diamond geezer

 Thursday, January 24, 2013

I've had a smartphone for five weeks and, I have to say, I was expecting it to change my life more. I'd coped admirably with my previous phone for five years, but I thought upgrading to the modern world would make more of a difference. Not so. I mean, it's great how the shiny contraption in my pocket can now do so many (so many) clever things. But impressively life-changing, no, not really.

The biggest difference is being connected to what's going on in the world even when I'm not sat at home. If a famous film actor dies, or someone recommends a tumblr post, or Prince Harry speaks, I don't need to wait to find out. I can sit on the bus and read what's in the paper, rather than read the paper. I can even check what everyone's saying on Twitter while I'm at work, rather than waiting all day and having to read back through ten hours of random mumblings later. If only that were more exciting.

I thought being able to use wifi underground would be useful, enabling me to update, read and refresh as I travelled between stops. Alas not. Virgin's subsurface wifi turns out to be woeful, and churns away patiently while the train's in an underground platform without ever loading anything. But wifi's brilliant elsewhere, assuming I can actually log on, and 3G's a bit of an eyeopener above ground.

I have successfully used my phone to locate a branch of Rymans while in Hammersmith, and to update my blog whilst on a train through Essex, and to check whilst out and about where a particular South London street might be. But I always used to plan this sort of stuff in advance, and 90% of the time it worked and the other 10% it probably didn't matter. All my new iPhone has taught me to be is a little lazier.

I still haven't watched a film on my commute to work, even though I probably could, because I'm not a video-centric person. I can't get the hang of listening to music because I prefer to listen to a random playlist, but my smartphone seems too tightly regimented to allow such open-mindedness. I have acquired a subscription for a well known daily newspaper, but only once have I bothered to plough through more than half a dozen pages because the navigation is too much of a faff.

I don't think I've got the hang of accumulating apps. I've only downloaded twenty or so, and deleted a number of these for being rubbish. I'm sure there are lots of great things out there I could be adding to my phone but I can never think what they might be, so I don't. I'm not a games player, especially not a firing things at coloured balls kind of person, and filling my journeys with endless thumbswiping doesn't really appeal.

I haven't switched from reading blogs online to reading them on screen. I know a significant number of you are reading diamond geezer on your mobile because I can see you all landing on a page with an /?m=1 suffix. But I'd still much rather read what everyone else has to say in a sensible font size, and more than five sentences at the same time, and with the speed that my laptop's bookmarks provide. Smartphones are merely dumbing down the internet, not enhancing it.

The thing I'm least impressed with is Apple's way of entering text. The keyboard is tiny and fiddly, and relies on me tapping thin electric rectangles with fingers too big to aim properly. I regularly tap the wrong letter, then face the choice of trying to delete it or allowing predictive text to guess what the word was supposed to be. That guess is often wrong, and requires copious additional swipes to undo, and the text is so tiny it's often impossible to see I've spelt something wrong until I've (oops) accidentally sent it. On my previous phone I learnt to type almost without looking, whereas now if I don't look carefully I often write gibberish.

Perhaps I'm over-familiar with a "proper" keyboard and can't adapt. Perhaps I'm not young enough to be a digital native, unlike those of you for whom pressing and clicking are things only grandads do. Whatever, I haven't really got into sending emails and blogging from my smartphone because writing coherent sentences is too much hassle. I don't even find the 160 characters of a text message straight-forward, plus with so much 'noise' from incoming stuff I now regularly fail to spot that a text message has arrived.

For a device that's supposed to be intuitive, some of the necessary shortcuts are ridiculously well hidden. I was disturbed to discover how many apps I thought I'd turned off were still running in the background - some with potentially awkward consequences. Oh, and the iPhone's battery life is woeful, especially for someone who's used to only recharging every five days. These days I can sometimes manage two, but more usually I have to remember to plug the thing in before I go to bed every night, and I'm not even a heavy user.

Whatever, I don't regret my smartphone purchase, not at all. Some of the things it can do are amazing, for someone brought up on only SMS and phone. Just last night on the way home from BestMate's house I was able to determine that a train home was imminent and run and catch it, whereas pre-iPhone I'd have been stuck waiting on a freezing platform for the next ten minutes. I'm well impressed to have uploaded a photo from Kew Gardens, and blogged from Lincoln, and all the "on the move" stuff that's suddenly become possible.

I haven't yet turned into one of those zombies who walks down the street without looking where they're going all the time. But I still don't feel like I'm taking full advantage of my smartphone, or using it properly, or treating it as anything more than an occasionally flashy electronic brick. I'll get there, possibly, eventually, maybe. But impressively life-changing, no, not really.

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