People are often surprised that I don’t have a smart phone. I carry the absolute cheapest (i.e. free) phone that I could get with our calling plan. And I upgrade it about every two years. For free. And I’m pretty happy with that arrangement. Not perfectly happy, but the promise of a smart phone isn’t yet compelling enough for me to spend several hundred dollars on a device and a hundred dollars or more every month for a calling and data plan.
Some of you may recall that I had one of the earliest smart phones. It was kind of nice to check my email when I was out of town. Other than that, I pretty much hated the phone. It was based on the old Palm OS. By default, input was with a stylus using their Graffiti handwriting recognition. I purchased some software that converted the bottom part of the display into a keyboard so that I could tap on the thing rather than trying to teach it how to read my scribbling. I could get maybe 20 words per minute on the thing.
But 20 WPM is about 1/4 my normal typing speed. Not only that, I had to look at the keyboard while I was typing. And notes couldn’t be very long. And on and on and on. As a simple list manager, the device was excellent. Anything more involved was beyond the phone’s capabilities.
I’ve seen mobile devices come and go since then. I had high hopes for Microsoft’s tablet back in 2002, but that didn’t go anywhere. Phones kept getting better. The iPhone and its Android clones are quite impressive. So are the iPad and its Android clones. But they all have what, to me, is a fatal flaw: they’re consumption devices. As production devices, they mostly suck.
Among other things, I’m a writer. I’m not a great writer, but I scribble a lot. I’m forever taking notes, jotting things down, sitting at the computer exploring some idea or other. My drives are full of notes, sketches, attempts at fiction, outlines for think pieces, rants, and all manner of other scribblings. When I’m at home, I’m as likely to be writing something as reading. And that doesn’t even count the writing I do for work: emails, computer programs, documentation, and articles.
So the first time somebody put an iPad in my hands, the first thing I tried to do was post a blog entry. So much for that idea. It’s possible, but painful. I can’t imagine trying to do that with an iPhone or similar. I’ve come to the conclusion that nobody makes the mobile device I want. And I really don’t understand why. But then, people tend to think that our ideas are obviously good.
If I can find a smart phone with the following features, I’ll upgrade. So far, I haven’t seen anything that even comes close.
- The ability to connect to my home computer through USB, or share data via USB thumb drives.
- Network access to shared drives or NAS devices on my local network would be nice, but not essential.
- Ability to connect a full-sized keyboard. I’m liking those roll-up keyboards.
- Ability to connect a decent-sized video display. I really like the new rollable displays, although I suspect that those aren’t affordable yet. It should be reasonably easy to find a display unit that I could use for this.
- A camera with which I can take a picture and save it to my computer. Having to transmit pictures to “the cloud” is idiotic. Why can’t I transfer them directly to my computer?
I seriously doubt that Apple has or will make a device that meets these requirements. Is there an Android device that has those capabilities? I’d buy one if I can get the peripheral devices. It would be the perfect mobile device: small enough and powerful enough for everyday carrying around, and flexible enough so that I could actually use it for productive work. That would be worth having.
Until I can use my mobile device to produce content, I’ll stick with my basic phone. I’ve yet to see a compelling reason to change.