Photo by Sara Kurfeß on Unsplash


It’s time to unbundle the iPhone

What matters more, convenience or focus?

Companies use a strategy of bundling and unbundling to offer different parts of the value chain to customers. Netflix unbundled television from subscriptions (cable plans with 300+ channels) into a single streaming service.

Google and Twitter helped unbundle news from whole papers to individual articles. Why pay for one paper when you can click and choose what the internet has to offer?

In physical goods, new brands have unbundled consumer goods giants like Procter & Gamble into hundreds of brands you can buy directly (e.g. Glossier makeup, Wild deodorant, Harry’s razors...). But having a direct relationship with hundreds of brands is not convenient, and companies like Italic are already re-bundling brands into a single online retailer.

The iPhone, when it first came out, bundled phone, music player, and internet into one device.

Steve Jobs Introducing The iPhone At MacWorld 2007 | Source: Youtube

Since then, the iPhone has managed to bundle almost anything you could need. It’s an alarm clock, an email server, a music player, a dating matchmaker, a radio, a place to organise plans with close friends, a place to broadcast your vacation to all acquaintances, a device for getting work done, a device for updating colleagues when said work is done, a GPS, a camera…

Having it all in one device means you’re ready for anything. Run into a newsworthy event and want to record, edit, and post the scoop? Easy. You’re at the furniture store and need your roommate at home to measure your sofa space? A quick call and measuring app will suffice. Want to design, launch, test and market a product? Learn a new language? Make new friends? You can do it all from this 3 by 6 piece of glass.

But that’s the problem. Almost all of my bad habits stem from overusing my phone. The quest for phone real estate has made companies optimize their apps to be as lovely, helpful, and addictive as possible. Which means as soon as I open my phone for one purpose, I get sucked into distraction.

  • My phone as my alarm clock means I spend the morning reacting to notifications instead of setting a clear intention for the day
  • Slack / work chat on my device means I struggle to get into a stage of deep focus, as I am constantly checking notifications throughout the day
  • Instagram, for all its value for keeping up with friends, is so addictive I find myself constantly checking what has been posted, even if I opened my phone for another purpose entirely

I hardly ever just think. Every break is filled with phone time.

Photo by Austin Distel on Unsplash

What if this is not a software problem, but a hardware one?

Does my alarm need to be my dating app? Do my work email and personal chat need to share the same screen? What if my phone helped me focus, instead of presenting access to everything at once?

What if we unbundled the iPhone?

I propose reframing devices around the state of mind I want to be in throughout the day:

  • ⏰ A wakeup ‘good morning’ device (alarm + spotify + podcasts + weather)
  • 👩🏻‍💻 A work comms device (email, slack, google suite, todo list)
  • 🤸‍♀️ A social, fun, and news catchup device (IG, Telegram, Whatsapp, personal email, Twitter, news, games)
  • ⏳ A creative focus device (Medium, canva, ppt, spotify, to do list, etc — most importantly, NO communication focused apps. No Instagram, no Slack, no e-mail)

At the very least, I should invest in a separate alarm clock. At the most, there might be a market opportunity for a set of less smart devices that help you become more smart around your own habits.

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Michelle Wiles

Michelle Wiles

Writing about startups, media, and brands. Former P&G, McKinsey, Ogilvy. Brand & growth consultant at Embedded.