Would it be possible to work all day on a phone?
Last week, I stupidly left the apartment to take a stroll with my office keys. As I shut the front door to double lock it and stared at the wrong set of keys in my hands with disbelief, I realised my mistake. To make things worse, I was sick, the weather was foul, and my wife wasn’t due to return from a work trip until late evening.
Resolved in the fact that I was stuck with just my wallet and phone for the day, and thanking the stars I had the option to go to the office, I headed in. I wondered if I could be like so many others I have heard of, and spend the entire day working on my phone.
Android desktop mode
Since version 10, Android has included a desktop mode, which in theory means you can plug your phone into an external display. But I have a Pixel 6, and pixels don’t support the feature for some reason. So small screen all day… Android does autorotate between portrait and landscape, but not all apps support it and it’s unreliable. For example, you frequently have to wave the phone back and forth to get it to readjust after the display goes to sleep. However, you can connect a mouse and keyboard, and while they are not as intuitive to use as on iOS (granted my experience is with an iPad), it works well enough.
OK, so not optimal so far, but better than nothing.
I am one of the odd people who uses Apple operating systems everywhere, but have an Android phone. Why I do this, and if it’s a good idea is a topic for another post, but for today, what could I access?
Anything Google-related is straightforward, and while mobile apps aren’t the best ways to interact with most long-form work, the external keyboard makes it easier.
It is possible to access iCloud in a browser, where I can get to my email, notes, and iCloud drive, but of course, I am missing a lot of the applications I need to work with that data. Still, this opens up the options of what I can work on.
What can I work on?
OK then, with hours to kill, what can I work on?
Anything in a browser or in an Android app is possible, but not optimal. So, I can do things like purchases, admin, email, some planning, listen to and watch media, and write in Google Docs or Apple Notes (through the browser). I could do some programming and documentation in something like GitHub codespaces, but it would be hard to debug every application type, and the small screen makes it quite hard.
So, how was it? Well, i got some things done… To a point, and only certain tasks until i hit a point where I was stuck with what to do next.
One of the biggest disappointments was the lack of desktop mode. That would have made the whole experience far more pleasant for my eyes and back, especially as I have two 27” screens in my office 🤩.
One thing I found myself needing time and again was a split screen view, so I could see two pages at once. I am uncertain if iPhones or Android tablets support this, but macOS and iPadOS do, and it’s extremely helpful. Granted, on such a small screen, the split would be a challenge, but the option would be useful.
I found that when I had an external keyboard connected, it locked out the screen-based keyboard. This might seem like an odd need, but there are some apps that are unsurprisingly designed better for on-screen use, and it would be good to be able to switch between the two input methods. Maybe I missed a setting somewhere.
Keyboard shortcuts didn’t work as I expected anyway, perhaps there’s a setting to enable them. I tried various combinations for copying and pasting and nothing seemed to work. Again I am uncertain if iPhones or Android tablets support this.
Finally, while I could access iCloud data in and Android Browsers, it didn’t all work. Email was fine, notes I could read but not edit, and files I could sort of access, but generally by downloading them first and often I had no Android application that opened them anyway.
The death of the laptop is overrated
I am not sure how people who say that they live on their phones do it. But to be fair, the kind of work I do, is, and always has been, primarily computer-based. I write long form content, code, and record and edit audio and video. These are all possible on mobile devices, but still not optimal, even on an iPad. There has been much discussion about improving Android tablets and I did own a couple a few years back, and from memory even then, the larger screen helped with certain applications.
But working all day on a mobile phone? It was a novelty, and tolerable, but that was all.