Words on a Page Writings about writing

On writing with your smartphone

A man holding a smartphone

A few years ago, I read an article online that focused on how writer Patrick Rhone routinely writes long-form blog posts and essays on his iPhone. I don’t remember where I read the article, but you can watch a video of Rhone demonstrating how he writes with his phone.

I know that a lot of people have fallen for the idea that smartphones are pocket-sized computers. I’m not one of them. I don’t see them as being on par, or even close, to a laptop, desktop computer, or even a Chromebook. Smartphones are just too limited.

Having written that, I do realize that smartphones can be useful. With that in mind, I decided in June, 2016 to spend a week writing on my smartphone.

I used the phone (an Oppo Find 7 with a five inch screen, if you’re interested) to :

  • Write drafts of articles and blog posts
  • Create outlines
  • Take notes

I also used to the phone to deal with much of my personal and professional communication.

So how did it go? I was able to work on my smartphone, but it was cumbersome. First off, I found that I can’t type quickly on a smartphone’s screen. It’s not that I have huge fingers, but it just didn’t work for me. Autocorrect helped sometimes. I even tried three different keyboards, but the results were the same.

It was also difficult to work with Markdown (or any other markup language) on a smartphone. That’s even using an editor with Markdown shortcuts.

As a consequence of that, I couldn’t get into a good flow. Not having that flow slowed me down. Even by the end of the week, I wasn’t writing at what I considered a decent pace. It was taking far too long for me to finish my work.

After a week of working on a smartphone, I learned that trying to write on it is a case of pushing my tools beyond their limits. I don’t believe, despite all of the hype, that a smartphone is really meant to do all of the things I tried to use it for.

And it’s not a matter of me being a dinosaur — I’ve been using portable and mobile devices since the early 1990s. And I tried this sort of experiment twice before: in the early 2000s, with a Palm PDA and a few years later with a BlackBerry Curve 8300.

I probably could be a bit more comfortable writing with smartphone if I used one in conjunction with a Bluetooth keyboard. I did something like that during my writing experiment with a Palm PDA a dozen or so years back. Even then, I expect working with a smartphone would still be cumbersome. If the keyboard didn’t have a way to dock with the phone, I’d have to carry a stand as well. The whole idea of portability would be knocked on its head.

Smartphones, in my opinion, really aren’t designed for serious, sustained work. They’re great for reading and watching. They’re great for short communication. They’re great for jotting down a quick idea. Anything beyond that and I find that I’m getting into the realm of diminishing returns.

My experiment was fun while it lasted. I learned that I can write on a phone. But just because I can doesn’t mean I must or even should.

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