I Don’t Need a New Phone

…But I want one!

A picture of phones in a rubbish heap.  If you are sustainably minded ask "I don't need a new phone."
I don’t need a new phone. Heaps of issues.

Dear Ms. Smartphone: I’ve seen ads this week for this fall’s new phones- both the Apple 14 and Samsung folding phones. I wish that I could afford either one. But honestly, that’s not in the cards. I still owe about  $400. on my existing phone with the Apple contract I got two years ago. And, I don’t need a new phone for work or anything. But I still wish I had one! Any soothing words for me?! Byrce, Albany

Dear Byrce: If you own a car, you know that we have all gotten in the habit of keeping our cars longer and trading them in less frequently. Eventually that is going to happen to smartphones. But we are in the early days  and each Fall debuts a new apple-picking season. So how do you come to grips with, “I don’t need a new phone?” There are things you can do to spruce up your two year old phone and make it shine again. But first, congratulate yourself for Not running out to get the newest, shiniest device on the market.

A 2022 study estimates 1.4 billion new phones will be manufactured to meet worldwide demand, and join or replace the 4.5 billion phones already in service.  It’s a positive thing when more people in the world acquire phones, but it is less sustainable if we keep manufacturing brand new ones.  That said, phones are not as carbon intensive as say making new cars.

But holding on to your existing phone for a few more years is an environmentally sound decision that you should feel good about. Almost all of the carbon emissions from phones occurs in their first year- from the mining, the manufacturing, packaging, shipping, and so forth. The longer you can hold on this device, the more you reduce the environmental impact. Here in North America we keep our phones an average of just two years. At the end of this column, I’ll mention your phone’s “second-life.”

Shine the Apple:

But, since the phone and you are going to hang for a while longer, what can you do to shine the apple? Quite obviously, you should download and install the newest, latest operating system, and equally importantly, discover and use the new features it brings. iOs 16.0 will let you customize the locked screen with widgets, and that will give your phone a fresh look. It’s  learning about the features packaged inside this new operating system, like undo messaging and live text that will make you feel more state-of-the-art.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with spiffing out the look of the phone and giving it a new skin. Or, a new case for your phone, Airpods, or even a watch would be a smaller investment and make it tactically new. You could also try out a pop-socket,  a reading stand- or  anything that makes you imagine using your existing phone in a different way and trying out new situations. You can’t upgrade the camera lens, but you can probably improve the way you take pictures and videos by playing with the editing tools.

Clean the Apple:

Most importantly, you can delete the apps that you seldom use (you can always reinstall them if you change your mind), clean-up your contact list, and houseclean on the cloud. If you had a new phone you would probably think twice before bringing over all the baggage from the old one.  This deep-clean will refresh your interaction with the phone, and also help it to run faster and use less battery.

Speaking of battery, you might decide in another year or two that you need a new phone. That’s because your device then needs to be plugged in more often and the charge won’t last as long. When this occurs you can consider replacing the battery. That simple step will improve its performance and extend the phone’s useful life. It’s like the cars we drive- the real key to reducing emissions will be prolonged ownership- whether by a single or multiple owners.

Seed A Change:

It doesn’t mean that you and this phone are forever. When you do choose to replace this device, make sure it either goes back to the phone-reseller or a reputable recycler. The former are able to refurbish the phone and sell it to new customers. The latter will dismantle the phone for its useful materials, so there will be less mining of aluminum (the case), tin (circuit boards) cobalt and lithium (batteries) and other elements. Keep the sock drawer for socks (cotton and polyester), not for socking older but precious phones.

Meet Job Candidate in Person?

Four people gathered around a table looking at six people on a Zoom like video. Perhaps they are talking over the job candidates they will hire.
Meet job candidate in person or by video?

Dear Ms. Smartphone: My coworker and I disagree over the next hire for our ten person tech firm. I would like to meet the job candidate in person even if it means flying them cross-country. My coworker says it is unnecessary to meet a job candidate in person since the position is going to be remote (off-site). I don’t see her point. This new position will be in marketing/sales and I like to know the people I am working with. Connor, San Francisco

Dear Connor: I can’t remotely begin to answer this (pun intended).  As we come out of the Covid lockdown, we all recognize that the office is not going to return to the old ways.  Yet, I do agree that I would like to meet a job candidate in person, particularly in an area as critical as sales and marketing. Whether you can convince your co-worker  is another thing.  Since your company probably does not have a human resources (HR) person, this decision will come down to the budget, plans for growth, and corporate investment in employees and their community.

There’s a related issue from the HR side. Before you and your coworker decide to hire someone who will work from afar, you should consider how you will onboard them. Do you need a face to face visit to bring the  newcomer  up to speed with your products and processes? How will they get comfortable with your company culture and know what the boundaries are? In the past employees learned this by “showing up.” If your new person does not feel committed to your organization, and does not come to share its values, they will leave. Frequent staff turnover will dilute the monetary advantages and time efficiencies of remote hires. 

People Trending:

If there’s one thing we learned during the Covid pandemic, it is how brittle and impassive it is to exclusively communicate over electronics channels. Six hours on zoom feels like ten hours of meeting time. We crave person-to-person interaction. It is hard to articulate this but I imagine it is at the base of your question.

But remote work is a growing trend.  A career site called Ladders says that about 25% of professional jobs will be remote by the end of 2022, compared to just 4% before the pandemic. You should contemplate these numbers with caution, since Ladders, while widely quoted, does not detail how their projections were gathered. Seat -of- the- pants or a recent probability sample of HR departments?

Corporate Cultures:

Back to the HR issues, it would be useful to probe with your coworker why the duties of the marketing/sales job are better served remotely.  Should this be a short term need then you could consider hiring a consulting team. If it’s a long term need and the sales/marketing person is going to be part of your “team”  then consider whether you all need to play on the same team at the same time. If you hire a junior employee at a distance,  it’s not clear whether you can mentor them.  With remote work, do we forfeit the opportunity  to start in the mailroom and work up the corporate ladder?

While not trying to recreate the  “The Office” TV series with Steve Carell and Jenna Fisher I personally believe it’s a good time, post-Covid,  to advocate for local arrangements. Perhaps like your food, you want to know where and how it’s sourced. A lesser consideration is that your new person might be situated in a different time zone. You will not find that work-home balance you  seek if they have to reach you on Zoom before or after your regular hours. 

The New Local:

The good news is that if you hire locally you may now have an expanded network of candidates. One of the most soul-crushing problems of going into the office, the commute, has been tamed by the pandemic. Traffic calming occurs when employees can work different schedules and come in only a few days a week, or travel at non-peak times.  There is a  wider net of local candidates to hire from when there is less excess travel time and parents can work from home part-time. Most employees can find other uses for the hours they spent commuting.

The notion that office-workers innovated over the water cooler is over-romanticized. Many offices were soulless places with workers wearing headsets, crammed into cubicles, and hunched over screen consoles. However, if workers are part of a community, and communities are what nourish us post-Covid, then the places we want to work should be integral to that picture. We spend nearly half of our day ‘there.’ Going forward, we can hope there is value added in holding a working  luncheon, organizing after-hours softball teams, and corporate groups that volunteer for civic improvements.

eGift Card: InKind

Food for thought. The InKind eGift card.

A picture of a phone with an inkind label displayed and a bow at the top of the phone representing an egift card.
eGiftcard Inkind

Dear Ms. Smartphone: For my birthday my kids gave me a eGift card to a popular local restaurant. The eGift card was sent via email and when I went to redeem it I had to download an app to my iPhone.  The app then tried to download the gift card to my phone’s wallet but I think I messed that part up. I could still use the gift card through the app. When I got to the restaurant (yum) it basically worked OK, but I could not use up the full amount of the card, etc.  Wendi, Tiburon

Dear Wendi: It’s a good thing you were not in a hurry to eat, as that sounds like an extended process if hungry!  From your notes I gather that the app you are referring to is called inKind, although there might be others like it. In some ways this e-Gift card app is modeled after house accounts where you run a tab each time you visit, so you don’t have to carry cash. However, these days you have to pop out your phone and use their app when the bill arrives. 

I checked with some restaurants to see what they thought of the app, and the servers told they were never sure that people really paid for their meal, it was an honor system! Since there was no exchange of cash or credit card, diners simply fold their napkins and left once they authorized payment through the app. This app is to restaurants what the phone is to Tesla vehicles. You cannot leave home without it and it knows who you are!

The serving staffs said they had difficulty splitting out the bill if there were multiple credit cards on the table. That makes sense, as InKind produces a code that is linked to the total  bill- perfect for back end data processing but less transparent for friends sharing a night out. This cashless exchange is still in the early days. 

A Bigger Business:

The business behind the “InKind” app is bigger than the meal you were served. It’s a new business model where they serve as the middleman. InKind buys a certain number of food and beverage credits from a restaurant owner, say $1,000, giving them operating cash but this $1,000 might have a retail value of say $1,200.  InKind  makes money by selling the food and beverage credit via gift cards and vouchers. These sell these for more than what they paid for them.

The gift-voucher you received was a two-step process, and that’s why you had to use the two-step phone app to unlock it. First, InKind purchased credits from your restaurant, and then branded them  as a gift card. Then, your kids purchased the gift card from the restaurant site, and InKind was powering that transaction, plus giving them “bonus points.”

Is the App A Keeper?

If you plan to eat at this restaurant again and hope to accumulate “points”  for future meals, then you should keep the app on your smartphone. To encourage you to add funds to your account (through a credit card) InCard will top it off with a cash bonus. Depending on the up-front cash they offer this could be substantial. But, if this was just a one-time gift, or you have to wait until your next birthday, then consider deleting it from your device. 

There are several ways the app could be collecting data about you. The default setting when the app is downloaded allows Siri (on the iPhone) to learn how you use the app and make suggestions. They might utilize these  for ads or notifications. Apple i0S 7.0 and later allows you to turn off tracking, but that will not prevent an app like InKind from sharing your data with a third party. 

Is the App Private?

Also, your restaurant tab is not complete until you leave a tip. But, catch 22.  You cannot pay the tip through InKind.  Hence your account with them is also linked to a credit card, unless you choose to tip with cash. So potentially your purchase history, device ID, and identity, is shared. Perhaps more. It’s certainly different from an old-fashioned gift card that came on a piece of plastic and was anonymous.

Restaurants may like this new two-step model for gift cards  and it gives them up-front  funds to grow as they recover from the pandemic. Perhaps it also produces time-savings for an understaffed, busy restaurant. They can streamline how they deploy servers, since they no longer have to ferry credit card receipts back and forth. Whether it leads to a better customer experience or creates more of a fast-food ambiance remains to be seen. Since your customer data is their rocket fuel for selling future meals, take steps to secure it.