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LIFE WITHOUT A SMARTPHONE AND ITS RELEVANCE FOR APPS/SERVICES

Some people call me crazy and some call me jobless. I wouldn’t deny either but as someone wise said sometime way back, “When life gives you lemons you make a lemonade.” Still true today, and maybe even more relevant in business.

Currently, I’m making the best of my downtime exploring the freedom of doing some borderline crazy stuff besides writing for this amazing platform called Startup Grind.

Okay! Maybe it’s not too crazy, maybe it’s exploring -- but I like the sound of it.

BACKGROUND:

Like most of you out there, I was browsing a tech site during my morning routine when I came across an article on Letgo, a peer to peer sales platform, and was curious to know what they are doing new compared to others like craigslist, ebay etc.

The timing was so perfect that I decided to see how much I could get for my used iPhone 7 Plus and I listed my phone at a considerably high price hoping no one crazy like me would exist to buy it when for few hundred dollars more you can buy a new one with better warranty and feel.

Also, I was bored with my current smartphone, a 6 month old unlocked 32 GB iPhone 7 Plus, and when you keep binge watching YouTube about the latest tech news and reviews (LG G6 and Samsung S8), you’ll be tempted to ditch your phone for the latest fad.

This desire for a new phone was also enhanced because of, and in spite of my circumstances.

These circumstances included a temporary move to Toronto exploring new opportunities which meant I had lot of time to kill and I decided to try something new.

I was so ashamed to share my craziness with my friends back home in India -- because I felt I’d be judged superficially as a spendthrift.

Anyways, I bit the bullet and was looking for avenues to minimize the loss from selling a relatively new phone while upgrading to the latest.

And in that process, I sold my iPhone 7 Plus 32 GB version, went for a few days without a phone, borrowed a 5 year old phone from a close friend.

Then, bought a so called ‘limited edition’ Midnight Black OnePlus 3T on launch day assuming it will be really in short supply just a day before the disappointing Samsung S8 launch.

I returned the now really exclusive and sold out Midnight Black OnePlus 3T when I found an irresistible deal (for $50 more than what I sold my 6 month old iPhone 7 Plus 32 GB version) for a brand new iPhone 7 Plus 256 GB version.

I then I lost this phone during my impulsive last minute 4 day trip to Cancun, Mexico, and travelled 2000 miles by road to ‘visit’ a cousin in US when in fact the purpose was to pick up an iPhone 7 Plus 32 GB (yeah!

The same phone again) in a tax free state at a discount that a friend of mine who is working at Apple was able to provide seeing my agony on social media from losing a phone.

Ufff! Such a crazy journey to end up where I began huh! If not for the lost phone, this experience was completely worth it in terms of value.

EXPERIENCE:

Besides the interesting ‘upgrade’ experience, my whole world seemed kind of strange when I had no phone with me for multiple days.

I was thinking twice to step out of my house because I wasn’t sure how I could manage any transit delays or change in weather that I could so easily monitor on my phone or even get notified of changes in my calendar or kill time while waiting for something.

This experience gave me an interesting perspective on life without a smartphone, one scenario that we might come across in the future and not just in Hollywood.

It showed me how much we have become reliant on technology that it put doubts in your mind about traversing this world.

Also, I hope this story can not just potentially give you a spark for a business problem to solve but also improve your current offerings keeping the worst case scenarios (life without our tech) in mind.

STORY:

During the days I didn’t have my phone, I went to a close-by mall to see if I can get a feature phone till I figure out my next phone and I was so surprised to see how hard it is to get one these days.

I tried Walmart, Best Buy, and local carriers and all I could get is a contract option or an expensive prepaid phone that’s worth at least $60 and I felt anything above $30 is not worth the trouble because just few years back, that was what I use to pay for a basic phone while I’m travelling abroad.

So, when I realised my only options were buying something online where it would take at least 3-5 business days to get one or splurge $60 on a weirdly overpriced feature phone, I asked some of my local friends and a good friend of mine was nice enough to lend me his Nexus 4 as he recently upgraded to an iPhone 7.

Except for a dodgy battery life, this phone was perfect in every sense and I think it was on Android 6.0 version thanks to Andorid’s upgrade policy with Nexus phones.

So I was back to a familiar life with a smartphone and things seemed simple till I came across reviews of the new OnePlus 3T Midnight Black ‘Limited Edition’ phone.

It was just becoming available one day before the Samsung Galaxy S8 announcement and before mistaking the ‘exclusivity’ and availability of the phone, I preordered one just in case I was not happy with other options.

Soon I realised that I was not so happy with other options for various reasons and I was trying to see if I can continue using the ‘Limited Edition’ OnePlus 3T or go back to iPhone 7 (maybe the red colour that was newly launched!).

Anyways, I ended up buying a brand new sealed iPhone 7 Plus 256 GB version on Letgo from someone who was willing to sell it for just $50 more than what I sold my 6 month old iPhone 7 Plus 32 GB for. It’s one heck of a deal when you consider the fact that I should have paid at least $400 more for it.

I still don’t understand why this person sold it for such a low price but what I heard was that this phone was meant for one of his employees who got fired the same day. Poor him but lucky me!

I was all happy and chugged along well getting back to the Apple ecosystem, which by the way is a great tool for Apple to lock people in as I, like another crazy friend of mine who got the S8, found it very hard to move away from the ecosystem especially when you own more than one Apple device.

Maybe this is one reason why more people switch to Apple from Android than vice versa!

Within few days, the Easter weekend showed up and I was planning a getaway from Toronto as job search everyday can be so tiring. Montreal/Quebec seemed the best spot for backpacking till I was looking for vacations for another acquaintance of mine.

Soon, I ended up going to Cancun, Mexico myself as the off season round trip airfares were so low and I just felt the need of some sun at the beach.

Being the nerd who is jobless, I decided to use AirBnB and in this process I was required to use local cabs to commute from my place to hotels, from where the local tours start and stop. All was going well till I lost my phone in a cab and my happy, safe and friendly impression of Cancun bursted.

Thanks to a very supportive security staff at the hotel, I tried hard but in vain to track the taxi/my phone using security cameras at the hotel and iCloud, respectively. I realised when you switch data roaming off, all you could see is a location when the phone is turned on which by the way happened when I came back to Toronto.

Anyways, the taxi guy turned the phone off throughout my time in Cancun and hence iCloud was useless. It took me an entire day to get over the fact that I lost my phone and this time around being without a phone was entirely different from not having a phone.

Somehow I managed to finish my trip on a high note and I came back to Toronto in one piece.

As mentioned earlier, the phone showed up on iCloud few times as my SIM was still active and I didn’t erase the phone hoping the taxi guy would see my desperate bounty call.

I think the taxi guy still didn’t realize that my phone is going to be a costly paperweight as it’s in lost mode forever the moment I activated it on iCloud. Anyways, it was a lost cause, literally.

The 2nd Road Trip:

The next weekend I continued my Montreal/Quebec plan as Avis car rental offered me a healthy 30% discount for moving my reservation a week past the Easter weekend.

But before I took upon this trip, I wanted to figure out my phone scene as I’m traveling to a part of Canada that doesn’t speak much of English and I needed a navigation tool.

When I realized that S8 was launching in stores the same day as my trip, I wanted to see how the phone is in reality and I ended up buying it. It had a lovely screen and shot some amazing pictures.

Besides that there was nothing great about it. So, after a day or two, I decided to extend my road trip by a day and go visit my cousin in Weymouth, Massachusetts, USA.

No! The actual reason was to visit Nashua, New Hampshire in USA as it’s just a 5 hour drive from Montreal and I can get a new iPhone 7 Plus tax free and take up on the offer of my friend at Apple who could get me an additional 15% discount seeing my agony of losing a phone on social media.

Facebook is such a powerful tool I say!  

Anyways, I purchased a new iPhone (again!), got my Apple Watch replaced under warranty due to some cosmetic issues, visited my cousin as that trip was anyways bound to happen during my next visit to USA and traveled back to Toronto from Weymouth, MA in pretty much the same time as it would have taken from Quebec city in Canada. Life has been boring ever since then considering the craziness of the last one month.

OPPORTUNITIES:

To lay men ! I was doing a complete roundabout (from iPhone 7 Plus to iPhone 7 Plus) for pretty much nothing but being a business guy, I realized few gaping holes in our current technology.

Our apps have become too data intensive and memory intensive even though the utility has increased only marginally in the last few years.

Also, the duplicity of functions has become too much of an issue like in the case of Facebook’s messenger and WhatsApp. Both almost do the same job at the core of it but I’m forced to have both because Facebook, where most of my social life exists these days, thinks I need messenger as a standalone app and WhatsApp has become too ubiquitous to not have on a smartphone.

Anyways, there are quite a few other problems that for obvious reasons I can’t mention here (read not all ideas are dime a dozen and I wish to make a business out of one at least).

But what I would suggest to all who is either developing the next Facebook or working on a service that could become too ubiquitous to ignore by general public like WhatsApp is to actually live for a few days without these apps or service to understand how important they are to the end users.

If I can exist few days without an app/service, then I don’t see the point of that app/service.

Also, one should continue testing on legacy devices even after few years past their lifetime since a majority of our world is still living without a smartphone and that’s where the true value and potential is if you actually think of it.

Also, in case of a real emergency like a huge solar flare, which could potentially take out all networks, any app or service that is still functional with bare minimum or zero network usage could be a huge win for all. 

Now! Don’t test me on how an app or service can work in case all networks are down because I’m not sure if batteries can even power up but I hope you get the idea of contingency.

Prepare for contingency in your product development and build on a thin, lean or agile logic not just in terms of development but also architecture because the benefits are too huge to ignore.