Pocket watch phone

To be completely honest I mainly want this because without it the watch pocket in 5-pocket jeans is worthless. But it also occurs to me it might be appropriate as an alternative to a burner phone.

I don’t have the device fully characterized yet, and in fact there are multiple versions that might be differently useful in different circumstances, but here’s a sketch of what I’m thinking about.

First of all, the device has to fit comfortably in the watch pocket of a pair of 5-pocket jeans. That’s its whole raison d’être.

Almost certainly it needs to have:

  • Camera
  • GPS
  • Good-but-small screen
  • Bluetooth
  • WiFi

This is enough to enable all sorts of use cases: Geo-tagged images, navigation, listening to podcasts, tracking workouts, etc.

If I could get just that—and if it were reasonably cheap, and designed with good security—I’d buy one in a heartbeat, simply to have a workout tracking device that fit in the media pocket of my workout shorts. (My phones get bigger faster than I need to buy new running shorts.)

At this point, we need to make a big binary decision: Does the device have a phone?

Without a phone, it’s just a teeny-tiny tablet. As I say, I’d buy one, but without a phone it’s pretty limited—no connectivity unless you’re on somebody’s WiFi.

For most of the use cases I have in mind, this would work great. I could connect my headset & heart-rate monitor, kick off a podcast, start up my work-out tracking app, and go for a run. Along the way I could pause to take photos to document my workout. And the end I could share photos and workout details to social media. (Everybody I know cares deeply about my workouts.)

Some very minor software tweaks would let you use it your pocket watch phone as if you were connected. For example, you could still write texts and social media posts, they’d just be queued up until you went on WiFi someplace at which point they’d all be delivered.

The biggest issue with a pocket-watch non-phone phone would be the inability to make emergency calls. Less of a big deal but important to a lot of people is just generally being connected—making and taking calls, sending and receiving texts, keeping up on and posting to social media, etc.

The downside of adding a phone is that it loses the potential to be a purely off-the-grid device.

It might be possible to compromise: You could have a phone that’s turned off (with a burner SIM). Then you’re covered: In case of an emergency turn the phone on.

Proper burner phone security would require that you dispose of the phone as well as the SIM once you’ve powered it up. That need could probably be avoided if the phone generated a new IMEI on each power-up the way some devices are now generating new MAC addresses on power-up for the same reason. (There might be other numbers that would need to be regenerated. There’d also probably be other software changes necessary, such as obfuscating the list of installed apps, to keep the phones from being self-fingerprinting in all sorts of ways.)

If you can make the phone cheap enough, which having a very small screen would help a lot with, maybe none of that matters. Buy the phones in three-packs for a few dollars, and then give them to homeless shelters as soon as you’re done with one.

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