a good excuse to have a lie-in on a Tuesday.  I opened up Google Calendar, added the appointment, added a reminder for the time then opened up Wunderlist and added a to-do list item for booking the day off complete with a reminder which will pop up on Monday morning.  The best thing about all these reminders – I also set them two weeks ahead for birthdays so I don’t leave cards until the last minute – is they persist in the notification bar until you remove them so every time I get a new email or app update I see the reminder too.  It’s pretty much foolproof.

Wunderlist is a well designed to-do list app which supports reminders, notes and nested to-dos and is cross-platform, i.e. it has apps on Android, iOS, PC, Mac and Linux all of which sync via the web – there is also website based access if you’re using someone elses computer.

Regularly is a tool for remembering events that happen predictably and regularly.  You set up a new event, set the interval that it needs to be done, each day, each month etc and then every time it’s due and you’ve done it you add an entry to that item’s log and the counter resets, if you don’t do it the app reminds you that it’s overdue.  Perhaps scheduling a chinese takeaway every month could be a bit too much, not that I have done, honestly.

There are many notepad apps for quick notes, the one I use is OI Notepad, in the end I chose it because it looked nice and had a colourful icon.  It’s useful for quick notes when the phone isn’t connected to the internet.  I could use Evernote which is also installed but I prefer to use that on my Nexus 7 where it has a bit more screen to play with.

Of course there are other apps I particularly recommend such as the Met Office Weather app which allows you to have multiple pages of favourite locations, includes five-day forecasts and even sunrise and sunset times; the Facebook app if you’re signed up which is pretty good now; the BBC’s News app is useful and finally Firefox which I personally prefer to the built-in browser because I use it on the laptop and I can sync the bookmarks between the two.

The always-on nature of smartphones and tablets is also particularly useful to me as I can just quickly look at a webpage or make a note without having to put the laptop back on – usually this happens just before I’m about to go to bed.

It has been said recently that people have now started to use technology to get round the problems caused by other technology, like carrying an always connected smartphone in order to always be able to get work emails, but for me my technology just helps me with my annoyingly poor memory.