Device Consolidation and the March of Big Phones

I never thought I’d like big phones. Up till the summer of last year I had resisted the smartphone invasion, instead relying on my scuffed-yet-solid BlackBerry Pearl 8100, which I had inherited from my brother in 2008. But last summer a friend of mine was made redundant, as the government quango he toiled for closed down, and he found himself in possession of a HTC Desire and a HTC Wildfire S, gifted to him as part of his severance. A nominal amount of cash and the Wildfire quickly changed hands, and I had finally entered the world of the smartphone.

I liked the Wildfire. Even at the time it wasn’t exactly a flying machine, but it was compact and well-designed, sleek and comfortable both when in hand and pocket. It’s this latter point that I found most attractive; it sat in my jeans neatly, and I was barely aware I had it on me. I’ve always felt that this is how phones should be; they are so ubiquitous and necessary for everyday life that they aren’t just devices any more, they are more akin to an item of clothing. You wouldn’t dream of leaving the house topless, and likewise most people wouldn’t dream of leaving the house without their phone. It’s because of this clothing analogy that I felt the Wildfire was ideal for me; it was comfortable to wear, and it reinforced my minimalist spirit. It was ‘just enough’ smartphone for me.

But in January this year I cracked. In a splurge of life-reorganisation I sold my Asus Transformer Prime and spent the proceeds on a Google Nexus 4. The Wildfire was relegated, and a month later was also sold, along with the stalwart BlackBerry that had sat in the bottom of one of my drawers since last summer.

I love my Nexus 4. Of course it doesn’t fit so well in my pocket, and when carrying wallet + car keys + phone one of them has to live in my hand. But the discomfort is worth it; texting isn’t clumsy, Flipboard is spacious, browsing the web isn’t a last resort to be only used in those situations when I can’t be bothered to boot-up my laptop. In stark contrast to the experience of others I’ve found the device to be hard-as-nails, discovered when I accidentally dropped it down the full flight of my stairs, bouncing off every step on its merry journey before slamming into the shoe rack at the bottom – from all of which it emerged unscathed, if a little dizzy.

But now, I’m having impure thoughts. A few weeks ago I happened to visit a friend of mine, and both he and his wife have recently exchanged their Samsung Galaxy S3s for Samsung Galaxy Note 2s. I had a play with one for only five minutes, but I was hooked, and since then I’ve had the burning desire to trade-in my Nexus 4. Is this a fleeting fancy, a short-lived lust? The wider point; where will this end? In the space of twelve months I’ve gone from tiny dumbphone to low-spec-smartphone to high-spec-smartphone, and now I’m on the verge of making a leap to enormous-high-spec-smartphone. I can’t fit the Nexus 4 in my pocket without it affecting my walk, how the hell am I going to accommodate the Note 2? This is all academic. the underlying question is: why do I have an urge to obtain an even bigger phone, possibly at the expense of transit comfort?

Having thought long and hard about it (well, having pondered for ten minutes on it) I realise the answer is simple: device consolidation. The more I can do on my phone the less I find I need to use my laptop, especially for those frequent ad hoc chores like reading my emails and checking the news. My minimalist spirit is alive and well, it’s just having to go around-the-houses to get the job done. It’s steadily guiding my habits towards the day when I can perform all my assorted computing tasks from the same device, and that device may need to be something slightly-too-big for my pocket and slightly-too-small for my desk. It’ll be a few more years before the viability of the technology catches-up with my subconscious demands, but nevertheless I am confident that one day soon my entire computing life and all its tendrils will be encapsulated within one hand-sized unit. This unit will be able to connect to proper displays and input peripherals for productive desk use, and at the end of the day I could simply disconnect it and walk away. For me, this future cannot come soon enough. Sometimes you have to accumulate before you can strip-down, and at the moment I’m still on the upward curve.

When I first saw the mock-up video for the Mozilla Seabird concept phone I’ve had dreams of a single “converged computing” device that could fulfil all my digital needs, the next evolution in the technology from “smartphone” to “superphone”. In slightly more tangible terms I’m excited about the Ubuntu Edge, but for the moment it too is still just a concept. I sincerely hope it can deliver on its enormous potential. My entire digital life in one device is the goal, preferably in a pocket friendly size.

Back to Top