I have an iConfession: I hate my iPhone.
It wasn’t always so. I loved it once and now I hate it the way I can only hate an old flame. I remember the first soft touch of a virtual keyboard in 2009. I pine for my innocent infatuation with the wonder of iTunes.
Today? I’m mad at the way my apps shut down while in use, at the texts that don’t send, at an iTunes that doesn’t sync. I’m cranky about poky performance, with videos that sometimes take forever to download, if they do at all. (My husband, who also uses an iPhone, doesn’t have this problem, and we use the same network at home, of course.) My overall experience is just … slow.
What happened to the iPhone I loved?
In search of answers, I first went to an Apple store in New Jersey. A staffer there said they “don’t hear complaints” about iPhones, loaded up a YouTube video, pronounced it fine, gave me a new SIM card and passed the buck to the guys at AT&T. The next stop was more interesting. At the AT&T store, I told two service guys about my search for a lost love and one of them said: “Oh, man, this is awesome! I hate my iPhone!” They both said they hear more complaints about iPhones than any other device. A nice young gentleman named Greg said he finds his 6S “much buggier” than previous versions of the iPhone (apps shutting down, etc.). But I didn’t learn much aboutwhy I’d become so disillusioned in my relationship. So I turned to my colleague Shira Ovide, who covers technology for Bloomberg View’s sister site Bloomberg Gadfly. I wanted to know: Is it me, Apple, or is it you?
Shira: There has been a debate in the tech industry over whetherApple’s software is getting worse. I suspect this is more about nostalgia than reality, like the way the “Saturday Night Live” cast always seems inferior to the one you grew up with. Android phones can be even more prone to glitches. The problem for Apple is keeping up with rising expectations. Phones are essential to our lives now, and it’s fair to expect them to work perfectly.
Brooke: Maybe I’m just so accustomed to quantum leaps in iPhone development that disappointment is inevitable. Remember your first iPhone? I sure do. Dumping that old BlackBerry was hardly the messy divorce I feared.
Shira: Absolutely. Apple wanted to change the world with the iPhone, and it did. Now its improvements are more incremental than revolutionary: Uh, the new iPhone is thinner! You can buy a pink one! Apple says it has more tricks up its sleeves for the iPhone, but it may be impossible to fulfill our dreams of technology magic. To twist aquip from tech investor Peter Thiel: We wanted flying cars, and instead we got poop emoji.
Brooke: Let’s talk about Apple Music. I barely remember downloading it, but there it was under Subscriptions … and I was paying $14.99 a month (that’s under the family plan, which requires iCloud Family Sharing, and we’ll get to that) for something I haven’t used since. I couldn’t tell if I should kick myself or scream at Apple.
Shira: You are not alone, Brooke. Apple thrust this new app at us last year to play catch-up to Web music services such as Spotify and Pandora. Apple gave nearly anyone with an iPhone three free months to try out Apple Music — with a catch: If you neglected to turn off the subscription when your free trial ended, Apple charged the credit card it has on file. Apple recently said 13 million people are paying for Apple Music. That is an impressive number considering that Spotify — which has been around for 10 years — has about 30 million paying subscribers. But Apple hasn’t said how many of the people paying for Apple Music are like you — “subscribers” who don’t even know they’re subscribers.
Brooke: But what the heck happened to the old easy-to-use iTunes I loved? I’ve stored thousands of songs on my iMac using my iTunes library, but when I try to sync to my phone, it … won’t, because on my phone I can only listen to what I’ve bought and has been stored on the iCloud. So much for my uber-organized album collection. That’s when Apple Music showed up, but I have no idea how it relates to iTunes: Does Apple Music replace iTunes? Are they different? (Are they supposed to be?) It’s all very, very confusing. Now I just listen to Pandora — I’d rather put up with songs I don’t like (using the free ad version) rather than continue to be frustrated by not having access to my music. And honestly, I’m not even doing that much anymore. I actually listen to “Hamilton” via CD in my car!
Shira: Wow, a CD. Yes, iTunes is a disaster, and Apple is trying to make the line between it and Apple Music a bit less confusing. I’m not sure they can clean up the music mess. The significant revolutions in technology now are in software; think of how amazing it felt the first time you could summon an Uber car at the touch of an app. Apple’s changed the world by inventing great hardware. Its fumbling in software is a Silicon Valley punchline.
Brooke: OK, OK — all of this is infuriating, but let’s be honest: I do love having a camera in my phone. And I’m fairly pleased with the quality of photos the 6 Plus takes. But I am really annoyed with how my phone stores them: in albums, in “collections” (which I can’t name or organize on my own, as far as I can tell), under “iCloud Photo Sharing” — why is this so hard?!
Which brings us back to iCloud, possibly the most confounding aspect of being an iPhone owner. I often wonder if most consumers talkabout knowing what “the cloud” is when we don’t really have the slightest clue, let alone how or why to use it, this nebulous thing we’re supposed to know how to operate and are secretly embarrassed that we don’t. This seems like a real failure to communicate on Apple’s part, no?
Shira: No one knows what the “cloud” means. This is the tech industry’s fault for using the term to mean anything at all, and nothing. Ideally, every e-mail, song, document and photo on our phones should be saved in Apple’s computers — in the “cloud” — and within our reach at any time on any computer or phone we use. Google and Amazon are closer than Apple is at achieving this cloud Platonic ideal, but every company could do better. We shouldn’t have to ever think about whether something is saved, synced, clouded or whatever.
Brooke: Shira, we talked about how the beauty and simplicity of the first iPhones sucked us in, and now we can’t get out, because we’ve already spent SO MUCH TIME buying apps and customizing them to our satisfaction. Can we not give up the one thing Apple does consistently well: moving all of our information to new, shinier versions of our iPhones despite the fact that I hear “buggy” more often now when people describe their shiny new toy?
Shira: The issue, I think, is that our expectations of technology and of Apple have changed. We want constant delight, perfection and one world-changing idea after another. There’s a line attributed to Steve Jobs (with echoes of Henry Ford): “Customers don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” I think we have a nagging feeling that Apple isn’t giving us what we want. Maybe it’s an impossible standard for Apple to meet, but we all have become as demanding as Jobs. This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.
Brooke Sample & Shira Ovide