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Published January 19, 2018

It started with a super nerd in a black turtle neck sweater raising his finger like E.T. and declaring it “the only stylus you’ll ever needed”. The hype around the iPhone sucked everyone in like magpies attracted to a shiny bottle top. What followed was the rise of an app ecosystem that promised the whole world inside the ultimate convergent solution; one you could operate with one finger and that fitted inside your pocket.

The trouble was that this whole intoxicating, magic world was imprisoned behind a small, single piece of glass, that we could only interact with through a finger and at most two thumbs.  What happened next destroyed mobile productivity… And we’ve limped along ever since.

Why? Because smartphones are not smart. They’re actually dumb. They’re great for simple tasks like pressing the selfie button, playing music, or punching out a tweet. But they’re dumb for productivity because they snatch away good intention to work by tempting the ‘monkey mind’ with a glittering array of opportunities for procrastination. They’re dumb because for content creation they’re a study in frustration, the means of interaction too limited, the opportunity for distraction too broad.

Amazon Kindle owners read more, mostly because it is a device with a specific focus, that being engaging and broadening the mind. Compare this to my iPhone: when I turn on the device, I nearly always get distracted and forget why I even picked it up in the first place.

Here’s hoping Apple’s killed the iPhone with the watch – great for notifications and one finger punching. Great for glances and bite size information alerts. AirPods and other consumption accessories up the game. You can shout at Siri or Google assistant, play thumping tunes, stay mindfully unaware of the world around you, or share images of your lunch. When you want more though, you don’t want more of the same, you want deep interaction. I hope the smartwatch screen size marginalises the fun we have with our smartphones so that we can get back to work.

I remember sitting on a beach in France 19 years ago, punching out my first (sadly unsuccessful) novel on my Psion Series 5mx. On that day I fell through the greyscale screen and wrote my heart out. It was one of the happiest moments of my life because it was the first time I really created a written work.

The truth is no iPhone, Blackberry or Samsung ever did that for me, nor could they. Smartphones can glitter and swell with features but they can never transform me from a consumer to creator. My hope for the future is that every time we flip open our Gemini devices and see that wonderful keyboard, we are inspired to create, and that the Gemini transcends itself from machine to muse: A much loved tool from which great works are fashioned.


Born in Britain, Richard Dove lives in Switzerland, and previously the US and Africa.  He has fenced for the British army, hand reared the first Rhino born in captivity, and now works in corporate strategy.  Despite all this, he would secretly rather be holed up in a room with his Gemini pushing it to its limits whilst sneering at vacuous smartphone users.

6 Comments

  1. Kees Commandeur Kees Commandeur

    Precisely my thoughts about this: the difference between consumer- and creator-attitude.

  2. Brendan Brendan

    I concur with view that Apple Watch qute nicely handles calling/weather checks/quick texting. If proper screen/keyboard again, in conjunction with smart watch and Airpods/headphones/eSIM, I don’t expect to shell $750 out for another iphone again.

  3. Loved this! Great read.

  4. Pdajah Pdajah

    On the whole I agree. But I’ve been using Samsung Note devices for many years and making mind maps and diagrams on a Smartphone can be very handy. Used my Ericsson MC218 to plan some work and realised how unhelpful slate form factor smartphones are for organising and planning. Can’t wait to return to using the Gemini for improved personal productivity.

  5. Andy Mitchell Andy Mitchell

    Hey, I’m a vacuous smart phone user! I’ve been using a Galaxy Note 3 for over 4 years and have had no problems creating, editing and reading documents and spreadsheets, amongst all the other things this brilliant device can do. I’m really looking forward to the Gemini but I’ll be genuinely surprised if it can outshine the Samsung!

    See…… I didn’t have any trouble writing this!

  6. Riccardo Riccardo

    In my opinion, however, smartphones are just smart!
    They do very well pleasant, light and fun things; what they do not deal with is productivity, which concerns the organization (perhaps with a digital assistant) and not the smart world.
    For this PC produces the most modern evolution of the PDA, and not smartphones. . .

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