Let’s Get Rid of Lock Screens

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Have you ever done something one way for so long that it just feels like the way things always have, and always will be? Maybe you’ll continue down that road indefinitely, but sometimes the mood just strikes to try doing things a little differently – one day you decide to finally try hanging your toilet paper underhand and realize what a fool you’ve been to so blindly accept that overhand was correct for oh, so many years. Well, I’ve got one of these leaps of faith that I’m hoping you’ll take along with me, even if it might be a hard sell at first: smartphones are better without lock screens.

I’m not sure exactly when it happened, but sometime a few weeks ago I found myself getting a little tired of unlocking my Nexus 4 over and over, and decided to give disabling the lock screen a shot. I haven’t looked back.

While it took a little time to configure my phone to my liking after making the change, it’s so much nicer to use now. Unsurprisingly, it feels a lot more accessible; I pick it up, and I’m immediately engaging with it.

If I’m going to sway any of you over to my side, I’m going to need to address what seem like the arguments in favor of lock screens. I can think of several, but I’ve got problems with them all.

Inadvertent Input

Maybe you like the idea of a lock screen because you don’t want to be accidentally interacting with your phone when it should be stowed away, out of use – you know, the classic “butt dial.” What needs to happen for that to take place, though? First, something needs to press the phone’s power button, and then the phone’s going to have to think that someone’s touching its screen. The chances for the former are going to vary based on your model’s hardware and its button layout, but I’ve never had issues along these lines with the exceptions of when I was trying to place a powered-on phone back in the box it came in – in other words, incredibly tight clearances against hard surfaces. In a pocket, or in a bag, this is far less likely to take place.

Even when it does, most of the other stuff in your pocket or bag isn’t going to trigger a touch event. Capacitive sensors aren’t like the resistive systems of Windows Mobile days, and you need some contact with flesh to set them off. Granted, many screens will detect touches through a layer of fabric to one extent or another, but with tech like proximity sensors and palm rejection, this impact can be minimized.

And if you’re worried that errant power button presses will kill your battery, just dial down your display’s sleep time-out.

Security

This one really confuses me. Even when I was using a lock screen, I had always set it to swipe unlock. Why bother using a PIN, pattern unlock, or anything like that?

If someone steals your phone, it’s already gone, and all you have left is preventing access to your data. Now, if you’re keeping a lot of racy self-photos on your phone, perhaps that’s a real concern, but there are other ways to secure your stuff. I do most of my banking on my phone, for instance, but that app requires its own separate login, each time I use it. For services that don’t support that option, maybe a remote wipe is in order, either via an app or as a feature integral to the OS.

What about preventing casual access to your data? Again, the need for this kind of security escapes me. If you have friends who wouldn’t steal your phone but would snoop through all your emails, given the chance, the problem is your choice in “friends”, not how your phone’s configured.

I wouldn’t leave my phone lying around unattended with anyone whom I wouldn’t trust it with any more than I would leave my wallet lying around. And isn’t one of the big selling points of a compact, powerful device like a smartphone that you can take it with you anywhere? When you have to leave it behind, just like you would with any valuable property, you need to properly secure it under lock and key; anything less is a half measure.

Just because security technology exists doesn’t mean we have to, nor really should take advantage of it. Purses or backpacks could easily have little luggage-style combination locks keeping people out, but you just don’t see anyone using them – we’ve decided that convenient access is more important than having to constantly unlock them.

Widgets

Back when I used a lock screen, I often woke up my phone just to check the time, and put it back to sleep without unlocking. Maybe you go even farther, having your lock screen display your Twitter feed, new emails, or updates from any number of social networking sites. When I made the switch I found myself missing a big clock I could see at a glance… for all of about ten seconds, until I placed a clock widget on my home screen. I’m hard-pressed to think of any lock screen notifications that can’t be delivered just as easily directly on your home screen. Better yet, in that latter situation you’re one step closer to accessing all the rest of the content on your phone.

Ultimately, there’s little harm in using a lock screen. If it helps you feel a little more secure, so be it. If you’d rather have your home screen populated with apps, or just enjoy an unobscured view of your wallpaper, then by all means, keep your widgets on your lock screen.

I just think that there are probably a lot of you out there continuing to use a lock screen mainly because that’s the way you’ve always done things, and you just might end up like me, enjoying your smartphone even more once you finally put your old dedication to using a lock screen out to pasture.

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About The Author
Stephen Schenck
Stephen has been writing about electronics since 2008, which only serves to frustrate him that he waited so long to combine his love of gadgets and his degree in writing. In his spare time, he collects console and arcade game hardware, is a motorcycle enthusiast, and enjoys trapping blue crabs. Stephen's first mobile device was a 624 MHz Dell Axim X30, which he's convinced is still a viable platform. Stephen longs for a market where phones are sold independently of service, and bandwidth is cheap and plentiful; he's not holding his breath. In the meantime, he devours smartphone news and tries to sort out the juicy bitsRead more about Stephen Schenck!