The other day, I had a meeting with a new client, an engineer and film guy who works in special effects, and has worked on numerous major motion pictures with the likes of Sam Raimi, James Cameron, and Peter Jackson. We were discussing the cutting-edge motion control device he’s about to market when I got a call on my mobile phone. When I finished the call, he said “is that your main mobile device?” I was about to defensively deliver my standard speech about the virtues of using a dumbphone slider with a QWERTY keyboard, when he pulled out his phone, a vintage flip-phone. He was thinking of “upgrading” to a phone that allows him to text more easily. Yes. Two digital media “experts”, in 2016, agreeing on the virtues of not having a smartphone.
You either get this or you don’t, and if you don’t, here’s the short explanation: unless you’re plugged into a corporate hierarchy that requires always-on access to internet and applications to perform tasks, the smartphone can be one of the biggest productivity inhibitors since the invention of the television or FreeCell. The needless distractions and mobile-device-impaired document management a smartphone provides can work for some people, but for many of us, they derail meetings and “real” communication, while merely giving the impression of productivity. Kudos to you if you have a productive mobile-phone-based work process. Some of us don’t want or need one. Plus, you know, there are things like battery life (three days on my slider) and general indestructibility.
So Why Am I Surrendering?
Social media. A million years ago (and by a million, I mean about five or so) I stayed on the cutting edge of digital media trends and social platforms constantly. From the days of GeoCities and social linksharing like Fark and Metafilter, to the social media boom of platforms like Friendster, MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter, I was always amongst the early adopters, because my livelihood depended on it. Around 2012 though, my digital work life evolved away from these tools, and I started watching the mobile-only revolution leave me in the digital dirt, but simply didn’t care. I wasn’t promoting anything that was likely to benefit much from these channels, and I had no desire to start occupying my time with more media streams or “social” content.
The Mobile-Only Conspiracy
I’ll be honest – I really don’t love tech innovation that seems mostly driven by an industry’s need to create new platforms just to sell services, hardware, or generate investment dollars for Unicorn startups, but oh well. I’m not a total Luddite either. If, like me you’ve held on to a mobile-impaired lifestyle like Charlton Heston, proclaiming that “they can have my QWERTY slider when they pry it from my cold, dead hands”, you may not even be aware of how many of the apps (which you may not want to use anyway) aren’t available at all on the desktop. Below is a quick rundown:
Mobile-Only Social Apps
Vine is a short-form video sharing service where users can share six-second-long looping video clips. Twitter acquired it in October 2012, just before its official launch. Users’ videos are published through Vine’s social network and can be shared on other services such as Facebook and Twitter. Vine’s app can also be used to browse through videos posted by other users, along with groups of videos by theme, and trending, or popular, videos.
This is Twitter’s live-streaming video app, which allows you to watch and broadcast live video. The video you broadcast live from your phone can be viewed and “hearted” for 24 hours. The stream is not limited in length, as clips are on apps like Vine.
WhatsApp is a cross-platform instant messaging client for smartphones. It uses the Internet to send text messages, documents, images, video, user location and audio media to other users using standard cellular mobile numbers. It has over a billion users, and was acquired by Facebook in February 2014.
Snapchat lets you share images or video clips (snaps) which can only be viewed for a matter of seconds after sharing. Snapchat “stories” are groups of images or videos that don’t vanish after the usual 1 to 10 seconds, and are available for 24 hours. It includes messaging features similar to apps like Facebook Messenger.
Meerkat is similar to Periscope in function (or is that the other way around?), but possesses a busier interface. Interestingly, they are both backed by Twitter with Periscope being acquired second. Meerkat users have the option of connecting their Facebook and Twitter accounts, and streaming directly to their followers as soon as they go live.
Secrets is a great example of how quickly this market evolves. It exploded onto the scene and was shut down sixteen months later by CEO David Byttow, who claimed that the way people were using the app, including the spreading of malicious rumors, was not in line with what he had originally envisioned. Secrets is part of a growing trend towards anonymous and quasi-anonymous sharing, a pushback against Facebook’s successful push to encourage real name use throughout the Internet.
Yik Yak is location based; it allows people to pseudo-anonymously create and view discussion threads (called “Yaks”) within a 5-mile radius . It’s similar to other anonymous sharing apps such as Nearby, but differs from others such as Whisper in that it is intended for sharing primarily with those in proximity to the user, potentially making it more intimate and relevant for people reading the posts. All users have the ability to contribute to the stream by writing, responding, and “voting up” or “voting down” yaks.
Whisper allows users to send and receive messages anonymously. Users post messages, known as “whispers,” which are displayed as text superimposed over an image automatically retrieved from Whisper’s own search engine or uploaded by the user. Interestingly, while the user remains anonymous to other users, the app itself demands access to the user’s camera and contact list, which is disclosed when the app is downloaded on Android.