[Tinkerphones] Strategies for sustainable phones

Paul Boddie paul at boddie.org.uk
Mon Mar 21 17:36:11 CET 2022


Hello,

Sorry to bring up an old thread, but I would probably only end up repeating 
myself in a new thread, anyway! See here for the quoted message in the list 
archive:

https://lists.goldelico.com/pipermail/community/2019-September/002046.html

On Monday, 23 September 2019 16:28:46 CET Paul Boddie wrote:
> On Saturday 21. September 2019 15.48.50 H. Nikolaus Schaller wrote:
> > 
> > Yes, we thought about it - but where are the real users?
> > 
> > There is for example hyped LightPhone2 but I don't see that it is a useful
> > device. Minimizing functions can also go too far.
> 
> The stupid Web site for the LightPhone needs all my computer's CPU and half
> of its RAM. I guess nobody will be viewing it on a LightPhone2. But I guess
> this illustrates my point about ever-expanding hardware requirements for
> mundane things.

So, today I came across a new article about low-end phones that mentioned the 
Light Phone:

"Not smart but clever? The return of 'dumbphones'"
https://www.bbc.com/news/business-60763168

It focuses mostly on the quality of life aspects of rejecting smartphones and 
their associated culture of distraction, which is something that even has its 
own Wikipedia article:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Problematic_smartphone_use

Obviously, the Light Phone 2 chooses a fairly extreme approach, although not 
nearly as extreme as its predecessor which had no screen at all. This was 
considered earlier...

> As for that device itself, it takes the interesting but troublesome idea of
> using e-ink or e-paper displays for something that people might expect to
> support animated or rapidly updated content. Apart from the use-cases of
> reading e-books or showing one's boarding pass barcode at the airport
> security gates, people struggle to consider things that are compelling
> enough for people to want one (other than the fashion aspect of having
> something different).

Having seen e-readers used for interactive applications, I don't think that e-
paper is a bad idea inherently (if you can avoid sensitive information being 
persistently visible), and there are seven-colour screens broadly available 
now, but user expectations need to be managed. It is interesting to read a bit 
more about the design considerations when they followed up the first 
screenless model with the e-ink model:

https://medium.com/the-light-phone/why-a-screen-eca598f37159

Coincidentally, I was recently reviewing coverage of the Psion MC notebook 
computer that was launched in 1989:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psion_MC_series

That was an ambitious product which had a high-resolution monochrome LCD 
screen without a backlight, a touchpad, and which used flash memory for 
storage. Although it was never likely to appeal to laptop power users, 
particularly as screen technology improved, it had a battery life of 60 hours 
or more and was fondly remembered by journalists and writers (as were more 
modest machines like Amstrad's NC series).

It seems like software availability is a perennial problem, though. The 
strategy for Light Phone appears to involve developing specific applications:

https://support.thelightphone.com/hc/en-us/articles/360031128671-Tool-Availability-Status

Despite some focus on ethical issues, I find it interesting that the voice-to-
text feature uses some cloud service (with assurances made about privacy 
concerns) and that a possible ride-sharing application might partner with Lyft 
or Uber. I wonder how many users of this device don't just get their 
smartphone out for much of their needs.

Being based on Android, users could obviously obtain a much broader range of 
software, although the screen would impose practical limitations on how usable 
such software might be. Then again, maybe there is a growing range of Android-
based applications for e-readers that could be suitable.

The positioning of products like these is also a recurring theme. The Psion MC 
mentioned above was considered as an accessory to a desktop computer, and this 
was also the emphasis of the Palm Foleo, which arguably founded the modern 
netbook product category. Palm's mistake was not to develop and emphasise the 
product to be useful in its own right.

Finally, I found it somewhat intriguing/amusing that the Light Phone 2 raised 
over $3.5 million when crowdfunded, or around $350 per backer:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Light_Phone

The device itself is available for sale now at around $99. Well, I suppose 
there is a market for such devices, after all.

Paul




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