2377: xkcd Phone 12
This is the "12th" (actually the 8th) in the ongoing xkcd Phone series in which Randall explains his new joke phone designs with many strange and useless features. It is also a reference to the recently released iPhone 12. However, there have only been 8 comics released, with the previous two being 2000: xkcd Phone 2000 and 1889: xkcd Phone 6.
The note about the xkcd Phone 12 and the xkcd Phone 12 Max (only for people named Max) is a joke about the different models of iPhone 12: iPhone 12, iPhone 12 Mini, iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 12 Pro Max. The xkcd Phone 12 Max would be expected to have a larger screen, but it seems that this phone is also only for people with the name Max. If the phones are respectively placed, Max's (Maxes'?) phone is the smaller of the two models.
The slogan '"The only phone you'll ever own"' could be interpreted as something of a threat, which is believable given some of the purported features. It is similar to the phrase "The last suit you'll ever wear", describing the black suits worn by the Men In Black in the movie of the same name. The slogan has the "registered trademark" symbol, with that symbol supposedly itself trademarked, which is highly unlikely.
Multiple features are labelled on the phone that are common when advertising other products, but highly unusual in mobile phones, for comedic effect:
- Full drivetrain warranty — A common warranty feature for automobiles — see drivetrain. As a side note, the phone here would be cheaping out on the warranty if it were a car; a "drivetrain" warranty covers almost everything except the engine; only if it was a "powertrain" warranty would it cover the engine. A phone typically has none of these things, although this one seemingly does.
- Coated for easy swallowing — A common feature on solid medicines meant to be taken orally. Phones do not belong in the set of edible objects, much less orally-taken medicines. Since some parents of young children let them teethe on their phones, this would be an undesirable feature. Since these coatings tend to be lubricants, it's also possible this "feature" makes the phone harder to hold. There may be a pun here, based on the larger smartphones being practically the same as the more minimal portable computers.
- Surgical-grade apps — "Surgical-grade steel" is sometime used as a selling point indicating quality materials. This feature suggests that the apps themselves are made from high-quality material, although this is absurd because an app is (as the name suggests) a software application, not any physical object that could be reasonably defined as 'surgical-grade' or not. Note that both hardware and software can be certified for safety-critical applications.
- Built-in 600 lb magnet for magnet fishing — Magnet fishing is an activity for searching for objects that can be pulled in by a strong magnet. A 600 pound magnet can lift a 600 pound (272 kg) object (at Earth's surface). This would tend to make the phone stick to any iron or steel objects (such as refrigerators) and be impossible to remove with human strength, and only the strongest humans could pick up the phone even if it were properly insulated. It would also be impossible to separate two phones without destroying one of them if the interlocking feature were used. This feature would also erase any credit cards the owner puts in the vicinity of the phone, meaning this phone could not be put in one's pocket with a wallet. There is also a possibility that this is a reference to Apple’s MagSafe accessory.
- Oral-B partnership: hold phone against teeth to ultrasonically remove plaque — This is a reference to ultrasonic toothbrushes. Oral-B does not produce any ultrasonic toothbrushes, but does produce sonic toothbrushes. There is a logical connection between electric toothbrushes and smartphones, namely they are both electronic and both vibrate; however, most phones cannot perform dentistry autonomously.
- 40 mL emergency water supply — 40 milliliters is equal to 40 cubic centimeters. For comparison, the iPhone 11 Pro Max's volume is just shy of 100 cubic centimeters; if the Phone 12 Max is similarly sized, then the water supply would take up over 40% of its total volume. In this day and age, many phones are water-resistant to some degree; nevertheless, shipping a phone with an interior consisting of a 3:2 ratio of electronics-to-water will surely lead to many short-circuited, inoperable phones.
Furthermore, survival kits often come with pouches that can hold several liters of water, in case of emergency. Because people typically take their phones with them everywhere they go, storing a survival kit inside the phone would be a life-saving feature. Unfortunately, 40cc of water is not enough to stave off thirst for a meaningful amount of time, extinguish a flame much larger than a candle's, or deal with most other situations which would constitute an emergency. Unless you are suitably proficient at waterbending, this feature is useless for its intended function. 40 milliliters is also the amount of fluid that a shot glass holds.
- Security feature: unmarked side buttons — Some vendors (particularly car dealers) try to explain away questionable User Interface decisions as "Security Features". Technically, if everyone (including the owner) has difficulty using it, it is secure... Here, no buttons are visible which could indicate they are, in fact, simply a touch sensitive surface, which would certainly be difficult to use as users would have to guess the area they should touch to use these "buttons". This might be a reference to a feature present in iPhone 12s where one can double-tap on the back to do a set action, which some websites have called a "secret button".
- 3,000,000-volt arc allows wireless charging from a range of up to 36 inches — Induction charging is a method that a number of modern phones advertise, allowing power to (inefficiently but 'conveniently') transfer into a device from a mains charging station or another device's battery without the need for plugging in cables. It transfers energy between safely tuned coils, that do not touch, though typically the case of one device must remain placed directly upon the other for the optimal transfer of charge between them. An electric arc can also be used to transfer electrical energy through the air through a lightning-like discharge. While arcs can transfer large amounts of energy quickly, the plasma generated would be very dangerous and damaging to the phone, charger, and immediate vicinity. The electrical breakdown voltage of air is approximately 3 kV / mm, which would allow a 3 MV potential to jump a distance of 100 cm (40 inches). 36 inches (91 cm), however, is within reach of a simple extension cord. Shocks of 11,000 volts are usually lethal, so 3,000,000 volts of electricity (possibly from a complete Tesla coil assemblage) would require considerable protection.
- 99.9% BPA- and hands- free — Bisphenol A (or BPA) is a compound that is used in making plastics. BPA has been found to exhibit hormone-like properties, so there is a movement to produce BPA-free plastics using alternative bisphenols. Hands-free describes using the device "without hands", e.g. using voice commands. This is important when using a device while driving. These are 2 unrelated ideas, which use the suffix "free" in different meanings ("BPA-free" means "containing no BPA", while "hands-free" means "your hands need not be used"). The construction "NOUN- and NOUN-ADJ" is normally only used with the meaning of "ADJ" repeated for both nouns, implying that this phone "contains no hands" (or possibly "your BPA is left free"). The "percentage free" description is also a standard form of advertising weasel words, as remarked by Randall in 641: Free. A food might be described as "90% fat-free" with the heavy implication that it has a tenth of the usual fat content, but likely really means "10% of the product is pure fat" (typically by weight or maybe pre-cooked volume) compared with perhaps 15% in the typical non-'fat-free' recipe. 0.1% of BPA is not an insignificant quantity given its possible effects, and is likely to be a higher leachable content if it is all concentrated in external trimmings. It is unclear what a tenth of a percent of a hand needs to do, to operate the device, but it does also mean that it is not as completely hands-free as implied. Or else it also implies that up to 0.1% of the phone contains ingredients sourced from human hands. At best, this could be skin cells from the workers (although phone assembly lines should be kept meticulously clean, to prevent damage to delicate components), or at worst, some workers could be losing hands into the assembly line due to poor safety practices.
- Extended release charge cable — Electronics manufacturers support standards to reduce time to fully recharge, e.g. Qualcomm Quick Charge standard. This is a reference to "extended release" medication. It's unclear what purpose would be served by charging a phone slower than normal.
- Closed timelike curves — This label is applied to the curved corner of the phone. Randall may be making a visual joke by referring to the corner of the phone by a relativistic concept. Closed timelike curves is a world line in spacetime that is "closed", in that an object following that world line will return to its starting point in spacetime, which implies that the object would be able to go back in time. It could also be a reference to the Bloomberg leaks that predicted the sharper corners of the iPhone 12, the phone model this is designed on.
- Fits in standard shipping container - An intermodal shipping container is large enough to fit automobiles, raising the question of just how big this xkcd phone is. Other standard "containers" used for shipping items might be things like the FedEx, UPS, and USPS boxes, which often come in various sizes (small, medium, large) as well as their shipping envelopes, all of which could easily hold just about any phone that's out there.
- Interlocking, stackable — A quality of, among other things, LEGO bricks. Probably a bad idea to use this feature, given how close the phone is to critical mass. There are electronic boards designed for interlocking and stacking, such as Arduino and Raspberry Pi computers, which can have other boards attached to them (shields, hats) to add functionality, however it's unclear what advantage there would be to stacking multiple identical phones together.
- Nintendo partnership: GameBoy Printer compatibility — The Game Boy Printer was a thermal paper printer originally paired with the Game Boy Camera. This device was released in 1998 and discontinued in 2003, so this partnership would be obsolete.
- Sustain pedal — A sustain pedal is commonly associated with a digital keyboard or piano; it lets the note continue sounding when the key is released. It's unclear what purpose it would serve in a phone, although it might be used for the screaming mode in the title text.
- CDC partnership: when in an indoor space with too many people, phone begins playing "We Like To Party! (The Vengabus)" at slowly increasing volume until everyone leaves — An allusion to the COVID-19 pandemic. CDC stands for Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the United States public health institute. In 2284: Sabotage, Randall "promised" to bring an annoying karaoke song to a party to hopefully discourage people from attending, but this phone will apparently do so automatically. "We Like To Party! (The Vengabus)" is a 1998 Eurodance/techno hit by the Vengaboys, and is perhaps most familiar to Americans from a series of Six Flags ads.
- Sacrificial anode — Useful if something metal will be in a wet environment for a long time. Commonly used on bridges and boats, but it may be a 'feature' of this phone because of its built-in water reservoir. The sacrificial anode is made of a material with higher redox potential (typically zinc), and will corrode faster than the (more valuable) metal object it's attached to. It's unclear if the phone HAS a sacrificial anode or IS a sacrificial anode.
- Tactical helium reserve — Since 1925, the United States has had a strategic helium reserve. Helium is very rare on earth and has important scientific and military uses, so it’s important to have a supply in case supplies disappear. But here we have a tactical helium reserve, which suggests it's smaller and focused on shorter-term goals. Compare strategic bombing focused on destroying entire cities or countries and tactical bombing aimed at destroying individual targets or military units. Helium also has the property of being lighter than air, so if this reserve is large enough, the phone could float away if let go. However, this is unlikely, as the phone boasts other, heavy components such as large magnets, a water reserve and a critical mass of fissile material.
- 50% below critical mass (2x safety factor) — Indicates the phone contains fissile material. This "2x safety factor" means that if you put 2 phones next to each other, or put one phone next to a neutron reflector, you would have a criticality accident, which may explain why you would not own another phone after this one. A phone with this much fissile material would pose a radiation hazard. The "2x safety factor" claim may be related to physicist Richard Feynman's famous criticism of NASA in the Rogers Commission report on the space shuttle Challenger disaster. Feynman found that when he confronted NASA engineers with a part worn one third of the way through, which was not supposed to be worn through at all, the engineers claimed that this demonstrated a 3x safety factor rather than a failure of the part. This could mean that using the phone is harmful for some other reason (social media addiction?) but the xkcd phone has half as many users as it would need to cause a problem in this way.
- Shake for factory reset — A factory reset is often possible on electronic devices, and is usually accomplished either by pressing a button that is often well-protected against accidental contact, for an extended period or closing an electrical bridge. This one works like an Etch-a-Sketch, which would not be preferred, as slight disturbances could easily cause massive losses of data. In the other hand, given that it weighs at least 600 lbs, it will probably not be shaking due to a user intentionally trying to delete their data.
- Norton MacAfee protection: if you're ever attacked by John MacAfee, Peter Norton will come out of retirement to defend you — Norton and McAfee (note spelling!) are competing software security companies, founded by Peter Norton and John McAfee respectively (though neither has any involvement with their name-sake companies any more). This "protection" combines the two of them and claims that Norton (the person) will defend you if McAfee (the person) attacks you. May have been inspired by John McAfee's recent arrest which brought attention to the allegation that he had hired a hit man to kill his neighbor in Belize in 2012.
The title text mentions xkcd phone OS updates, including:
- Infinite customization (home screen icons no longer snap to grid) — iOS 14 offers new features such as widgets on the home screen and changing of app icons, allowing for customization on a level not seen before on the platform. Here though, the "customization" hinges on a technicality, specifically of permutations: On a phone with, say, one million pixels, the number of ways one can place 20 icons is P(1000000,20)=9.998x10^119, an absolutely enormous number, but most people would not call two home screens where the only difference is that one icon is one pixel over a different configuration. Plus, not being able to snap the icons to a grid would be incredibly unsatisfying, as it would make it very difficult to get icons lined up with each other.
- Dark mode (disables screen) — Dark mode is a popular feature on websites/apps with light backgrounds like Twitter and Reddit, changing the background to a dark color to help late-night users sleep better. Disabling the screen would not be a pleasant surprise when a user goes to turn on beloved dark mode. May be impossible to turn off if the screen is no longer touch sensitive when darkened unless the unmarked buttons can be used to disable it. Also a possible reason to want to use the shake-activated factory reset.
- Screaming mode (self-explanatory) — The phone screams. Reference to the screaming-while-falling xkcd Phone 1.
- Coherent ultracapacitor-pumped emission (please let us know what this setting does; we've been afraid to try it) - This mysterious feature has a terrifying name, with even the developers refusing to test it out. This option would probably be very easy to accidentally tap, given the style of every xkcd Phone ever. Possibly activated with one of the unlabeled buttons making it even more dangerous. Coherent Emission is associated with lasers, and a common type of laser uses helium and neon to generate the beam, which could justify the helium reserve. Ultracapacitors store a large amount of energy than can be discharged very quickly. The feature described is then probably some sort of very high power pulse laser. Raises the question of who designs the phone if the people marketing it don't know what it does, or what purpose someone may use it for.
- [The comic shows two smartphones: one taller and wider than the other. ]
- [Labels to the left of the larger smartphone:]
- Full drivetrain warranty
- Coated for easy swallowing
- Surgical-grade apps
- Built-in 600 lb magnet for magnet fishing
- Oral-B partnership: hold phone against teeth to ultrasonically remove plaque
- 40 mL emergency water supply
- Security feature: unmarked side buttons
- 3,000,000-volt arc allows wireless charging from a range of up to 36 inches
- 99.9% BPA- and hands- free
- Extended release charge cable
- Closed timelike curves
- [Labels to the right of the larger smartphone:]
- Fits in standard shipping container
- Interlocking, stackable
- [Labels to the right of the smaller smartphone:]
- Nintendo partnership: GameBoy Printer compatibility
- Sustain Pedal
- CDC partnership: when in an indoor space with too many people, phone begins playing "We Like To Party! (The Vengabus)" at slowly increasing volume until everyone leaves
- Sacrificial anode
- Tactical helium reserve
- 50% below critical mass (2x safety factor)
- Shake for factory reset
- Norton MacAfee protection: if you're ever attacked by John MacAfee, Peter Norton will come out of retirement to defend you
- [Text below the phone:]
- The xkcd Phone 12* and 12 Max**
- *Standard **For people named Max
- "The only phone you'll ever own"®™
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