iPhone Generation

The day after my birthday I joined the iPhone generation. People inevitably asked if this was a birthday gift to myself, but it was actually something I’d been putting off. I knew the initial transition would be a hassle and a half.


For months, my cell phone company, AU, had been calling me at awkward moments in an ongoing campaign to get me to upgrade my phone. I’d had the same model for at least 5 years, which in this country meant that its transmitter technology was so archaic that it was going to be shut down within a year. I’d made various promises to upgrade in the near future, but never quite got around to it.


My delaying tactic paid unexpected dividends: In October, AU got the iPhone 4S. iPhone had been the exclusive domain of Softbank, the top cell phone provider in Japan, so this was a minor coup. I am a big fan of technological consolidation—there’s no reason to have half a dozen different devices for micro-tasks—but I had hitherto resisted the iPhone largely because Softbank has the worst reception this side of a pair of tin cans connected with limp twine, and the other smartphones didn’t grab my attention.


The clerk at the AU shop near my place in Saitama was total pro: she went down the list of notifications with a highlighter, checking off everything as she went at rapid speed. A friend once defined Japanese bureaucracy as efficient redundancy: you have to do the same thing a dozen times, but those dozen times are as quick as they can possibly be. I was quite impressed by the training AU must do with their people; she even printed out my last three months’ phone bills when advising me which kind of plan I should sign up for (I learned that I’m not as sparing a talker as I’d thought!).


Then when she got to the actual phone, the clerk had no idea what she was doing. When I had to fill in iPhone’s silly 8-characters-including-a-capital-and-a-number-and-a-member-of-the-1972-Green-Bay-Packers-offensive-line password, I was the one who had to figure out where the caps lock key was (It’s an arrow! How novel!). The registration process took about an hour and a half. Then I had to go home and figure out how to use the thing. For the first three days, my fingers felt so fat it was like trying to do brain surgery with oven mitts.


I couldn’t have picked a better time to upgrade, though—as soon as I pulled the thing out at A Kabuki Christmas Carol, every member of the cast had suggestions for apps and “secret” techniques they’d figured out, so I was set up like a pro within thirty minutes.


So now I have an iPhone. With reception. I have put a crick in my neck playing Infinity Blade II, yet still fumble like my mom trying to work a VCR when I have to make an actual phone call.

Dear Inheritors of the Steve Jobs Empire ("SJE")

For the record, there are a few things that I wish Apple would fix on its otherwise lovely little device:


  1. Your apps cease to work while being updated, and you cannot cancel an update or reset an app to its original form once the update has begun. When you are on vacation for 10 days in a country with very little wireless access, and you foolishly click “update” in the airport and your very big file does not complete its download, it means your app does not work for 10 days. This is dumb.
  2. iPods used to have an “album” listing that showed musical albums irrespective of artist. The iPhone music software still divides its albums by artist, and you have to manually select “part of compilation” to get all the songs to play together—and I only learned that trick by looking it up online. Why add a step?
  3. There are volume buttons on the side of the device that can be accessed purely by touch, but you have to pull it out of your pocket and double-click the home button to pause it. I need to pause my music far more often than I need to adjust its volume level, and when I do, I need to do it quickly. Why can we not have an external pause button?
  4. All 364 of my contacts, who were previously in different groups, are now all in the same endless list. If I want to make groups again, I have to download software onto my PC, import my contacts, group them, and export them again. My phone from ten years ago, which didn’t have e-mail and freaked out if you tried to access the internet, could do this fine—and all that data went happily from one phone to the next for a decade. It feels like the iPhone designers got all excited about the gaming and internet connectivity, then dropped all the actual phone development onto some unpaid intern. I mean, these guys thought up the concept of a GUI and grouping files into folders in 1983, yet they can’t apply 1/100th of the same brainpower to making a phone list in 2011? Seriously? Why not have a folder-based GUI for contacts?


On a final note, I find it amusing how many games allow you to spend real money to buy game money, which you would normally work through the game to accumulate. Does this not basically mean you spend money on a game so you don’t actually have to take the time to play it? I know people are impatient, but games are time-killing devices in the first place. If you kill the time kill, what’s the point?


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