The new iPhones are not great

Apple's designed obsolescence is well documented and the latest battery life issues with iOS 16 finally drove me over the edge to replace my 2nd Gen iPhone SE. I'm usually not under an illusion that the technology I rely on has a half-life and because I build software for a living, I can empathize with the difficulty of continuously shipping efficient software on aging hardware. However, my SE2 pretty much ground to a halt. Basic functions like rotating the screen orientation would often bug out and freeze. The CPU throttling and degredation of the battery for iOS 16 was the most noticeable I've seen after an update.

Thus, I reluctantly upgraded and it has not been as smooth as I hoped. I could have chosen a 3rd Gen iPhone SE, but a side-by-side comparison to the 13 Mini in-person led me to spend an extra $100 for the form factor of the 13 Mini. The iPhone 13/14/14 Pros are enormous! The pull of Magsafe charging was hard to resist as were the promises of extended battery life. While I'm not a huge fan of FaceID either, I understand how it works under the hood and feel comfortable taking off my tinfoil hat.

I use my phone like an actual phone. I can do without lots of extra features, including the biggest selling point of upgraded cameras. Ultimately, I want a functional mobile device I can rely on for navigation and communication when I'm not at home. Though I use a Garmin headunit for navigation when riding my bike, I still rely on my phone for general spatial awareness and saving interesting places on Google Maps. Though in many ways I wish we could return to pre-algorithmic methods for looking up directions, I still find my phone helpful for answering "what is around me right now?" Having a quick visual way to cluster shopping visits or remember what nice coffee is around me in the city is something I can't live without. I used to have to carry a with me any time I left the house for more than an afternoon in case I needed to check train times or get in touch with someone at the end of the day.

NYC's recent push of OMNY probably deserves its own blog post and I try to keep a filled MetroCard on me at all times (thanks corporate FSA benefits) but I end up using Apple Pay + OMNY to take transit very often. This was another push for me to upgrade my phone. I think it's absurd that the MTA wants to move to a completely digital system, especially considering our devices' batteries degrade over time and are prone to dying after a full day out in the city.

Apple's UX struggles have been well covered by Totske and now I cannot unsee. I don't want to spend a ton of time stream-of-conscious ranting about Apple but here are some quick hits of bad UX that it seems we've all decided to accept:

  1. The hand position for holding the phone to type with both thumbs forces you to rest the phone on one pinky. Who thinks this is comfortable? If holding a 13 Mini is uncomfortable, how do users with larger iPhones manage?? Hell will freeze over before I start using a pop socket.
  2. Swiping up and down constantly -- why is the Control Center, where bluetooth/wifi/camera/Apple TV remote/screen brightness/other key settings are locatied, accessed only by swiping down from the top right corner? Who can actually access this?
  3. Using the double tap on the back of the phone accessibility shortcut works only 50% of the time. I tried setting this shortcut to bring up the Control Center but find myself having to repeat the gesture.
  4. Conflicting UI elements in Safari. The forward/back buttons of Safari conflict with page elements that sit in footers or at the bottom of mobile web pages. Pagination elements and checkout buttons in particular seem to jump all over when tapped on/near. Even if you set the address bar of Safari to the top of the screen these issues persist. Safari is incredibly optimized for Apple hardware, how does the UX not match such close integration?
  5. Anecdotally, it appears LTE on the 13 Mini simply doesn't work the same as LTE on my SE2. For its battery flaws, my SE2 never really had issues with slow connections. This is most noticeable on the subway. Does LTE even work on the newest phones? Again, is this the network interface in the news phones?

The hardware refresh that occurs every couple years is usually a breath of fresh air. But how is it that Apple's UX design isn't keeping pace? Are they missing accountability or have they existed in an insular fashion for so long they are no longer subjecting their deliverables to critique? RIP Steve Jobs, tbh.