A funny thing happened this week: My wife's Android phone stopped working -- and after troubleshooting it and concluding there was no easy fix, I chuckled to myself and felt a strange sense of wonder.
Let me step back a bit and explain. The missus has a Nexus 5X (yup), and it's generally served her well since she moved into it last fall. She's much more of a "typical phone user" than I am (though an exceptional all-around person -- hi, honey!), and the 5X proved to be the right mix of power and comfort for her needs.
That is, at least, until the damn thing suddenly decided to stop working. Midway through the day on Monday, her phone restarted itself without warning and then wouldn't boot up past the point of showing the Google logo.
When she brought it to me in befuddlement, I changed into the superhero costume I always keep on hand for such occasions and prepared to dazzle her with my wizard-like tech support skills. A swipe here, a few taps there -- surely this would be another opportunity to deftly rid a device of its demons and wow an imaginary crowd of cheering passersby, right?
Yeah...not so much.
Long story short, the heroic exorcism wasn't meant to be. No matter what I tried, the mothersmucker just wouldn't start up -- even after I weasled my way into its recovery menu (no easy task, as even trying to get to that point resulted in a full-on freeze-up 90% of the time) and factory-reset the phone at the system level.
For a device still under warranty, that was enough to convince me to call Google support and ask for a replacement. After having me perform the same basic steps I'd already done on my own, "Chip" cheerfully agreed and -- following a few instances of asking me to "kindly hold, please" (I held, but not kindly) and praising me for "having much technical knowledge" (if only he knew about my costume!) -- arranged for a new device to be shipped out within the week.
It'd take about three days for the phone to reach us. And that's when my sense of wonder kicked in.
You see, it dawned on me how absolutely awful this experience would have been just a few short years ago. "Holy hot dogs," one might have proclaimed, "my phone is dead! My contacts, my messages, my photos -- all gone! What a disaster!"
Only now, my wife's phone went kaput -- and you know what? It really wasn't a big deal at all. It was more of a shrug-inducing mild inconvenience than anything, and it took only a matter of minutes for us to get her back up and running.
After hanging up with my new buddy "Chip," I dusted off my old 2014 Moto X, which I keep in a nearby desk drawer for app-testing, hummus-holding, and the occasional toss. I didn't even reset the thing; I just left my usual setup in place and added my spouse-person as a secondary user with full phone privileges. As soon as she was signed in (and finished with flogging me for referring to her as my "spouse-person"), she saw why I wasn't worried: All of her stuff was synced up, right there, and ready to go -- exactly like it had been on her own device earlier that day.
All that was left was to pop in her SIM card to give the phone its mobile-data mojo. Since we both use Project Fi and this wasn't a Fi-ready phone (side note: "Fi-ready phone" is surprisingly fun to say), she wouldn't have the automatic network-switching service -- but the system defaulted to using just T-Mobile, and that was fine enough for now.
Here's what's really crazy: Even without that spare phone to act as a temporary surrogate, this situation still wouldn't have been especially tragic. My former fiancée (think about it) and I realized pretty quickly that she could still get to all of her stuff, including photos and text messages -- and even make and receive phone calls, using her own regular number -- via any tablet or laptop in sight. Her phone is really just a vessel these days, and any other vessel can seamlessly take over that role at a moment's notice.
Case in point: Her replacement Nexus 5X is scheduled to get here later today. When it does, we'll sign her into the phone and then sit back and wait a few minutes while that vessel populates itself with her preferences and data. With very little effort on our part, it'll transform itself into her own familiar personal space -- and with a few exceptions of individual apps that don't yet sync sign-ins and setups on their own, everything will be exactly the way she likes it in no time, as if nothing had happened at all.
The take-home message? Cloud-centric living is by no means perfect, but man, it sure has its advantages. These tiny little computers we carry around can be dropped, lost, or otherwise turned nonfunctional at a moment's notice. But we've reached a point where that almost doesn't matter, as the devices themselves are no longer the fulcrums of our virtual lives. They're just vessels. And when the Schmidt hits the fan with a particular piece of hardware, you're reminded just how painlessly it can be replaced.
For a touch of broader perspective, one of the cool things about Chrome OS has always been its device-agnostic nature -- the fact that you can sign into any Chromebook and, within minutes, have it look and act like your own personal desktop, with all of your preferences and data automatically pulled over. And would you look at that: As Google has slowly been bringing Chrome OS and Android closer together, it's quietly been ushering that same device-agnostic philosophy into the fabric of Android. Huh. Who woulda thunk?
We've been talking a lot lately about how software and ecosystem are becoming the central pieces of the mobile tech puzzle while our actual devices are growing less and less significant over time. My experience with my wife's phone highlighted to me just how far we've come with that progression -- and how much tech-induced hassle has been taken out of our lives as a result.
Do me a favor, though: If she asks, tell her it was the superhero costume that made it all happen.