Why My Next Phone Will Not Be an iPhone

By way of background: I’ve been a loyal Mac enthusiast (perhaps fanboy) since I began working on a Mac in 2004 — the same year I bought my beloved 12” Powerbook (which I still have). What began with a fascination and respect for an incredibly sturdy, compact, and (at that time) powerful device blossomed into a 12+ year love affair on which I have spent tens of thousands of dollars. An incredibly powerful mistress she has been.

Emoji on a new MacBook Pro. How cute!

While this article is not about a laptop, it was the recent MacBook Pro announcement that got me thinking. A lot.

You see, I downsized my office during a recent move from Austin, Texas to our micro-apartment in Manhattan and no longer had my trusty MacPro on which to offload processor- and memory-intensive tasks. So I was gearing up to upgrade my MacBook Air for a more powerful MacBook Pro. And I was pretty jazzed about it.

But when the time came, I was disappointed with Apple’s decision to replace the Function keys with a tiny screen that adds no functionality. In fact, the Touch Bar removes and diminishes existing keyboard functions and capabilities (like the power button and one-touch mute functions). The Touch Bar does nothing that cannot be done elsewhere at least as quickly. Full stop.

Counterintuitively, the Touch Bar reduces productivity. It forces you to take your eyes (and attention) off the screen (where all the work happens) to locate a spot on a slick piece of glass to perform the task you want. You can no longer reach up, locate the appropriate key by touch, and tap it.

That shift of focus breaks your workflow.

Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/iphonedigital/30860897336

Take for instance the much-advertised scrubbing feature in Final Cut Pro. The same can be done with your mouse, the internal trackpad or the standalone trackpad — without removing your eyes (and attention) from the screen.

That got me to thinking.

Why would Apple do that? Why would the company I have for so long trusted to help me be more productive create such a time-wasting feature? It’s obvious that a great deal of engineering and design talent were expended on the Touch Bar — and tons of money spent redesigning the machine to accommodate the Touch Bar. But why?

The Touch Bar is no more a time-saving or productivity-enhancing device than an Amazon Dash Button. And that’s when I realized that my beloved iPhone is very similar.

See I told you this was not about the MacBook Pro.

Unlike other smartphones (or dumb phones for that matter) the iPhone forces me to look at it constantly. I must look to see if I’ve missed a call or message. I must look at it to tend its health.

Rather than offering the convenience of a tiny flashing LED to notify me of missed calls or messages the iPhone demands to be picked up and peered at.

And rather than blinking a red warning light when the battery is low I am forced to obsess over diminishing battery levels lest it die without warning.

That’s why restaurants and bars are full of people constantly peeking at their phones. Well, that, and some obsessive Facebook, Snapchat behaviours.

Waiting for your friend to finish with their damn phone. Even the dog is bored.

Sadly, that’s all purposely engineered. Rather than provide a device that offers time-saving features or increased productivity the iPhone is very cleverly designed to require constant tending. It’s a $449 Tamagotchi.

I’m not the first person to talk about the iPhone addiction. I wish I could find the article I read a few years ago so I could give the author credit. If you know who it is (or it is you) please let me know so I can link to the appropriate source.

And this realization made me sad. I’ve owned one (or more) of every generation iPhone since the original. We currently have 3 iPhones for 2 people (a dedicated work phone is the odd man out).

So I began thinking about my iPhone and asked myself ‘is the relationship still a good one?’

My iPhone is my most personal electronic device. I’d venture to say that, after our toothbrushes, our phones are our most personal possessions. You can borrow pretty much anything I own: but neither of those.

This broken iPhone 4S is from Peter Werkmen (www.peterwerkman.nl). Mine looked almost exactly like that.

Is my most personal electronic device still putting me first?

In assessing this question, the first thing that came to mind was how many phone cases I own. I didn’t buy a case for the first-gen iPhone or the 3GS. The proliferation of iPhone cases began with the silly design choices of the iPhone 4.

The incredible svelteness of the new iPhones make them less sturdy. So much so, that everyone I know uses a large rubber protector (often outweighing the phone) to keep from breaking the fragile things. So, in practice, new iPhones are not actually thinner or lighter than their predecessors. IRL they are quite the opposite. Why?

Outside of Apple promos, every iPhone I see is in a case.

Why not just make an iPhone thick enough and sturdy enough that it doesn’t need a $50 case? With just a little more space, maybe the battery could last longer, too.

And don’t get me started on the poor-fitting, clothes-snagging, constantly-falling-out-of-the-ear white headphones. When we moved from Austin I think about 2 dozen Apple headphones(most still in their plastic sleeves) went for 50¢ to a 14-year-old who still thinks there is cachet in the damn things. Unless you exist in a static 2-dimensional brightly-colored poster (you know what I’m talking ‘bout) Apple headphones are about the worst on the market. Again, why?

Dancing Homer courtesy Dan Diemer.

I understand the motivation for the iPhone designs (and the MacBook Pro). The marketing power of thinner and faster are powerful buzzwords.

But they don’t help me be more productive. As a freelancer, like many of my peers, I struggle with work-life balance. And the iPhone doesn’t help; it hinders.

So, sadly I have realized that Apple no longer cares about me. I’m sure they never did. But, at least, at one time they designed products that helped me be more productive. That time has passed.

Will my next phone wait seductively on a bedspread?

When my contract is up for renewal I’ll start looking at the Android swarm. I really don’t want an Android phone but I hear there are some incredible phones out there and I need to make a more sane, less emotional choice this time around.

So, I’ll hold on to my aging MacBook Air — or shop around for a last-gen MacBook Pro. But the new MacBook Pro is definitely not on my shopping list. Maybe the next version will think of users first.

I’m sad to have lost my first computer love. But it’s finally time to explore the wide world beyond Apple.

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