By Michael Fisher | September 20, 2012 8:01 AM
So, my roommate just got done shooting a scene with a famous actress in an upcoming movie. I’d tell you the actress’ name, and what the movie is, but two things: first, you probably don’t care, and second, it’d be a breach of trust. A spillage of secret information.
What sort of secret information? Well, my roommate was chatting this actress up during one of her many breaks -film sets being bottomless black holes of wasted time- and started talking about, of all things, my involvement with Pocketnow (instead of, you know, the fact that I also happen to be an actor, and a single one at that).
ANYWAY, the conversation then turned to– can you guess? Sure you can. The iPhone 5. It’s coming out tomorrow, it’s got 2 million preorders under its belt, and my roommate informs me that this anonymous actress is one-two-millionth of them. Can you imagine? What are the odds?
Enough mildly entertaining snark. The thing is, the new iPhone is going to sell better and faster than any iPhone in history, and it’s going to dominate the headlines for weeks and weeks as media outlets mine every aspect of its essence, newsworthy or not. That’s been the case with every iPhone that’s come out since 2008; it’s certainly not going to change now.
The thing is, I kind of feel left out. Sure, I’ve made the point in tons of editorials, both old and new, about all the things I’ve grown to loathe about Apple’s OS. I’ve talked over and over about how it’s nice to express my special little unique soul by using unique hardware or software. I’m quite happy continuing to use alternative platforms for my daily driver as I continue rooting for the underdog.
But though the gap is closing between iOS and Android in terms of app availability and public perception, the iPhone still enjoys a premium position. In the past week, I’ve been asked by more non-tech-oriented people about the iPhone 5 than have asked me about any Android phone since the Galaxy S III release. People wait in line for days to get the newest iPhone. Never mind that many of them nowadays are there to virally promote their own agendas, and don’t talk to me about the “Apple cult mentality;” I’ve already said my piece on fanboys. Then there’s the ecosystem argument, with iCloud and iMessage and Photo Stream and so on and so forth. The point is, the iPhone is its own cultural force, with some accompanying advantages that are very powerful.
That got me to thinking. What would it take for me to switch?
To be clear, I’m not actually entertaining the notion; I explained exactly why in a piece I wrote earlier this week about a certain Finnish superphone. But if this were a ransom situation, with Apple desperate to convince me to adopt an iPhone as my daily driver, what list of demands would I provide? What changes would I insist on before taking the plunge?
That’s a question to you too, dear reader. And I really do want to hear from you guys. But, editorializing being at least temporarily a one-way medium, first I’m going to answer my own question, and then you can provide your answers in the comments. Here’s the three huge changes that would need to happen for me to jump onto the iPhone bandwagon.
A Complete UI Overhaul
Beating the new iPhone hardware by just a few days, iOS 6 started rolling out to the masses yesterday. And it looks just like the pair of screencaps above.
Note the same static grid of unchanging icons (albeit with an added row), the same skeuomorphs, the same tired design language. Not pictured: the overdesigned scroll wheels, clumsily obscured notification area, and unintuitive multitasking. We’ve talked about all this before.
The reason it keeps coming up isn’t just due to Apple’s stubborn refusal to change. It remains worth mentioning because Apple has demonstrated -and continues to demonstrate- an ability to execute truly intuitive and excellent software design. That’s evident in much of its work on the desktop, and it’s why I still prefer using Apple computers when I can’t work from a mobile device.
It’s also frustrating on principle. Apple is the company that kickstarted the modern age of the smartphone UI. Sure, other companies and platforms beat the first iPhone to market with most of its features, but it took Apple to collect them all into one device and make it attractive enough for people to buy on a large enough scale to actually change the course of the market. That’s why most people not blinded by platform devotion agree that the release of the first iPhone did indeed “change everything.”
Yet where are we today? Apple is in the midst of rolling out the sixth iteration of that groundbreaking platform, and it doesn’t look all that different than the first-generation release pictured above. That’s from 2007.
I’m not saying change, in a visual sense, is an absolute requisite of advancement. Of course Apple doing just fine without widgets, glanceable information, advanced multitasking and notifications, or any of the other features I demand of a modern UI. Evidently I’m in the minority. But competing platforms are continually evolving to bring more functionality to the end user, and the more they flood the market with their offerings, the more iPhone users are going to start sitting up and taking notice of all the things they can’t do as well.
Embrace The Future
Apple used to be the rebellious one. The weirdo. The different-thinker. It’s the company that brought us multicolored desktop computers and the one that helped obsolete the floppy disk. It’s the company that took a look at the smartphone landscape and said “this sucks. Let’s change it.” Apple used to be a revolutionary.
Unfortunately, the revolutionary won the war– then got fat, happy, and conservative when he came home to oversee his new empire. Not only is the company’s stagnancy plain on the software front; its hardware is growing increasingly iterative. I’m not going to talk about the new iPhone’s (tired) visual aesthetic or the (tepid) changes made to its casing, either; we’ve been down that road, and there ain’t much to see down there but the same tired old trees. Even if they are pretty.
My big problem lies in Apple’s refusal to embrace the new technologies that are starting to filter into the marketplace. NFC is awesome when it’s implemented properly, and Apple could really make it shine with Passport integration, yet it has no home on the new iPhone. Wireless charging will change the way you use your smartphone, but Apple has instead given us a new wired connector, a proprietary one we can use to tie ourselves more tightly into its ecosystem. NFC-based music streaming is one of the coolest things I’ve seen to tie mobile life to home entertainment in a long time … but Apple insists we keep on fiddling with plugs and ports.
A Bigger Hardware Ecosystem
If you buy into the iOS family, you don’t have much choice in the way of hardware: you either buy the newest iPhone, or you buy last year’s. Until recently, that meant you’d also be restricted to one size, but with the iPhone 5, Apple can now boast that it offers two sizes of smartphone. After five years on the market.
That kind of restricted choice is quite a bit more confining than I’m comfortable with. Sure, there are limitations in the Android and Windows Phone portfolios; smaller devices are often spec-challenged, and some jumbophones only come with skins that render them less attractive, and so on. But at least there’s a choice there. Not so with Apple. The iPhone … is the iPhone.
I once heard an Apple sales person counter that argument with the statement that the iPhone 4 (the most current at the time) was “just a chassis, really. You buy it and it’s the core, and then you get a case if you want to add on to it.” That salesperson was awesome at his job, but I couldn’t agree less with that philosophy.
I hate cases. If your product relies upon a third-party solution to enhance its effectiveness, that’s fine, but an accessory isn’t a substitute for a product designed from the ground-up for a specific application. I’ll take a durable phone over a fragile one inside an Otterbox any day. Same for a phone with a built-in high-capacity battery instead of one that requires me to carry a Mophie Juice Pack. But those out-of-box options don’t exist in the iOS world, because, again, the iPhone is the iPhone. It’s an idiot-proof approach, and again, it’s one that’s sold millions upon millions of devices for Apple … but it’s not one that fits my use case.
So, Apple doesn’t make a product that fits my needs and desires, and I feel left out because I accordingly have less in common with my fellow citizens, most of whom remain devoted to this thing. Fine. Boo-hoo. First-world-problems, and all that.
I want to hear from you, though. You out there. You’re on Windows Phone, or Android, or Symbian, or BlackBerry, or (bless you) webOS. This is a geek-oriented site, so you’re on those platforms for a good reason, i.e., not because you bought something without knowing what OS it ran. So you probably have a fair bit invested in your platform of choice. Awesome.
Now tell me what it would take for you to make the switch. What would Apple have to do to entice you to leap across the gorge to the world of iOS? Or, if that leap is in progress, and your new iPhone 5 is in the mail this very moment en route to your door, tell us what it was that pushed you over the edge.
And for heaven’s sake, be civil.