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Should Smartphones Have Home/Work Switch on the Side?

by Craig Roth  |  April 3, 2014  |  7 Comments

Yes, smartphones should have a home/work switch on the side.

Just thought I’d get to the point quickly in case you’re reading this at work. According to the Wall St. Journal in “People for Whom One Cellphone Isn’t Enough“, many people carry two devices to avoid getting distracted. Consider a few examples from the article:

“I would pick up the phone for something else and I would see a work email, and I would feel the temptation to get involved,” says the 28-year-old Encinitas, Calif., resident.

Erica Robbins, a 33-year-old production manager in Los Angeles, says … “I don’t want to be distracted by anything that’s not work-related,” Ms. Robbins says.

I’ve got a better idea – work a home/work switch into the phone. I’m picturing a physical toggle switch. Then you would tag contacts as personal or work. Most contact lists let you do this already. If the switch is in “home” mode, it uses the “home” notification profile which by default has a ringtone for personal contacts and a ringtone of “silent” for work. Vice-versa for work.

This can go further. The home/work switch would change:

  • Background image and theme: There is a psychological benefit to resonating with the user’s “home” or “work” modality and the look of the phone can help
  • Presence status: In “home” mode I show as green/available to personal contacts and red/unavailable to work)
  • Icons: While in “work” mode the apps shown are, perhaps, access to SAP, a few apps my employer created for customers,, some custom apps. In “home” mode I see Candy Crush Saga, Angry Birds, Vine, Instagram. Twitter may appear in both since I use it for both
  • Geolocation: I may want to be locatable in one mode and go dark in the other
  • Passcode: Perhaps having a different passcode for home and work could alleviate some concern about someone causing mischief at a party doing something to embarass you at work when your phone is on the table. And someone peeking at your phone at work if it’s active and you’re not looking couldn’t peek at your personal info. This one’s a stretch and would take more work to flesh out, if it’s doable at all
  • Email accounts: Email accounts are designated as personal or work and show up in their respective modes
  • Voicemail: Calls would be partitioned to home or work based upon the caller’s profile (or in both if it’s an unprofiled caller) and would only show as red when in their matching mode.
  • Exceptions: There would be a third “both” category for those deemed important enough, like a spouse or the boss if desired.

Many elements of the phone would need to be re-architected. But if users are actually maintaining two sets of physical devices, there seems to be enough need to consider it. Imagine seeing people going down the elevator at the end of the day and happily flipping that switch to home, seeing their child’s face switch as the background with all the personal apps they now want, and knowing they won’t be bothered by work until flipping the switch back in the morning. Ahhh!

The home/work toggle switch could help the people that are avoiding distractions, like the two examples above. It wouldn’t help if you have diffferent needs (keyboard, screen size), like the redundancy of two devices, or have a work/life division that’s too murky to trust to metadata.

As an attention management tool, our smartphones could use a little hinting about what is important or distracts us, and the simple home/work division is common enough that there could be many people that would benefit.

What do you think? If the kinks could be worked out, would you push your IT department to include this phone on their approved list?

Category: attention-management  information-work  mobile  

Craig Roth
Research VP, Tech and Service Providers
7 years at Gartner
28 years IT industry

Craig Roth is a Research Vice President focused on cloud office suites, collaboration tools, content management, and how they are being impacted by digital workplace and digital business trends...Read Full Bio

Thoughts on Should Smartphones Have Home/Work Switch on the Side?

  1. Deo says:

    Yes Smartphones should have home/work switch, its the way to the future and there are more mobile out there than home phones

  2. N Andersen says:

    It sounds as a great idea and is more or less the way the new BlackBerry 10 OS works – so one can just wonder why BlackBerry does not sell more phones

  3. Jason C says:

    Or, don’t do work email on your phone. Problem solved.

    There are seldom technical solutions for behavioral problems.

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