September 17, 2017

Why I am not jumping on the newly debuted iPhone

5 minute read

Call me a crotchety old (young) man if you will. In fact, I can scarcely recognize myself from the days of yore. When I was in school, I was constantly tinkering with my Android phones (the “HTC Thunderbolt” and “HTC Droid DNA”, respectively). I would flash all sorts of ROMs, trying to squeeze extra performance or battery life out of apps. I was thrilled to be able to find all sorts of sketchy apps which wouldn’t cost a dime out of pocket, but which would pop up all sorts of little ads. Android phones were good phones for me in college, where I had an abundance of time and shortages of cash.

When I joined the working world, however, I found myself growing dissatisfied with my Android phones. My two-year-old Droid DNA (which I still have now, nearly 5 years after getting it) wasn’t quite doing it for me, in a number of small ways which added up.

Death by a thousand cuts

Without flashing custom ROM’s, the battery and performance were not quite what I would have wanted from it; but with the custom ROM’s, I also ran into issues with random reboots. The “quality of life” of the experience in terms of performance and energy efficiency weren’t quite working for me.

In college, I couldn’t afford to pay for the utility apps which I needed to get through the day; I was using task apps, email apps, banking apps, texting apps, keyboard apps, network apps, games, etc. Sure, there were plenty of these apps available, but the quality was often not substantially present on Android, even when willing to pay! Once in the working world, I had a salary with which to pay for reasonable apps, but there were still few paid options available.

Something wonky about iPhones in general, and iOS in particular, is that Apple spend years perfecting features others have innovated on their behalf, and then they roll in and do many things Android has done, but better. For most of recent smartphone history, Androids had more cutting edge software and hardware technology sooner: notifications drawers, interactive widgets, flashlight widgets, data widgets, NFC, wireless charging, face unlock, edge to edge, and more. Sometimes Apple spends years biding their time. Did they discover these technologies concurrently with Android developers, but sat on them longer, refining and polishing the concepts? Do they just sit around waiting for competitors to create products, and then copy them and release their own highly refined versions? It’s hard to say, but it’s also hard to argue with the results, which are often superior to what Android offers. (Two notable exceptions are widgets and the notification drawer, which are still bizarrely difficult to use and often completely ignored by users of iOS.) I can count on iOS/iPhone having a more polished and integrated overall experience by the time I get my hands on such a phone.

One of my pet peeves with my Android phones was that the latency for “user interaction” types like the responsiveness of music in the music apps, or the responsive of text appearing after typing, was nigglingly absent. Whenever I would type, it would always take a fraction of a second longer for the buttons to register a press or the text to appear. And when pressing the volume pause or play buttons, there would be an uncanny moment where the music wouldn’t cease or resume as quickly as expected. Does this in any way limit my ability to use Android phones? Not really. But it still detracted from the experience of using the phones. (Which is weird to say. Do I really need an “experience” from using a telecommunications device? Apparently, I am someone who does.)

Although this didn’t matter to me so much in college, Android and iOS are at odds when it comes to user privacy. It seems that the raison d’ĂȘtre for Android is to constantly phone home to Google with users' private information, and allow Google and every Android app developer on this green Earth to data mine users until Judgment Day. Having been raised by conservative parents, I find this notion disturbing. As my friend eloquently observed, Google is simply in the business of harvesting and (indirectly) selling users' data. Apple is not, and for that an other reasons, Apple does a better job with user data privacy. That improves the desirability of Apple phones in my eyes.

So I got an iPhone…

In December of 2014, I went out and purchased the iPhone 6. It took me a few weeks to acclimate, but overall I think the trade-offs were reasonable. I gained most of the points mentioned above. I lost relatively few things which mattered to me. (One of the things which I thought worked well on Android which is fairly limited on iOS is the ability for apps to speak directly to each other; flexible menus/settings pages; and access to the filesystem. But I was able to work past all of those, and none of them were hard blockers.)

Does my iPhone have wireless charging? Nope. 3D touch? Uh uh. Live photos? Assuredly not. A headphone jack? Hahahahaha yes, yes it does.

And do I really need another?

The newly debuted iPhones have features like color-calibrated displays, wireless charging, slightly improved camera modules, facial recognition and edge-to-edge displays in the case of the premium iPhone X, and… not much else that’s compelling. (Granted the CPU’s are off the charts, but I don’t really need such powerful CPU’s.) Will it be a good upgrade when I find my iPhone getting long in the tooth? Sure! But given my requirements, which start with a working phone which is okay at media and games playing, and ends roughly there, these iPhones are not things I need to run out and purchase.

If and when I do get a new phone, maybe I’ll update this blog with my thoughts about it. But in the meantime, I’ll keep trying to grind my iPhone 6 into the dust.

© Jeff Rabinowitz, 2020