A Bad Workman Blames His Tools

(An excuse proffered by the charlatans who expect him to build the Suez Canal with a plastic bucket and spade)

My phones are tools, not toys … there are no games/other timewasters on them. The most frivolous app on any of them is a Usenet reader¹ and, after that, the next two most frivolous are my RSS feed reader for keeping up with ‘the events of the day’ as they say and Wikipedia in its entirety³.

As a result, I cannot comprehend how other people use theirs effectively.

They cover their home screen with all manner of icons, with dots and badges and whatnot, requiring a postgraduate course in Post-Modern Hieroglyphics in order to make out the subtleties. And their app drawers are overflowing with icons that must take an age to search through to find what they’re looking for. They have umpteen apps open in the background that they have to switch between when they want to perform various tasks.

The cognitive load must be enormous and I’m not surprised that most people overload and end up using Facebook/Whatsapp/Instagram, a media player and nothing else ever again, as they burn out.

Me … I can’t be bothered with that nonsense … I want it all at my fingertips and I want it now. I want it in English, not in a braille-for-the-sighted series of dots … or numbered ‘badges’ for those who could never get enough merit points in kindergarten/primary school … that mean nothing other than that I’ll have to make the effort to tap on an icon, open an app, discover it was nothing important, sigh heavily, close the app and try and remember where I’d got to in the series of events making up my former workflow before I was so rudely interrupted.

I don’t want to have to pull down a notification list and scroll through it looking for something, in case it’s there (it might not be, but I won’t know that until I look), get distracted by something else along the way and forget what I was doing in the first place whilst I deal with it.

Nor do I want to have to limit/turn off my notifications — that’s not a solution … I might miss something important.

So, the home screen (I have multiple screens), on the home desktop (I have multiple desktops) of my main launcher (I use three different launchers for different purposes) contains all the most important notifications in a single widget (Dashclock) that takes plugins/extensions and uses the entire screen real estate.

If there’s anything of any significance that I should know, there’ll be a clear notification of it …

As you can see, right now, I’m on top of everything bar one email (no missed calls, no unread texts, no unread instant messages, no incomplete tasks)- — in fact, there’s not much to see at all apart from a handful of reminders that need expanding into the full list and the fact that my Bluetooth is active.

It is displayed on my lock screen as well, so that I can simply wake the screen and … without having to unlock my phone … see, at a glance, whether I have a connection, have any incoming/missed calls/messages/emails, what significant events are upcoming, what I have to do (and by when), start/stop a service (like Bluetooth). I can interact with any of them as if I were directly accessing the desktop, log in and go straight to the app in question. Or I can say “Yeah, whatever, later” and put my phone back in my pocket.

You’ll notice there are no icons, folders, trays, docks, wharfs, pagers, panels or any of that nonsense. Nor is there a navigation bar — I use the gesture control feature of one of my launchers for that and never see the actual launcher itself because I don’t need to. The entire screen is available as a place to view information, providing maximal usage of the real estate.

When I have unlocked my phone, I don’t need to hunt and peck around in an app drawer, I have a dedicated, autohiding, transparent launcher with custom groups of my own making, containing related apps (System, Security, Data, Communications, GTD, Office, Business, Travel, Reference, etc.). So, I don’t have to leave the app I’m using, or lose my place in something I’m looking at in order to launch another one. And I only need to use that on the very odd occasion when I want/need to do something from scratch, rather than respond to something and get taken into the relevant app automatically.

Each desktop is infinite in size and scrolls in all directions, a screen at a time.

Immediately below the home screen on my home desktop, I find system status information via plugins/extensions to the Better Dashclock widget (a fork of Dashclock) …

If I want to know why my phone is behaving the way it is, I simply flick up and there is all the information of any significance — right now, the phone is running smoothly and there’s nothing that I need to be aware of other than how long it will take to charge.

Flick right and, on the screen to the left, I see my agenda for the day on a Sectograph circle divided into twelve segments, with overlapping, translucent colour schemes for the first/second twelve hours of the day

Left of that is my agenda forever until the end of Time in a long list.

Below that is my detailed task list …

Did I miss a notification … some significant event that might explain why my phone is behaving a certain way? Flick down from the home screen and, voila …

… albeit I faked that one by chopping out the more revealing content (but you get the idea).

What’s going on in the World?

Flick left and look at the screen right of the home screen …

Apart from, as I said, the very rare exception, everything I need to know and do is at a flick of the thumb and glance of the eye — and everything interactive, taking me to the appropriate app without my having to open a drawer or panel or folder or anything, hunt for the appropriate app, launch it and risk forgetting what I was intending to do whilst I twiddle my thumbs waiting for it to open.

If I need to add an entry, I can do it directly from the appropriate widget, with no need to go looking for the icon of the relevant app hidden amongst all the others — in fact, apart from a handful, I’m barely sure what any of my apps’ icons even look like.

Which is why, as my phone’s OS is further developed and ever more restrictions are placed on what apps are allowed to do … and the various plugins and widgets stop functioning properly (or at all) … I find myself searching increasingly forlornly for an adequate replacement for them.

Because, whilst there are more widgets out there than I would’ve thought possible … all any of them do is display a variety of clocks and icons for weather conditions or, if you’re lucky, control your media player.

Even the ‘design your own widget’ apps are basically ‘design your own clock and weather widget’ with the occasional addition of ‘see how many replies there are to your your Instagram/Facebook posts and/or how many emails/Whatsapp messages you have’.

It’s like when my Sony Ericsson P800 was on its last legs and I was looking for a replacement.

The P800 was released in 2002.

I full five years before Apple released the iPhone, it had a touch sensitive screen (with a stylus as well, if your fingers were too fat, that slotted neatly back into the phone’s case), played and recorded audio and video, supported apps that you could download and install, either from Sony themselves or third party developers (I had a digital audio workstation app on mine, not dissimilar to Rebirth … and an office suite that could edit Word/Excel/Powerpoint documents), system-wide ‘grafitti’ handwriting recognition (which the iPhone still doesn’t have), could be used as a wireless modem (hotspot) by other devices (like your PC) and all the other things we now take for granted.

I was going into shops and asking them what they could show me.

The sales representatives got all excited about how their range of phones included

  1. full colour displays (that were smaller than the P800 and displayed fewer colours);
  2. played video and music (*yawn*, yes, so did the P800);
  3. could play games (*sigh*, yes, so did the P800 … and much more sophisticated ones);
  4. nothing else.

Basically, they were offering me toys, not tools, and couldn’t understand why I was unimpressed — until I explained what the P800 was capable of and they then had to say (crestfallen) “No, we don’t stock anything that advanced.”

The Dashclock widget has been listed in every roundup of the best widgets available since it was first developed (the list of plugins/extensions is pretty long too). Surely, therefore, I can’t be the only one looking to replace it with something equally as useful.

I’m already doing a lot more with what I have than any of the ‘make your own widgets in all these exciting colours and weird shapes’ will allow me to create. Seriously … how many clock/weather widgets does the World need? I need to know the time, yes, but, if I want to know what the weather is doing, I’ll look outside!

I can’t be the only person in the World who needs more than this …

Can I?

This is not the place to get your apps from … (you should only get them from the Play Store, F-Droid, Yalp/Aurora stores or, if you must, Amazon) … but the first eight-and-a-half pages of it will give you an idea of just how useful Dashclock/Better Dashclock/Chronus is/was …

¹ Really, who looks at Usenet these days … and why, for goodness’ sake!?²

² I was bored, okay?

³ Yes, I have an offline copy of Wikipedia on my phone — albeit, occasionally, I cheat and read Rationalwiki instead (but it’s the same principle), if I’ve got time to mess around playing a game, I’ve got time to learn something, haven’t I?

⁴ If you’re at all concerned about privacy then you’ll be aware that Amazon is the worst of the lot (worse even than Facebook and Google, believe it or not).

There he goes. One of God's own prototypes. A high-powered mutant of some kind never even considered for mass production. Too weird to live and too rare to die.