Every few years, I get a new phone. This is one of those years, and today is the day. A shiny blue iPhone 15 Pro Max is wending its way too me even as I type.

Back when I had a large, constant stream of income, I’d upgrade my phone every year or two. Dumb? Yes. But I did it. Nowadays, though, I hold out until I have a compelling reason to upgrade. In this case, my old phone has a failing battery. Plus, I’m keen on the new phone’s camera. I gave myself permission to upgrade this year. And I’m hoping to go even longer this time before upgrading (my goal is 4+ years instead of three).

This year, I’m conducting an experiment. I’m generally a fan of smaller phones rather than larger ones. If Apple offered a small phone (like an iPhone SE) that had all of the specs of the large phone, I’d buy the small phone. But Apple does not offer such a phone. Too, I use an iPad Mini for stuff like reading, playing games, watching movies. I’m curious: Could an iPhone Pro Max replace an iPad Mini for these use cases? Could I get away with just having one device? I think it’s possible, so this time I’m buying a jumbo-sized phone as an experiment. If I don’t like it — and there’s a solid chance I won’t — then I’ll revert to a regular size in a few years.

As an aside, I’m one of those weirdos that doesn’t use a case for his phone. Why not? I tell this true story.

For eight years — from 2007 to 2015 — I was caseless and never damaged a phone. Then Jesse Mecham (from You Need a Budget) sent me a customized case for my birthday one year. It had the Get Rich Slowly turtle logo on it, and I loved it. I started using the case.

Within two months, I had dropped and broken the phone. I got it repaired. A month later, I broke it again. I got it repaired. Then, a few months later, I broke it a third time while the case was on. WTF? So, I removed the case. It’s now been seven years since I took the case off, and I haven’t once damaged my phone.

So, I have fifteen years of case-less iPhone use with zero damage (despite a couple of drops) compared to nine months of cased iPhone use with three different costly repair bills. So, I go caseless.

That might change, though, depending on how the “Max” form factor feels to me. Will the larger size lead to more clumsy moments and/or drops? If so, I might get a case. But I doubt it.

I do other things that make me kind of a phone weirdo.

One simple but telling choice is that I don’t keep the Phone app in any sort of easy-to-access place. I tuck it into my app library. Why? Because I rarely make calls. When I do, it’s no issue to go find the Phone app. And when I receive calls, I don’t need the app; the incoming calls just appear on the screen, right? Kim thinks this is strange (she hates hunting for the Phone app on my phone), but I don’t care.

I’m also particular about how I arrange my apps.

I don’t like how cluttered Apple’s default grid-like layout looks, so I use various hacks to keep things de-cluttered. I use David Smith’s invisible home screen icon template to create “blank” spaces in my app layout. Like so:

[image of my phone app layout]

On my previous phone, I also created substitute icons for the apps that lived on my home screen. I used the built-in Shortcuts app to create custom aliases to my most-used apps, then linked those aliases to new icons. I really really liked this because it slowed me down and forced me to think every time I went to use my phone. It was an instrument of mindfulness. But the downside is I didn’t like the launch sequence that Shortcuts has to go through to open the linked apps.

[image of my old phone app layout]

I’m considering doing this again with the new phone.

But probably my biggest piece of weirdness is that when I get a new phone, I don’t do the automatic migration. I know that doing so would save time, but I also feel like it leads to an accumulation of digital cruft. Unused apps remain on the device. Old settings stay without any sort of thought behind why I’m keeping them.

So, I set up every new device — phone, tablet, computer — manually.

Even doing this, there’s plenty that happens automatically. After all, much of my life lives in the cloud nowadays. All of my data is on Dropbox. Most of my settings are in iCloud. My passwords are also cloud based. So, a part of the setup process remains automated even when I do much of it manually.

Again, I do this because it forces me to mindfully evaluate which apps I’ve been using and which apps I want to use going forward. It’s like a forced digital housecleaning, and I like it…even if it does get a bit tedious for a few hours. To me, the tedium is worth it.

This year, there’s one final piece of weirdness to my phone setup. This year, I’m going to try to complete my divorce from the Google ecosystem. I will not sync my Google accounts to this phone. This may cause problems, but I hope not.

My concerns:

  • In 2020, I moved from gmail to Hey. While I don’t love Hey 100%, I like it enough. Plus its methodology helps me maintain a clean inbox. Still, I do get important messages at gmail addresses from time to time. I’ll have to check gmail accounts via the web now and then.
  • Similarly, I’ve moved from Google search to paid Kagi search. This is a newer change. I made the switch this summer, but I have zero regrets. I haven’t tried to set up Kagi on an iOS device yet, and I’m worried there might be barriers. Fingers crossed that it’s as easy as it should be.
  • I haven’t yet broken up with Google calendars, and that’s a problem. Right now, I’m running a mixed system: Apple and Google combined. I don’t like it. So, one of my goals for the next month is to migrate completely to Apple calendars. I’m worried that I’ll miss something, though. So, I’ll keep Google calendars on my desktop computer for now.
  • What about YouTube? As much as I’d like to not use YouTube (because it’s Google owned), there’s no real alternative. So, I use YouTube. And using YouTube requires a Google account. I might be able to use the YouTube app by manually entering my account data, but I doubt it. I’ll bet the app requires that I put my Google account on my phone.

My goal this year, then, is to discard as many of my four Google accounts as possible while setting up this phone. I should be able to discard three for sure, but it may be that I have to retain one (the one I use for YouTube and for commercial transactions). We’ll see.

There you have it: More than 1000 words about my weird phone use. It seems silly to write so much about it, but then this is the device I use more than any other, right? I use it all day long, and I use it all night long too. (As part of my sleep routine, I keep an audiobook playing throughout the night. This is probably why my phone batteries deteriorate so quickly.)

As is the case for many people, my phone has become my primary computer and communication device. It seems smart to spend some extra time thinking about how I set up and use it.

3 Replies to “New phone.”

  1. J. Anthony Hertzler says:

    I enjoyed reading this, and it’s remarkeable how much I identify with the thought processes driving your “weird” phone setup decisions. I use Android phones, so a Google account is required for setup (unless you flash a custom ROM, and that means a lot more messing around than I have time and energy for these days). But like you, the only Google service I actually use regularly is YouTube, and it’s been that way for years.

    You mentioned that you have Gmail addresses you still need to check separately sometimes. The way I dealt with that when I switched away from Gmail was to set up a forwarder within Gmail that forwards all incoming email to my new address and then deletes it. I probably log into that old address less than once a year, and it stays permanently empty, yet I don’t have to worry about missing an important message that might somehow find its way to the old address.

    Congrats on weaning yourself off Google! I think this is a highly worthwhile undertaking, and it really isn’t even an inconvenience once you’ve adjusted to your new set of tools.

  2. veronica says:

    May I ask why you are weaning yourself off Google? Was there a post on this that I missed?

    • J.D. Roth says:

      I’ve posted about my dissatisfaction with Google over on Facebook. And eventually those Facebook posts will be converted to Foldedspace articles. In the meantime, I’m in the middle of writing down my reasons for ditching Google to share here. Stay tuned!

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