Jiwon's Alcove

Single-Purpose Smart Devices

Nov 11, 2022
Hand holding up an ereader.

Are our smart devices the ultimate minimalist dream? After all, a single smartphone can replace notepads, books, a compass, maps, an mp3 player, a TV, a remote control, a grocery list, a camera, a landline, and many more. Smartphones are, indeed, the ultimate Swiss army knife.

I realize, though, that much like a Swiss army knife, a smartphone is best treated as a collection of niche tools. For any task that we spend much of our time in, the distractability of the internet's allure at my fingertips proves to be too much.

Take, for instance, the task of checking time. Since I need to do it frequently, relying on my smartphone to keep myself on schedule is like using a sledgehammer to clip my nails, 40 times a day. A simple wristwatch gives me the freedom to put my phone away, which greatly helps with my distractability.

Another type of task for which I prefer a single-purpose device is any task that requires my full focus. For reading and note-taking, I rely heavily on an e-ink tablet.1 Although it can be used to run any Android app, Youtube is surely less enticing in black-and-white at 10 fps!

Another such task is gaming.2 Gaming on a Steam Deck makes me get much more immersed in the game than playing on a PC. When I play on a PC, I often have a Twitch stream running in the background while also browsing Reddit. This maximalist approach ironically minimizes the joy of gaming.

With these delegations, and a ruthless pruning of apps from my phone, my phone has become a Swiss army knife for a few tasks that absolutely require a phone. Such few tasks include 2-factor authentication, making phone calls, texting, navigation, and calling Uber.

I own many more smart devices now than I did some years ago: phone, laptop, PC, tablet, and gaming console. And yet, by turning my phone, tablet, and gaming console into single-purposes machines, I feel less cluttered and distracted than before.

1 An Onyx Boox Max Lumi 2. The 13-inch e-ink tablet category is uncontested.
2 Three years ago, I wrote this post discussing minimal gaming setup ideas. The Steam Deck trumps all options that were available back then.