Notes from a Floating Life Thoughts about productivity, digital living, and leading a simpler life

Working on a Smartphone

Someone working on their smartphone

A few years ago, I saw an article somewhere online about how writer Patrick Rhone routinely writes long-form blog posts and essays with his thumbs on his iPhone screen. I don’t remember where I read the interview, but you can watch a video of the interview with Rhone on YouTube.

For whatever reason, the memory of that interview popped into my head in early 2016. I started thinking seriously about that interview, about what I’ve read about smartphones being an office in our pockets, and what some people I know what said about this.

So in June, 2016 I decided to try working on my smartphone for a week. Not exclusively, but to:

  • Write drafts of articles and blog posts
  • Create outlines
  • Take notes
  • Deal with much of my personal and professional communication

I did all of that on an Oppo Find 7 smartphone with a five-inch screen, and using the following apps:

  • Simplenote (for taking notes)
  • Workflowy (for outlining)
  • Wire and Google Hangouts (for chat)
  • Fastmail (for email)
  • Google Docs and Writer Plus (for writing)
  • Dropbox (for syncing files)

Admittedly, this isn’t the first time I’ve tried doing this. In the early 2000s, I did something similar with a Palm PDA. A few years later, I tried again with a BlackBerry Curve 8300.

My conclusion: you can work on a smartphone, but it is cumbersome. That, in case you’re wondering, is the conclusion I came to with my other two experiments.

Why do I think working on a smartphone is cumbersome? First off, I find that I can’t type quickly on a smartphone’s screen. It’s not that I have huge fingers, but it just didn’t work for me. Autocorrect helped sometimes. I even tried three different keyboards, but the results were the same.

I also found it difficult to work with Markdown (or any other language) on a smartphone. That’s even with a editor with Markdown shortcuts.

As a consequence of that, I couldn’t get into a good flow. Not having that flow slowed me down. Even by the end of the week, I wasn’t working at what I considered a decent pace. It was taking far too long for me to finish my work.

After a week of working on a smartphone, I learned that doing what I did is a case of pushing my tools beyond their limits. I don’t believe, despite all of the hype, that a smartphone is really meant to do all of the things I tried to use it for. It’s not a case of me being a dinosaur — I’ve been using portable and mobile devices since the early 1990s. And it’s not a case of me having trouble adapting to a new interface or form factor.

It’s that smartphones really aren’t, in my opinion, designed for serious, sustained work. They’re great for reading and watching. They’re great for short communication. They’re great for jotting down a quick idea. Anything beyond that and I find that I’m getting into the realm of diminishing returns.

My experiment was fun while it lasted. I learned that I can do all those tasks on my phone. But just because I can doesn’t mean I must.

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