It’s been a long time since I’ve wrote about Apple. I last wrote about the 1-year anniversary of the iPad; before that, I wrote some first thoughts on the iPhone 4. Lately everything I write seems to start with a history lesson, and this is no different.
My first iOS device was the first-generation iPod touch, followed shortly by an iPhone on loan from my employer of the time. My first personal iPhone was the 3G, followed by the nearly-perfect-in-my-eyes 3GS, the stunning display of the 4, a curiosity for speech in the 4S, and a now mildly larger screen for the 5. I skipped the 5S – since the 4, I’ve always purchased the largest storage option, and it was starting to get a little out of hand financially. I’ve also not been a huge fan of AT&T lately, so signing another two-year agreement was not appealing. Since then I’ve also been using a Moto G on occasion: its 4.5″ display is almost exactly the right size for my hands.
To my eyes, new models have always been obviously better than their predecessors in every way… until now.
For the first time, I’m not utterly thrilled with the physical form of the device. It is absolutely beautiful to look at, the hardware is fast, the display is gorgeous, the camera is amazing, and the build quality is nearly perfection. I’m very excited about Apple Pay. This is my first device with Touch ID and it works great. But I can’t get over the implications the 4.7″ display has on how I use my device.
The moment I saw Reachability, my heart sank. It’s a great implementation of the idea, and it works as well as you can possibly expect, but merely having to do it on any regular basis has been frustrating.
This is compounded by how difficult it is for my hands to hold a wider device securely. I developed a habit of supporting the phone from the bottom with my pinky when I got the iPhone 5, and that helps a lot, but it’s psychologically taxing to have the center of mass be so far from the center of your grip.
iPhone 4 moment: maybe I’m just holding it wrong?
The competition in the mobile phone market has been immensely beneficial to consumers. The hardware of my Moto G is better than just about any phone built five years ago at a fraction of the price. We’re at a point where we are out of the revolution and into refinement. Small details begin to matter immensely. Apple excels at this: all the details of this phone are amazing.
Because of those details, I think everyone who worked on this phone did a fantastic job. The real question is whether they were building the right thing to begin with. This phone is a huge bet that Reachability will work well for everyone. My first impressions are that it won’t be a seamless transition, but I’m not going to give up on it after just a day.
It’s worth recognizing that I am a pretty middle-of-the-road sized human. People with larger hands might find this device natural. People with smaller hands – and there are many of them, particularly with XX chromosomes – might be even more put-off by this than I am, and anecdotally, they are and want to stick to an iPhone 5 sized device. It’s a shame there is no updated iPhone for them this year: I think the bottom line here is that next year, we need a 4″ display version of current hardware for those folks.
I spent some time using the iPhone 6 Plus yesterday. It was about as enormous as expected and I couldn’t stand it. That’s fine: if people want that, and clearly they do, let them have it. It’s not for me and that’s not a problem.
Reactions from the office yesterday on the 6 Plus were fascinating: every iOS developer said some variation of “what the hell is that?”; every Android developer loved it. Mesh this with the Apple marketing slides on the growth of large-screen devices and the growth of Android as a platform in the last few years: it paints a very compelling economic picture for the 6 Plus.
Ultimate first-world problem: upgrade fatigue. This is the eighth iPhone announcement. It feels a bit like the scene from Apollo 13: there’s nothing routine about flying to the moon. We live in an age of unprecedented technological progress that is more accessible than ever. It’s sad how quickly we can forget about that in the cacophony of launch day.
Finnicky detail I’m probably wrong about: The home button is a little too close to the screen. This gets to be an issue only because we rely on tapping (rather than pushing/clicking) it for Reachability.
Finnicky detail I’m also probably wrong about: The process of activating a new iPhone has become exactly that: a process. The number of steps now involved is immense. Including this absurd personal information step that was, to my recollection, never previously necessary. That one in particular reeks of AT&T actuarial bureaucracy, but there are a ton of others relating to data collection that should probably be switches on a single screen with tap-to-explain.
iPhones are screens with a computer inside and some bonus features. The bonus features rarely are able to impact your experience negatively: if you don’t like them, you don’t have to use them. The screen is the defining feature, and if you size it incorrectly, you can kill a device’s appeal with that single choice.