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My torrid love affair with the iPhone started with technolust. I was locked in on a plan with Verizon, and a KRZR, and unable to get the amazing device Steve Jobs teased me with on stage (just me, me alone). A year later, I gave Verizon the finger (not literally, but when they asked why I was leaving I flatly said it was because they didn’t have the iPhone). I had my iPhone 3G, in all it’s bulbous, plastic glory. I did not know it at the time, but I was on the “tick” side of the tick-tock cycle. I really did like my 3G, but I when the iPhone 4 was announced, my eyes were drawn to it. The Retina screen literally demanded my eyes — it was in the name!

A friend of mine, similarly enraptured by the announced device, ventured to Manhattan Beach’s mall with me at — what we thought was — the crack of dawn. We got there just in time to see a line stretching out of the parking lot. Our whole plan hinged on us getting the phone at this “remote” mall. Defeated, we went our separate ways. On my way home I couldn’t resist the impulse to go to The Beverly Center’s Apple Store. I knew that it would be a pointless endeavor, but my impatience was rewarded by a relatively short line with reservation numbers.

To other people in my life (Jason) this seemed to be an absurd amount of effort to go through. Indeed, it is. In the grand scheme it doesn’t matter if you have something on launch day, or if you have something a month later. I was not traveling in elite circles where my old phone would be judged, and I would be found wanting. He was on the tock cycle though, so he didn’t get it. He got the 4S, casually, a year later. No big deal at all.

I kept that iPhone 4 because it was fine, and then it was still fine, and then it was slow, and then it was unbearably slow, the home button didn’t work, and the battery was dying. I was saving money at the expense of my life. Oh man, that is so dramatic to say. Double first-world-problems to the MAXX, bro! Well, the only thing is that in our culture it is actually kind of important to have a working smartphone. Not just for status symbol reasons, but for practical ones.

Your Preoder is in Another Castle

Apple had a very bad week for technological infrastructure. It started with a streaming keynote kerfuffle, and it ended with preorder pandemonium. I can’t give Apple a pass on this. They have a gajillion dollars, they are not healthcare.gov. What is going on with them?

I couldn’t sleep. I kept refreshing. Jason slept, bless him. I finally got through and ordered my iPhone 6, 64 GB, Space Gray, an extra lightning cable, and a black silicone case. I panicked on shipping it to my apartment (I’ve had issues where people go to the wrong door, or just drop a slip without knocking.) I selected in-store pick-up.

Jason casually selected his phone the next morning without any issue and there was literally no reason for me to fret over my preorder. Thanks.

You Don’t Know Jack

Friday, I went to the Apple Store. They opened at 10. I was reading horror stories on Twitter from other stores. I was reading about successful package deliveries. What had I done? I walked up to the storefront. There was a line, with a sign for “Reservations” and another line behind stanchions. There were plenty of Apple employees around. I went in to the Reservations line.

An employee asked me if I had a reservation, and like a sweaty teenager being carded at a gas station, I shoved my greasy iPhone 4 with QR code toward him. He waved me off, he trusted me. He trusted me more than I trusted myself.

The reservation line was short. They would let in 5 people at a time. There were two guys behind me talking about the other line. “Why wouldn’t they just preoder?” I don’t know, you judgy-judges, maybe they had problems with the crappy site and app? Apple snobs! The worst!

(Cough.)

I was summoned inside and there was a very elaborate system for pairing people off with employees. I got a guy named Jack. He, like everyone else from Apple, was all-smiles. He was happy. I was at the dentist. He asked for information, and said that an employee was bringing my iPhone and cable over. I told him about my case marked for October mail delivery, and he said that they had cases in stock. If I wanted, I could get the case, buy it, and canceled my Forever-in-the-Future case. I selected the black silicone case and met back up with him. He apologized for things going so slowly. He asked if I was excited. I don’t know why he would ask that when I was obviously pale with terror. I told him I was excited to go start the setup process. He told me that he totally understood, that he had to wait until the end of the day for his 128 GB iPhone 6. Poor guy. I was ready to bolt for the door, but poor guy. Jack finished my order, I can confidently say he was impeccable, and I wish him well.

iTunes Restore

I wanted coffee but I was too anxious. I drove straight home. With shaking hands I gingerly extracted my new baby from it’s cardboard. I turned off my iPhone 4 and I started restoring my iPhone 6 with the old backup in iTunes. With the way my luck has gone on these restores, the chances were very high it would crap out.

I paced and went to get coffee. There was nothing in my pocket though. I kept feeling, and there was nothing there.

I don’t have a problem, I can not-check twitter any time I want!

When I returned, trembling with caffeine and adrenaline, I watched the progress bar like a hawk.

OMG OMG OMG OMG

The restore finished and I clawed at it. It was all mine now, all mine![^1] It was so light in my hands, but so large. I have large hands (you know what they say about… blah blah blah), but not large enough that my thumb reaches from the bottom right corner to the top left corner. I’m not a mutant. In truth, I’m still adjusting to this change, and I do think that I might have selected a smaller phone if one were available. For me, screen space was never as important as one-handed operation.

Literally everything about this phone is better than the iPhone 4. There’s no contest. The screen isn’t as smudgy, it has Touch ID, the camera doesn’t take 10 years to start, I can switch between apps without them restarting every time, everything is fast, etc. I couldn’t name a single metric where the 4 even competes with the 6.

Jason feels similarly, though he’s less enthusiastic. He was quite offended by the bundled software “junking up” the interface. He didn’t like that some settings were different. It all takes a little getting used to, you know?

This is the best phone I ever owned, even if it makes my pollicis muscles cramp in unison. You can pry this from my cramped hands, you bastards!

Uncle Bob Photography

In college, I took a course that studied film, and we went over a lot of principles for composing a shot. There were technical terms for things, like The Rule of Thirds, and there were his own terms for things, like Uncle Bob shots. Basically, any shot that looks like family photography in your backyard. It does what it needs to do, but no one would accuse Uncle Bob of being an artist.

A lot has changed since 2005! I no longer think that cute term means the same thing anymore. The iPhone blazed the way for a whole series of photos shared over the internet, with apps designed not just to share the photo, but also to edit it. The aesthetics of photography became very important to people. Impressing friends, and family, with your sunset, or your food, was important in a way that instant photography, or disposable cameras, never were.

I use a DSLR for most of my hobbyist photography, but it’s hardly something I have on my person when I want to take a photo. The iPhone 3G took absolutely dreadful photos — It was total Uncle Bob, to the max. The iPhone 4 took decent photos in certain lighting conditions, but it was still just a convenient thing to save noisy images.

The iPhone 6 is legitimately a nice camera. There’s no apology to be made for its photos. Even on total autopilot, the phone is way better than Uncle Bob. Even the time-lapse features have a reasonable, automated behavior. Here are my iPhone 6 Uncle Bob shots from Greystone Mansion:

Still, no one wants to just take automatic, unaltered photos. Hashtag no filter. Hashtag boring. The point isn’t that technology does it all for you, without you having to worry about it, but that you have new ways to work. Software tools, as well as fancy new sensors and lenses.

For instance: There’s no image stabilization, and the slow-mo video has a certain low-quality feel around fine detailed elements, like water droplets. The blockiness of it makes me think it’s compression settings rather than the sensor, or noise reduction. Also, if you upload the video with Vimeo’s app, or site, it will play the slow-mo video back at a regular frame rate. If you upload it with the share sheet from the Photos app, then it will preserve the frame rate you see in the Photos app. Example of compression artifacts:

Slow-mo test on iPhone 6 from Joseph Rosensteel on Vimeo.

The photos taken in broad daylight still seem to have a fair amount of some kind of denoising filter with almost painterly smudges when zoomed in higher than 1:1. That’s not to say it is bad, not at all, but it’s just a reminder that when people say the phone takes DSLR-like photos, it’s in no way similar to actual DSLR photos from a modern DSLR. Still a reason for many people to tote those fashionable camera bags.

Feedback

There is one peculiar quirk of the iPhone 6 that I did not expect, and that’s feedback with LTE and 4G bands when it’s near my car’s console. Moving it away, like to the passenger seat, mitigates the hissing, but it’s something my iPhone 4 would only do when it was on Edge.

Lost in the iCloud

Apple’s services continue to be the piss in my Wheaties. There were things that I couldn’t even do before on my iPhone 4 that I finally got to do with my iPhone 6, and they were just as disappointing as I imagined they would be.

My home address has been wrong in Maps since Apple ditched Google. At one point, my address was inside of the Four Seasons of Los Angeles. This is flattering, but inaccurate. Apple finally accepted one of my many requests for them to fix this and moved it slightly closer to where I actually live. I say closer, because they didn’t actually fix it. Yes, I report it about every three months. For all I know, the complaints are printed and fed to The Almighty Sarlac. With Siri, and voice navigation, at least I ought to be able to get to that close-but-not-quite address. Should be, but can’t. I’m back to living in the Four Seasons of Los Angeles. If I say, “home” it maps to a place that isn’t even the same city that is listed as my home address. My rage over this is incandescent, because I can’t think of any reason why this should be the case, and I have no legitimate recourse for reporting a Siri picking the wrong place when my address book picks the close-to-correct one. This is my home!

Even things that should be simple, like “The Grove” route me to “Grove City, PA”. Even an intersection tripped it up: “Intersection of Beverly and Fairfax” brought up the result “Beverly, MA”. If I say, “The Apple Store at The Grove” then I get a list of Apple Stores, with “The Apple Store at The Grove” at the top of the list. Maybe Apple will open enough Apple Stores that I’ll be able to navigate places using those? Google has no problem at all with any of those requests. I have not run a scientific battery of tests on it, but the only thing Siri got right were the directions to Greystone Mansion.

A fun thing anyone can do is ask Siri for directions to “City Hall”. Omit the name of your city. Instead of figuring out that you might want to go to the city hall of the city you’re in, or at the very least, the nearest building named city hall, it decides that you want to go to Philadelphia City Hall. Google doesn’t always nail the city, especially in a complex metropolitan area with multiple cities nearby. This is just silly, common sense stuff, that Apple utterly fails at. How is this a reliable service?

That is hardly the cardinal sin of this launch, because it’s been that bad forever, I just didn’t have Siri, and voice navigation, so I didn’t get to experience the utter futility of trying to use the things that rely on Maps’ data.

The thing that really sticks out is iCloud Drive, which doesn’t really work if your computer isn’t on Yosemite. You’re still prompted to upgrade to it when you set up your iOS 8 device (like a new iPhone 6). Maybe don’t do that, Apple? Maybe just kick that out with a point release? I had to tell Jason not to upgrade to iCloud Drive, and even after explaining it he didn’t understand why he shouldn’t. This is simply a dumb move. Get your product managers to work together on this stuff, guys.

Online backups is another situation entirely. I only trust iCloud with my old iPad (3). It is faster, and cheaper, to back up my iPhone to iTunes on my computer. It is unfortunate that that’s the case, but I see no logic in paying for a slower service. Sure, iTunes is a flaming hemorrhoid, but it’s my flaming hemorrhoid. My podcast cohost has run afoul of a situation where iCloud backup takes so long, that iCloud can’t backup, and warns you.

This iPhone has not been backed up recently because it has not finished being restored. Would you like to finish downloading any remaining purchases and media before backing up, or delete them along with any app data?

Hell of a way to phrase that.

Sto-Rage

Indeed the biggest problem with the iPhone is storage. I joke, frequently, with Bradley Chambers about how bad the storage situation is. This is also one of those things that sounds ridiculous, but actually has a large impact on how people use devices, not just how people buy devices.

People don’t think they have that much stuff, because people don’t want to spend that much money. Indeed, there might be people that can get by with 16 GB phones but I couldn’t tell you who they would be. Even for people that still have free space at 16 GB, they probably don’t have 5+ GB free for iOS upgrades. Then the bundled apps are another 2-3 GB. How is it even conscionable to sell a 16 GB device to someone that they will need to use for two years? Jason doesn’t listen to podcasts (I know, right?) and yet he’s stuck with that dinky app. Bundled apps are bloat if no one wants them, even if they are official Apple products. Jason might have moved from a 16 GB to a 32 GB, but that tier no longer exists.

The entry-level seems like a great way to get an extra $100 out of people that know 16 GB isn’t enough (like me, and everyone I talk to that’s owned an iPhone), but it’s a good way to burn people getting their first iPhone. It’s not great if it backfires and people hate their experience with their phone because they don’t understand why they constantly have to delete things. Especially when Apple provides such poor tools for managing storage. Seriously, go look at that usage chart on your iPhone and then figure out how you’ll selective remove things. Spend an afternoon on it, it’s fun. I hope those photos were backed up!

My Six Cents

The iPhone 6 is a fantastic upgrade for people that are already Apple customers — especially customers that have very outdated phones, like myself. I don’t know how it will win people over that don’t want to be bothered thinking about storage. How can I convince someone to move from Android’s Google services to Apple’s services? I can’t. I’ll literally tell them that same old story about my home address always being wrong and rendering Apple’s app useless. That’s not very encouraging, really.

When Tim Cook was on Charlie Rose, he said Apple’s biggest competitor was Google (32 minutes in). This is very true. Apple has not been able to match Google for services any more than Google has been able to match Apple products. This fundamental tension is going to continue until one of them figures out how to not suck.

Please Siri, there’s no place like home — a home with lots of storage.

^1: I didn’t read the fine print, but I’m pretty sure there’s a complex system of licensing arrangements that keep it from being “all mine”.

2014-09-23 15:35:23

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