- Apostrophe’s Punkt provides a new method to utilize a phone.
- Its privacy-first design completely isolates regular Android apps.
- There’s a small but growing shift away from the app-centered iPhone/Android pattern.
The Punkt phone by Swiss company Apostrophe is part of a new trend to break away from the typical app-centered model for phones and substitute them with something that is simultaneously more focused and more private.
Pretty much all phones run either iOS or Android, and in general terms, the two are identical. They wake to a grid of apps, and you flip between those apps to get stuff done or—in the case of Instagram or TikTok—to have stuff done to your brain. But a new breed of mobile devices is starting to appear, devices that value your attention and privacy over the cornucopia of distraction and data mining. And it looks like Apostrophe has come up with a great halfway house.
“The scarcity of alternative operating systems for phones can be attributed to the entrenched market presence of iOS and Android, creating a significant barrier for newcomers. User familiarity, app ecosystems, and developer support play crucial roles in sustaining the duopoly,” Dhanvin Sriram, founder of the software company PromptVibes, conveyed to Lifewire via email.
Computing used to be document-based. You’d first locate a file on your computer—a Word doc, a PDF, an image of some kind—and then you’d open it to read or modify it. Even when you fired up Photoshop, say, to create something from scratch, you’d create a file that you’d carefully place in a folder somewhere.
Today, it’s all apps. Sometimes, there’s still a file in there somewhere, but that’s often irrelevant because we don’t really create anything on our phones anyway. We might use an app to beautify a selfie or to write a message to a friend, but the fundamental use for our computers has changed. We look things up and graze on ‘content.’ If we create anything, it’s by pouring hours into crafting and posting pictorial evidence of a faux lifestyle into social media apps, all of which extract every last bit of private data from your activities.
Which is to say, perhaps there’s another way. The Punkt still runs on Android, but as Android is open-source, it can be tweaked and modified. Wake up the Apostrophe phone, and you’ll see not a grid of apps but a grid of icons to access your data—email, files, calendar, and so on. The idea seems to be that you can pull out your phone, look up the address for that party you’re on the way to, say, and then not get pulled in by all those tempting messages in your WhatsApp groups.
It’s a subtle difference, to be sure, but then, so is the difference between pre-internet and post-internet PCs and Macs. They appear the same, save for the added modern conveniences, but we use them in utterly different ways.
But the Apostrophe doesn’t stop there. The makers clearly realize that using apps is essential, so even though they are not the focus of this phone, you can still access the Google Play store, although with a twist. Regular Android apps are run in a ‘sandbox,’ so they cannot interact with anything else on your phone. You decide how much information they can have. It’s kind of like having a separate phone for each app.
The way the Apostrophe differentiates between these states is ingenious. The standard Apostrophe home screen (called the “Domus,” a name that nobody is ever going to use) is grayscale. Then, when you enter the “Plaza” (the Android app section), everything is in color, like Dorothy visiting Oz.
More than anything, the Apostrophe is an interesting anomaly in the world of smartphones and hopefully, one that points to a more varied future. It’s a nice option for folks wanting more privacy and control, but it may not go far enough.
For an even more radical approach to mobile computing, take a look at the Rabbit R1, a tiny, impossibly cute AI-based handheld that you can talk to and uses your apps for you, having been trained on zillions of web-app interfaces to understand how they work. It does away with apps entirely, eliminating all annoyances, dark patterns, and attention-grabbing social notifications.
The app-centered world of mobile computing is not for everyone, and right now, there are close to zero alternatives for anyone wanting out, short of ditching the phone altogether, which is pretty radical. The rise of softer, more human interfaces and a ground-up focus on user privacy are a welcome trend and hopefully a pointer to a more varied, healthy ecosystem of mobile computing options.
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