iPhone Xr

So after all the hype and final shutdown of the Light Phone Experiment, since I was due for an upgrade of my iPhone SE, I went and pulled the trigger on the Xr – well, 4 of ’em actually – as my wife and 2 kids were all due for upgrades too. Got a screaming good Black Friday* deal on them, I’m ashamed to admit.

I’m sure I’ll come up with more over time but here’s the quick and dirty I’ve got so far:

  • Big phone, but I guess this is the way things are going
  • Big phone does make for nicer reading experience with iBooks
  • I like the FaceID feature way more than I thought I would
  • Because of the repositioning of the on/off button, I keep taking a screenshot every time I go to lock the phone
  • Retina display is really nice
  • Like that I have space for an additional row of apps and can still only have ‘one screen’
  • Works flawlessly with my Air Pod Pros – which I’m digging – perhaps more on those in another post

*It’s a strange world when one reaches a point where your family has so many phones that one has to set up a spreadsheet to compare all the various options, deals and service plans before making any purchases or adjustments to your mobility plan. Perhaps theres a market for an app for this.

The Light Phone Experiment That Wasn’t

So if you’ve been paying attention to my posts at all, you’ll know that I was planning on running an experiment based around using a Light Phone 2 provided by a buddy of mine with the intention of seeing what it was like to be ‘smartphoneless’ for some given period of time. Well, that idea has crashed and burned or perhaps more accurately, fizzled.

First off, it was taking awhile for the Light Phone folks to ship their product – a not-unexpected occurrence – given that this was an Indiegogo thing and these things take time. Not an un-ironic comment on how our everything-immediately-on-demand world has influenced our expectations and perceptions of time. Still, the length of time it was taking started to sap interest in the desire to play around with the device. Steve – the guy who was going to loan me his version of the phone – and I remarked on this a few times in our correspondence. Still, I remained committed to giving it a shot and he still felt I was a good candidate to put it through its paces.

When the phone finally shipped to Steve, once he received it, decided he wanted to give it a temporary spin so set about trying to get it up and running with his cellular service provider. He hit some snags though, and then decided to try using the Light Phone’s own SIM plan and ordered up a card – only to have issues with getting the SIM to be recognized once it arrived. Last we spoke, he still didn’t have the thing up and running.

In the meantime, I had my own circumstances change in that I agreed at the last minute to coach my kids’ hockey team this winter. Based on my previous experiences coaching, the prospect of trying to run the team as well as coordinate with parents and league staff all without a ‘smart’ phone (one with a calendar and access to a web browser and email) seemed like an exercise in futility and one that would only make life miserable. Due to the time it was taking to get the Light Phone into my hands, my interest in the experiment as it was initially formulated had waned. Being faced with this new organizational challenge – I told Steve I wasn’t really interested in it any longer – at least not at this point.

I will say this though, that the whole idea wasn’t without it’s upsides. Through the process of thinking about the phone and preparing to use it, I went through several phases of evaluating and thinking about what apps I have on my current phone and how I use them. That process has led to a major cull in both apps on the phone as well as phone usage/screen time in a way that has been overwhelmingly positive. Probably the largest single change has been the elimination of email from my phone. While I did, initially re-install it after agreeing to coach, I uninstalled it after only a short while realizing that the several months prior of having no access to it on the phone had taught me I don’t need it and I was able to pretty much manage things by sticking to the routine I’d established of basically checking email once a day, intentionally, at a regular time.

One screen to rule them all. Still.

In closing, I’m still glad that I went through the whole process, even though things fell apart at the end. The result is I’m still using a phone that’s about as ‘light’ as I can get, and the apps that are on it I’ve given a lot of thought about whether I want to give my time and attention to and if they’re of real value in my day-to-day. This idea of considering how we use the technology we have very intentionally is something Cal Newport talks about at length in his book Digital Minimalism: Choosing A Focused Life in a Noisy World . Although I’ve actually only just started reading this, I had inadvertently already begun what Mr. Newport calls the ‘Digital Declutter’ without even knowing it. When I wanted to reevaluate my relationship with the technology in my day-to-day life, it just seemed to be the sensible way to do it. That said, the book is great so far and I highly recommend it if it sounds like something you’re interested in or are considering.

For those interested/playing along – I’ve stuck to my initial plan of keeping my phone to ‘one-screen’ of apps. Each one has had to ‘earn’ its real-estate there (exception being the un-installable apps, some of which I wish I could nuke). I also didn’t cheat by putting apps I can’t remove in a folder to give me more space on the ‘one-screen’, so I really had to think hard about it. Interesting note – I’m up for an upgrade of my iPhone SE and I notice that even the smallest of the newer iPhones is larger than this one. While I’m not excited about that – I like a small phone – I think it does mean more screen real-estate for apps, I guess I’ll have to see how that goes.

Light Phone II, For Reals

Photo from the Light Phone II Indiegogo page.

Anyone following along here knows that awhile back I did a Light Phone Experiment, based on my learning about the Light Phone II project. Well, the plot thickens.

I had a convo with my buddy Steve who has backed the LP II and decided that he probably won’t use it, so once he gets his in the mail and has a chance to check it out, he’s gonna ship it to me for a demo. I’d like to say thanks to him for the opportunity – it should be an interesting and fun experiment. In his own words, “I can’t think of anyone better for test driving this thing.”

Rather than just use the LP II once in awhile to “go light” as the creators suggest, I’m going to go all the way and replace my iPhone with the LP II. For how long remains to be seen, I’m waiting to see how it goes. There’ll always be the option to jump back to my trusty iPhone as moving between the two simply means moving the SIM back and forth.

For those too lazy to check the link or just looking for the TLDR info, the Light Phone II has three functions – phone, text, and an alarm. The developers have talked about adding some other things like directions or playlists, but it remains to be seen what will be on it when they start shipping at the end of the month. As far as I’m concerned, the less, the better.

I removed the email app from my iPhone a couple of months ago and have been pretty happy about it. There were still some other apps I used on it pretty consistently though and it could be interesting to see how much I miss them and/or how I adapt with them gone. Chief among those would be Notes, Calendar, Banking, Books, Music, LastPass, Weather, ScannerPro and the camera.

These are all things I can access/use for the most part from my desktop Macs at home or at work, but it will mean rethinking the way I use them, i.e. creating a time of the day to use them more deliberately or consciously.

In preparation of the LP II landing, I’ve removed everything I possibly could from my iPhone and started sort of working with that. There’s a few things you just can’t remove without jailbreaking the phone, but I’ve removed everything else. It basically leaves you with phone, text, the camera/Photos and Safari. It’s been a few days and it’s already getting interesting. A few things that have come up already:

  • I have a few contacts that send me longer than average, multi-paragraph texts. From what I’ve seen in the video demos of the LP II, I’m not sure how the interface will handle this;
  • The LP II doesn’t support group texts/iMessage, so I’m not sure how that will play out;
  • No sharing of links or photos via text;
  • No emojis I don’t think – something I won’t miss;
  • No Notes. This is huge. I use Notes all the time. I carry a paper notebook with me all the time, but was rarely using it – might have to get back into that now. I’ll still be able to access Notes via iCloud on a desktop browser or the desktop app, but that leads to another interesting challenge…
  • iCloud sign-in verification. Signing into iCloud requires authorization via a number code sent to your iPhone – I won’t be able to get these anymore.
  • No Calendar on-the-go. I can still access it via the desktop, but with school and kids’ hockey season about to start, this could get interesting. Same for no email. I’ve been without it all Summer, but schools and hockey coaches send a lot of emails – some of them time-sensitive.
  • No camera. Actually, as I mentioned to Steve, I bought a used Canon G10 last year and I’ve really been meaning to use it more than I do, so having no camera on the phone will steer me in that direction.

Though I won’t have access to all this stuff on my phone, with me at all times, the reality is that I will on my Mac desktops – one of which I stand in front of at work for 7 hours a day. How much hassle will the non-constant contact end up causing? It remains to be seen. I’ve been getting a little taste for a few months with no email, and now will find out a little more. Stay tuned for updates on the goings on.

‘Light ‘ Phone Experiment Observations

So back in my post about the Light Phone 2 – I decided to give it a go with setting up my iPhone as much like a Light Phone 2 as possible and give it 2 weeks. Visit my first post to see what I stripped the phone down to. Here’s some observations.

Day Two

Already got weirded out a few times that I couldn’t check email on the phone. Decided I had to let it go. When I finally got to email on a desktop, I found that really, there was nothing there that important. I’m working on sort of settling into ‘not knowing’ what’s in the Inbox at all times. When I can accept that, it’s somewhat liberating. There was a bunch of news today based on a WSJ story about third-party apps sending info to Facebook and/or tracking users making me wonder about keeping Messenger on my phone. The caveat has always been that a few very close connections use it almost exclusively and it’s easy for things like sharing links and photos, but I am starting to wonder if I want to keep using it on principle.

I’ve also realized how regularly I use some browser bookmarks – and with only Safari on my phone and Chrome as my primary desktop browser, they aren’t available. I could of course duplicate them in Safari, but that defeats the point of trying to streamline things. This is one reason I’ve often jumped back and forth from Chrome to Safari in the past. I’ve always wanted one solution. Safari has always been clunky and slower than Chrome and is not the best browser for web development. I’ve also had issues with the Last Pass extension not working consistently in Safari on the desktop. I do like Safari’s ‘Reading List’ feature though – something Google is now using but is not available on desktops – yet – unless you’re using an Android device. Instead I just made a ‘Junk Drawer’ bookmarks folder in Chrome. Will have to consider if all this is a big enough deal to dump Chrome as my default browser on the desktops.

Day Three

So interestingly, other than weather (which I can check out on my watch), I really have no need check my phone at all until I get to work in the mornings now. Indeed with no email on the phone, unless I get a notification of a text or a call – I have no need to ‘check’ my phone at all. I have already on several occasions caught myself picking up the phone, unlocking it and staring at it like “what am I doing here” then remembering, oh yeah, there’s nothing here for you.

Day Four

I nuked Facebook Messenger. Told the few contacts I regularly used it with that I’m available via text, voice or email, take your pick. I’m down to only stock Apple apps. I realize that Apple is very likely tracking my usage and stats, but to some extent I have to think that their stock apps have no reason to share data outside the Apple OS. Most significantly, today I realized I no longer have any reason to take my phone to the bathroom. Ahem.

Day Five

Prior to this experiment, I was averaging an hour and a half of phone screen time per day – that was even without social media. Currently down to 20 mins or so. Today I added 2 apps back, Scanner Pro and my banking app – both apps that I use almost daily and I find very useful.

Day Ten

At home, my phone sits on the dresser. I don’t carry it around the house. Granted, my Apple Watch lets me know if there’s a call or a text if I don’t hear the phone itself, but I’m no longer really looking for it in general when I’m out and about. I put it in my backpack when I’m in the car. Bluetooth lets me answer calls – and I’m even thinking of disconnecting that. Do I really need to talk to someone on the phone when I’m driving? There was a time when we as a species didn’t and somehow we managed. As a parent of a kid currently taking driving instruction and who will be driving soon, I’m becoming more cognizant of what message I’m sending – even if it’s only subconsciously.

Day Twelve

I had to cave and put email back on the phone. Too much of life hinges on it. Hockey coaches, teachers, and a slew of other businesses/clubs/institutions all still use it as a primary and immediate source of contact or news dissemination even though there’s been tons of different articles proclaiming its demise as a communications medium. Also, email as an archive of information is invaluable and I didn’t realize how often I go back and ‘look something up’ or check an old email for reference.

I did really enjoy not having it on the phone and having to be more intentional about checking email at a desktop. I had established a habit of deliberately checking mail once a day – more the way you would with snail mail – and responding to and addressing issues at that time. This simple act had 2 pleasurable effects. First, there was the satisfying feeling of getting something done, i.e. “Ok, checked my mail, now on to the next thing.”

Second, the act of sitting down and responding to emails in one shot meant I spent more time with replies, especially with the consideration that I probably wouldn’t be getting back to check mail for another 24 hours or so. I could definitely see myself without immediate access to email – i.e. on the phone – once things involving kids slow down or go away all together. For now it will have to stay.

Disconnected the phone from the car via Bluetooth. Now when I’m driving, I’m just driving.

In Closing

One Screen to Rule Them All…

Overall, it’s been a positive experience/experiment. The only other apps I added back were my password manager app ( I do need access to passwords and such sometimes when at a client’s office or elsewhere and as IT/Support guy for our family I’m always getting asked for passwords) and the Voice Memos app which I do use for voice memos and also sometimes I just make recordings of sounds.

The Organizational Demon in my head is satisfied as well because what I’ve got fits on one phone screen with no empty spaces and no swiping. I’ve kind of made that the ‘box’ I’m confining myself to.

Ultimately, in answer to my original query of whether or not I could switch to the actual Light Phone 2 – I think the answer would be, yes – but only at a point when my family calendar was considerably less packed – and I’m responsible for accessing less information on behalf of others. There’s still the issue of photos – which I do use my phone for a lot, so in an ideal world, my ‘light phone’ would still have a camera. For now I think I’ve ‘lightened’ my current iPhone considerably as well as lightening my usage of it, both of which have been positive.

Apple ‘Light’ Phone Experiment

My buddy Steve posted over on his site about ordering up one of the forthcoming Light Phone 2’s – basically a stripped down phone that does calls, messaging and that’s about it.

The prospect was appealing to me, and fatefully enough checking with my mobility provider tells me that the contract is up on my trusty iPhone SE at the end of this month. Fate? I dunno.

I’m painfully impulsive when it comes to things like this so as hard as it is, I’m going to exercise discipline and not pull the trigger immediately on a Light Phone. Instead, I’ll use Steve’s experience with it as research.

However, it occurred to me that one could practically render the iPhone a ‘Light Phone’ by dumping all the apps, or as much as the OS will allow, so as an experiment, I decided to do that. The surprise was that it was really hard to think about not using some apps, let alone deleting them – a telling indication for sure and perhaps a reason I won’t be able to go for the actual Light Phone in the long run, but we’ll see.

For the record, I’ve neutered my phone down to:

Lean Mean Home Screen
  • Activity App – Syncs with my Apple Watch;
  • App Store – must use, can’t get rid of it;
  • Calendar – even thinking about getting rid of this gave me the shakes. Trying to keep track of 6 family members without access to this would be a nightmare. Probably the reason right here that I’ll never go Light Phone;
  • Camera – can’t get rid of it;
  • Clock – can’t get rid of it;
  • Contacts – basically for phone/messaging purposes;
  • Facebook Messenger – still my main source of comms with many people;
  • Find iPhone – can’t get rid of it;
  • Health – can’t get rid of it, and I actually use it;
  • iMessage – can’t get rid of it, don’t want to;
  • Music – this was a tough one, but I use the phone to listen to music on the bike trainer and other places, so I kept it. I don’t use it in the car or at work though;
  • Notes – I use Notes for everything. All the time. I’ve got so much stuff in there;
  • Phone – can’t get rid of it, don’t want to;
  • Photos – can’t get rid of it;
  • Safari – can’t get rid of it;
  • Settings – can’t get rid of it;
  • Wallet – can’t get rid of it;
  • Watch – can’t get rid of it, well, if you want to use the watch;
  • Weather – I can get rid of this, but I need it in order to display weather on the watch, which I do use often.

I buried all the apps in a folder on the task bar at the bottom because they can mostly be accessed by a swipe right and/or search. For the most part, swiping right, Siri is pretty good about knowing what app I’m looking for and offers it up via witchcraft.

Notable exclusions/things that gave me pause about deleting:

  • Email – yup. No more email on the phone. This could prove problematic as lots of family business and updates are sent via email, but we’ll see;
  • ScannerPro – an app that I used to scan paper documents to GoogleDrive. Very good at what it does and useful for getting rid of paper clutter. I don’t use it often, but when I do, it’s great. I’m already thinking I will re-install this the next time I want it without hesitation;
  • Banking App – not sure how often I actually used this – guess we’re gonna find out;
  • Password Manager – all my passwords are still accessible on my desktops, but sometimes I had to look one up;
  • Chrome – I loathe the Safari mobile app. Also use Chrome on my desktops so I won’t get bookmark/history sync anymore;
  • Feedly – I can access this on desktop too, but on the phone it was my go-to time-killer. Got a few minutes? Find some articles on Feedly. Guess I’ll have to stare at a wall, or – gasp – talk to strangers now.

So that’s it, one screen. I’ll see what this gets me. Going to go two weeks from today and then review how things went and post up here.