iPhone for a week
I’ve always been that bloke who doesn’t follow the trends. When I was a kid and my friends either had a Sinclair ZX Spectrum or a Commodore 64, I was the oddball on the street with a (not popular and almost unheard of) Commodore Plus/4. It was a great first computer, with the same 64K memory as its best-selling cousin, the Commodore 64. I used to buy a monthly computing magazine and would feel prickles of excitement when I found a tiny two-inch column devoted to my particular computer, when the rest of the magazine was stuffed with Commodore 64 news and reviews. Games for the Plus/4 were few and far between, but they were of excellent quality. Games for the C64 were everywhere because that computer was the one in all my friends’ homes. Supply and demand, supply and demand.
It’s the same in other areas of life, where there are main brands competing at the the high-end for the dollars in people’s pockets and the overall consumer mindset, while there are a bunch of ‘also-rans’ which clamour about below the two leviathans. It’s rare that the popular brands allow themselves to topple into the dreaded ‘third place’ position. In the auto industry, BMW and Mercedes seem to have the upper-hand in the luxury-car niche, with other brands such as Audi and Lexus doing very well but not as well. In another brand vs. brand situation, you have Coca-Cola and Pepsi, two strong brands that almost keep any other brand (RC Cola anyone?) from getting any look in at all.
In the smartphone world we are looking at two big, obvious brands that almost completely dominate the marketplace. Apple’s iPhone, and the Android OS from which Samsung seems to have harvested the most success. Not ever being one to follow the pack, when it came to buying smartphones, despite the absolute and incredible omnipresence of the iPhone, I decided to stick with a brand that I had been fond of even before they started producing top smartphones, which was Nokia. Quelle surprise, I hear you say!
Ever since my first, proper smartphone, the Nokia N900, I have been completely surrounded by friends, family members, total strangers, basically everyone using a phone made either by Apple or Samsung. But being the stick-in-the-mud that I am, I ploughed staunchly on, with Nokia after Nokia, from Maemo to Symbian to MeeGo and back to Symbian, before going the way of the manufacturer themselves and into the world of Windows Phone. iPhones everywhere, coming at me from all angles, but still I clutched my Nokias.
So when the opportunity arose recently to have an iPhone of my very own, running the very latest operating system update in the form of iOS 8.1.2, I took the plunge. It wasn’t that I was completely unaware of what iPhones were capable of (surely they had to be capable of incredible things if half the world was carrying them around?) but I had never used one for more than a couple of hours. This time I would delve right in and carry around just the iPhone to see if I could deal with it day-to-day as my main phone.
Now at this point it has to be said that the device in question was a much older (although in lovely mint condition) iPhone 4s. As everyone with any mobile know-how will tell you, running the latest OS update on 2011 hardware is going to be slightly problematic, and things aren’t going to run as smoothly or as quickly as they would if you had plucked the very latest and greatest off the shelves in the local mobile store, which of course would mean either the iPhone 6 or 6 Plus. But this 4s came to me for nothing, so that is what I was going to use.
I was very pleasantly surprised to discover, once I had set the thing up with all my accounts and free apps, that slowness wasn’t actually going to be an issue after all. The 4s does have older hardware and older internals, sure, but the OS seems to have been optimised rather well even for this grandma of a phone. Apps opened quickly, things moved along nicely, and it was very responsive. Actually, when I say, “apps opened quickly” they did, but then again I’m comparing the 4s’s behaviour with that of my Lumias. As any Lumia owner will tell you, sometimes those flying dots and the ‘Loading’ message can be somewhat disheartening, so even though the 4s is older, the speed of opening apps was probably on par with the speed of apps opening on my Lumias. I’ve no doubt at all that opening those very same apps on an iPhone 6 would be just mind-bogglingly fast. Which it is – I just checked on a friend’s iPhone 6, and opening up her Facebook app was just silly quick. (Hope she doesn’t mind me snooping… joke!)
So I had the 4s all set up and ready to go. I tried out Siri and she was able to compose a text and send it to my wife without any issue, in the same way as Cortana can do on my Lumias, except that I think Cortana has a friendlier voice. To me, Siri sounds like an unimpressed aunt – I hope Apple smooth out those sharp corners in that voice and give her a sexier curve, and less of a stern, brown jumper-wearing school mistress.
On to email, and I was able to set up my Outlook email and Calendar with zero issues, and it also dragged in all of my Outlook contacts, pictures and all. In fact setting up my iPhone was a breeze – everything downloaded from the interweb quickly, apps downloaded speedily on my home wifi, and installed in no time. Soon I was all set and ready to start organising my homescreens – thanks to the Twitter peeps who gave me some pointers on that! I was expecting some hiccups along the way because of the age of the device, and I was worried it wouldn’t always play nice with iOS 8, but it did; I didn’t have any problems. Thumbs up.
So… it can’t have been all paradise, right? I’m a Lumia chap, I love my Nokias, so what did I really think of using the iPhone, albeit an older model? Well it wasn’t all sweetness and light. My main bugbear was the fact that the 4s is a small device. No, it’s not small, it’s miniscule. Having used phones with 4-inch plus screens for a long time now (my Lumia 1520 has a gigantic 6” screen!) going back to a 3.5” was somewhat painful. I couldn’t see many tweets at a time, for example, and I would continuously have to scroll scroll scroll just to read a dozen or so tweets. The screen was vibrant though and I had no problem reading stuff in bright daylight. But the 4s is a generally small device, and I’ve been used to larger devices like the Nokia E7 and the Lumia 1020, so it felt odd trying to pretend this was a normal size. In 2011 it was, but it’s now 2015.
If I ever had to ask myself why the world and its wife were buying iPhones, it was now apparent to me. It’s that iOS is extremely accessible and easy to use. And while everyone was buying iPhones because everyone else was buying iPhones, I could see through my own experience how Apple had won the consumer mind-set war years ago, and hence why developers produce apps first and foremost for iPhone, and then Android, and then maybe, possibly, if you’re lucky, for Windows Phone. There is a very slight learning curve with the iPhone. With that in mind it’s no wonder it took off and then took over the world. Your six-year old niece uses it, your mum uses it, your eighty-eight year old grandfather uses it, your doctor uses it, the bus driver uses it, the street sweeper uses it, the Prime Minister uses it, and so on and so on. People who previously have had little technological experience aside from programming the VHS video player or setting the clock on their microwave could easily get their heads around the iPhone’s simple interface and be happy as clams. And, importantly, know they were contracted into the very same phone as pretty much everyone they saw on the street, on the TV, on the train, in their own homes.
Case in point: a person I work with who is, let’s say, in her autumn years, who recently asked for my help emailing photos from her PC (so you know she’s a bit of a luddite, God bless her!), today announced that she went into an AT&T store yesterday and bought an iPhone 6. Good for her, I thought. But I also thought, why an iPhone 6? Did she go in there asking for one, or did the sales clerk sell her one because he/she loves the iPhone and it was an easy sale? Or did she go in and ask for the phone that in her mind “everyone has”? I asked her and it turned out to be because “iPhone” has become almost synonymous with “modern mobile phone”, especially with your Average Joe. Not that my friend knows or cares much about other brands or the different capabilities each phone has, she just wandered in and wandered out with what she knew to be the phone that everyone talks about. So why would my teacher colleague buy anything else? Incidentally, in my school, when children are performing on stage, the slew of iPhones being held up by adoring parents is just that: a slew of iPhones. Maybe there’ll be an odd Samsung GS5 or two in there somewhere, but almost every single parent carries an iPhone. And as a Lumia crackerjack, I always stand there and think, “Y’know, if you lot only had Lumia 1020’s in your hands, you’d be capturing your beloved son/daughter with lossless zoom and a 41MP PureView sensor, giving you much better results for your memories album!” Oh well.
I digress terribly. But it is an interesting thought, and one I have been pondering ever since I braved the world with an iPhone in my pocket instead of a Nokia. Despite Nokia’s past global success with budget phones and ‘pre-smartphones’, Apple clearly got it right with their operating system in 2007. If my naive colleague can work it out, it’s got to be a winner. And after helping family members try to navigate the folders and menus of older Symbian devices, I can see for myself now how Apple won the war. iOS is extremely accessible. It might be a little dull for geeks who love to tinker and customise, but for anyone who just needs a phone to work, this is it, and it’s the reason why Apple enjoy such success and such a following. Most people carry iPhones in their pockets, and after using it myself, I could empathise.
Speaking of pockets, the iPhone 4s is so small, it actually fits into my inside jacket pocket sideways, something I noticed straight away when I tried to dig it out to check my emails on the go. My Lumia 1520 is a beast of a phone and just fits in there lengthways, so you can understand the difference in overall physical sizes I was dealing with here!
But despite Apple’s winning formula, there is another reason the 4s wasn’t for me, (apart from having a screen size of 3.5” when in 2011 that was totally normal) and that was it was missing some of the features I have come to love and really rely on over the years on my Nokia devices. I hate to have to compare the iPhone in this way because it is a great device, and this will come across as me nitpicking or being petty, but I’m trying to give an accurate account from one user’s opinion and experience.
Some of these features are quite specific to Nokia devices, which is why I’ve loved them all this time, and the main one I simply can’t live without is Glance. Glance screen is so clever, and so useful, I’m always a little baffled when I hear other Lumia users say, “Oh yeah, Glance, I always turn that off.” Now I know you can go all out with Glance these days and have photos of your kids on there, or weather reports, or goodness knows what other information, but I prefer to leave it as stock, meaning I like to just have the clock and the standard notification icons along the bottom. It’s subtle, it’s discreet, it’s classy. But it’s also bloody useful! And I’m afraid that having to physically interact with a phone (like the 4s) just to see if anyone has sent me a text message is just not my cup of tea anymore. Right now, as I type this, my 1520 is resting on its Qi charger, with its ringer in silent mode, and a quick 0.2 second “glance” over at it and I can see that no one has tried to bother me with anything. No missed calls, no texts, no emails, no Whatsapps, and my battery is almost done, at 90%. None of that can be done on the iPhone without me reaching over to it and mashing down on either the homescreen button or the power button on top. Not that this seems to worry the 500 million iPhone users around the world. But it does bother me.
It also bothers me that when the phone is on I can’t really see any other information apart from the icons on the homescreen, with perhaps a few red notification dots here and there. I can look at the iPhone’s homescreen and see I have an email waiting for me, but I can’t gather any other information about that email by simply looking. I have to do something, like swipe the notification centre down from the top, or tap the mail icon itself. On my Lumia, the email tile (if it’s large size) will show me the sender, the subject and a quick preview of the message, so I can decide whether or not to physically do anything straightaway.
Live Tiles are also interesting to me; they flip and flash with bits of information or animations that I find add a bit of fun and dynamism to the homescreen. I know many people dislike that, but we’re all different aren’t we?
Wireless charging is also a huge plus for me. I know various Android devices have it now, but I’ve enjoyed it ever since the Lumia 920, and it is actually quite hard to let go of once you go back to fiddling with wires and plugs. It doesn’t sound like much, but after you’ve used it for a while, you end up loving it. The iPhone, of course, doesn’t have any wireless charging built-in. I will say, however, that the 4s’s battery was great, and I still had 93% after an hour’s commute playing music, and a bit of Twitter and stuff during the working morning. Not too shabby.
However, the iPhone certainly isn’t lacking any apps, and unfortunately Lumias are, but that so-called ‘app gap’ is slowly closing with big names being more and more available and smaller names slowly getting there. It’s a shame that apps such as Instagram and Twitter are still so meagerly updated, but one can only hope that these big devs are simply holding back for Windows 10 later this year, and who can blame them really. But with the iPhone there is no worry of (pretty much) any app being missing from the App Store. But again we run into another small problem for me, and that is I am not a fan of having loads of apps. Apps to me are luxuries; sure it’s nice to be able to do this and that on the go on the phone, but really, whatever is missing from my Lumia (let’s say the food-ordering ‘Seamless’ app) I can do on my laptop, something I’d actually prefer to do anyway. Everything else I need, even if the Instagram app is still in ‘beta’, I have on my Lumia. So switching to the iPhone would not solve that problem for me really; I’m not carrying around a Lumia wishing it had this app or that app and contemplating ditching the Windows Phone platform because of a few missing killer apps. No, I have everything I want and need, so while the iPhone dangles the large bunch of carrots in front of my face, I’m just not that hungry to be honest.
Overall, my experience with the iPhone was pleasant; I found it to be very reliable and quick, and aesthetically, iOS8 looks good, and with bright colours and the newer ‘flat design’, it ticks all my boxes. Calls were clear, texts were sent and received, and music was listened to. I took a few photos with it, but I’m not about to compare a 2011 8MP camera unit to my Lumia 1020’s 41MP camera, or any other PureView device for that matter. The photos the 4s produced were fine, but they lacked the detail I’m now used to, so nothing I’d be printing off for my living room wall.
The main problem is I am so hooked into Windows Phone now, that it has become my platform of choice, and anything else that isn’t Windows Phone isn’t going to be my cuppa. I’ve now tried BlackBerry 10 on a Q10 and a Z10, Android on a Moto G, and now iOS 8 on an iPhone. And I will readily admit that I should perhaps be comparing Windows Phone experiences with other top-end devices (the Lumias 1020 and 1520 are still seen as top-end for Windows Phone) so I should be trying out an iPhone 6 Plus and a Samsung Galaxy S5 or LG G3 instead of something from years and years ago. And that would be a very fair point, except that, in this situation, the 4s didn’t cost me anything, so I had the chance to try out iOS on an iPhone without any financial (or contractual) outlay. The other thing is that while a 6 Plus or a SGS5 might be the top-end of things on the two main platforms, (the 6 Plus would be a good comparison with my 1520 in terms of size certainly) they still wouldn’t satisfy my desire for Live Tiles, a Nokia-designed physical form factor, or the little features and services that make Windows Phone unique, (Glance, HERE downloadable maps, Qi charging, incredible camera/imaging prowess, the Windows Phone OS itself!)
I know I’m in the minority, and I know that most people would jump at the chance to use a free iPhone if one came their way. And I will use it again, for sure. There’ll be times when having a smaller device will be far more sensible and there’s nothing wrong with the iPhone for me to want to sell it on eBay or give it away. I’ll keep it, definitely, and I’ll use it again. But as a ‘daily driver’? It’s not really for me. I’m an oddball, so I’ll stick with the oddball choice of smartphone.
For now, anyway!