For the last few years, I have been looking to go back to simpler times. Ones that didn’t try to hack my brain every time I open my phone. Or, in fact, a time when I didn’t need to carry a phone with me at all. Those times might be long gone, but I can’t just give up on my dream without a fight. After a bit of backwards and forwards, I think I might have found the best minimalist phone.
After experimenting with older devices, I felt unfulfilled and sometimes caused more hassle than they are worth. Recently, I tried a ‘dumb phone’ in the Punkt MP02, which left a lot to be desired considering its £300 price tag. Couple this with the realisation that I need to be able to access some apps occasionally (How on earth do you do banking nowadays when the branches are hardly open?) – I was stuck. That was until I realised I had the best minimal device to replace my phone the whole time – my Apple Watch.
I’ve been in love with the Apple Watch, particularly a cellular version, for as long as I can remember. It allows me to leave my phone at home when I don’t need it but still be contactable, yet I couldn’t see its real usefulness until I took a step back. I truly think this could be the best minimalist approach to a world that seems to demand a smartphone.
The screen is small and, although perfectly nice, isn’t appealing at all. Nothing about it tries to hack my brain to use it more. It just sits and does its thing without intervention until called upon. It has very few apps installed on it, most of which I can control and remove if not needed. Many services are not updating or removing their apps from the Apple Watch because they missed the point of it, but those that remain can be completely independent.
The notifications on Apple Watch are surprisingly powerful, but I did have to do a bit of work to turn many off. Apple still likes to ping you for far too many things by default – rings notifications, breathing stuff, hand-washing, and fitness all set to off. Sure you can also do this to your phone, which is recommended, but the Apple Watch just slips up a sleeve and becomes almost invisible when you don’t need it.
There's no conversation distractions, no facedown on a table dilemma, and no reason to not pay attention to the world. Much like a dumb phone, it just waits for interaction from others. Taking up very little space in the world, and much of the time you can't tell it’s there.
Podcasts and music work perfectly, streaming over LTE and playing through my AirPods is a dream when out and about. Not to mention, Apple Pay still stores all of my cards and allows me to pay exactly as I would with my phone. Unfortunately, the weird looks and slight embarrassment when using your watch never subsides.
As someone who has health issues currently, the Apple Watch has really shown its usefulness. Being able to pull my phone out or share data with a healthcare professional that proves my resting heart rate, activity levels and all sorts of other indicators is wonderful. Having a device strapped to my wrist that is actually more useful in many ways has proven to be great to rid myself of other devices when I don't need them.
With all this said, the thing I love most about adopting this approach is that it asked nothing in return. I can’t use it for much, but I can use it for everything useful. All whist not being a phone at all. Unfortunately, I still require a phone to set the Apple Watch up, but the bonus being that for those times I do need a more regular looking phone I have one. However, due to just how useful my Apple Watch has been, should it ever rid itself of the iOS reliance, I may consider not replacing my phone.
Perhaps my perfect combination would be an iPad Mini and an Apple Watch. I can't see a future where the smartphone won't dominate our lives, but I am some way to freeing myself. The Apple Watch gives me a semi-smart device when required, and the accompanying phone gives me a phone if I really need one. Which isn't frequently, it sits alone on my desk because I don't use it much. Even less now.