When I had the iPhone 5 demo unit, I was irritated by the Lightning connector. I stubbornly decided it was the Worst Thing Ever, which in no small part was driven by my owning so many 30-pin Dock cables that I could fashion a rope from them and flee my upstairs office via the window should the need arise.
Meanwhile, the press and the EU frothed that surely Apple if it needed to change should use micro-USB, because micro-USB is more commonly used. They cunningly ignored contrary arguments, as did I — until I had my iPhone 5s for a couple of days.
The moment it clicked was when I without thinking just plugged in the charging cable. I’d not looked to see which way round it was, because I didn’t need to. That might not sound like much, but small changes can make a big difference to user experience, and also, as it turns out, reduce those occasions when you’re dead tired, bleary-eyed and trying to mash, say, a micro-USB cable into a device upside-down.
People cleverer than I note that Lightning has many other benefits: a higher power capacity (handy for iPads); the means to add to the tech via firmware updates; increasingly common usage as a device support in docks; quality control (which ups costs but lowers risk); and bi-directional power, enabling the device to charge an accessory.
Really, though, I’m just happy with my never-upside-down power cables, because I’m apparently astonishingly easy to please but fast to rile. (Hits dodgy micro-USB lead with a hammer.)
Every time Apple releases new hardware, there’s a laundry list of complaints about what the company didn’t add. But Apple doesn’t do bullet-point lists, instead adding technology people will actually use, even if it’s not immediately obvious why these choices were made.
At first, Touch ID — the iPhone 5s fingerprint identity sensor/system — looked like a gimmick, but after two months of use, it’s such a natural part of using the device that I miss it when I grab an iPad. Instead of unlocking the phone by tapping in a four-digit PIN, like some kind of caveman, casually holding a finger or thumb on the Home button for a second does the trick.
The same’s largely true for app purchases. This is about sweating the details and inserting some joy into technology. With the device storing an abstraction of your prints on the A7 chip and not online, the system’s also secure, which is reassuring. (That said, if anyone wants to hack off my digits to access my device for nefarious purposes, I suspect I’ve got bigger problems.)
There’s never really been a point where I’ve seriously considered ditching iOS and venturing elsewhere, but I did grab a Nexus 4 a while back. This was in part to see how ‘the other side’ lives, but also an attempt to rekindle my technology spark. It didn’t really work.
The Nexus 4 is a perfectly fine device, and Android does some things I wish Apple would steal, ‘like an artist’ (not least the alphabetical list of on-device apps, and being able to install new apps from the web), but the experience in general just felt a bit cheap, from the plasticky and overly large device itself through to the Android operating system. It certainly wasn’t bad, but there wasn’t anything compelling that made me want to switch permanently.
The iPhone 5s, while not revolutionary and perhaps while, yes, playing it safe, remains in a different ballpark — at least for my usage, which is more about getting things done and being creative than tinkering with the operating system or embedding myself so much in the Google ecosystem I legally have to start calling myself Craig Schmidt.
APPLE OF MY EYE
It’s not all plain-sailing. The iPhone remains a bit battery-hungry, due to iOS 7’s background tasks (which can, mercifully, be disabled), and there’s a definite sense of design-before-usability in some of Jony Ive’s interface texture whitewashing.
It’s no wonder he wears T-shirts so often in Apple videos, given how much he seems to hate visible buttons. Also, putting the headphone port at the bottom of the device was just plain wrong, and if you disagree, you are also just plain wrong.
Furthermore, there’s the reality that part of the value of any item you own is in the investment. Do I like the iPhone 5s more than the 5 I had hanging around because it’s mine, and because I paid for it? Is part of my rekindled fondness for the iPhone line rationalisation?
Undoubtedly, but I’m far from alone in that, and _objectively_ the iPhone 5s after a couple of months remains the best iPhone — and best smartphone — I’ve used. It’s suitable, stable, fast and smart, boasts the best app ecosystem, and has new features that are genuinely useful.
After the hype died down, the new features are ones I continue to use daily, rather than getting excited about them once or twice but then never using them again. And although Apple might have played it safe, the iPhone also still understands that the details — the small things — really matter.