Eighty days ago, Apple's Senior Vice President of Software Engineering ~~stood up in front of a crowd of~~...
No!... It was just me... Alone, in my mother’s basement, on a Monday morning, contorted at stupid angles, typing to my phone with a physical keyboard and unapologetically scarfing as much as I possibly could of the Apple community’s unbelievably unreserved, almost spiritual volume of pure hype from as many simultaneous sources as I could manage. (Hilariously, all of said sources are/were Discord servers, now, as in that “gamer” communications service I launched my little indie mag on in 2015 and kept comparing to Slack, but like an actual madman.)
Anyway, said Senior Vice President of Software Engineering (who we are encouraged to hold accountable for basically all technical changes to iOS) is named Craig, and these are his first few sentences:
For many of us, our iPhone has become indispensable. And at the heart of iPhone is iOS. iOS powers the experiences we've come to rely on. This year, we were inspired to create even more meaningful ways iPhone could help you. Our new release is iOS 15. It's packed with features that make the iOS experience adapt to and complement the way you use iPhone...
I’m dwelling on them because they are patently meaningless. Very little to nothing coming in iOS 15 is what I would call ease-of-use-centric. Some of it - namely controversial (and now backpedaled) changes to the user interface of Safari - feels almost maliciously quartered in the opposite direction. Most of the changes in the subheadings of the full feature list are simply irrelevant in the use for all but the dorkiest iOS users, like myself, and I find the fact unacceptable, at the very least.
This is why I would like to try something different, this year, and focus on an entirely different audience: my family, as representatives of the vast majority of the iPhone’s billion-something demographic (read: customers.) That is to say, who Craig should be referring to with the phrase “most of us.” Not because I believe them to be “dumb” or “end users” (in the tech bro derogatory sense,) but because they are busy, working people who depend on their iPhone as a utilitarian device, above all else. They don’t have the time to dive deep into Apple documentation or watch the whole WWDC presentation to gain an understanding of where to look for new features or (unfortunately) how to turn them off. Realistically, they don’t even have time to read this whole Post, though I hope they will (sorry fam.)
Regardless of how we feel about it, Apple has made it clear that our phones are going to be further and further inundated with automated processes in the background. Whether you like it or not, your phone is going to be used to help find other users’ devices over the Find My network, your travel information is going to be used to inform Apple Maps’ live traffic statistics, and so on. For the more conservative members of my family, related truths about their phones are going to continue to feel like we are continuing to give up “ownership” of our devices. There are definitive alternatives, but they involve giving up a whole lot of conveniences. I will do my best to address this a bit later on, drawing from much more articulate critics than I.
What I will dwell on, myself, are the more menial, tactile implications of these abstract changes in design philosophy. A general theme of my own use/writing about iOS has been re-finding or jury-rigging the “buttons” which are gradually being obscured or eliminated entirely in the assumption that Apple’s automation knows better than us users when something should happen or change. A great example: using a simple Siri Shortcut to completely disable Wi-Fi and Bluetooth instead of trusting the unnecessarily complex conditions of doing so with the buttons in Control Center. I have sought out these “hacks” (as other iOS powerusers have rather absurdly called them) for very selfish reasons.
Quite simply, the more automated iOS has become, the less comfortably in control I have felt. For myself, at least, every single functional automation Apple has introduced has drastically failed to simply my own using life, and the vast majority have in fact complicated it dramatically. Apple-adjacent publications and greater tech media have ceased all-out criticism and instead resorted to justifying and explaining (or attempting to, anyway) just about all of Apple’s subtle retractions of user control over the years, but apparently, I am too much of a control freak to let it go. I have been here since the very beginning, have bitched loudly all along, and do not plan to go quietly into that automated night. This theme pervades throughout this review, so for any of you who do feel like iOS’ automations fit comfortably into your life, please keep this in mind.
Two converging elements define my changing relationship with iOS, and they really feel like one tornado coming from everywhere and nowhere…
The net number of unconscious actions happening “in the background” on my phone has been exploding exponentially for its whole history. It has become a silent supercomputer all for the sake of knowing better than I what I might need from it at any given time.
The universal result, for me at least, has been a rapidly declining sense of control over my device. I know the YouTube algorithm is technically supposed to be better at serving up content from channels I subscribe to at the optimal moment I should be watching it, but the only effective tool I’ve used for doing so was a combined, one-axis, strictly chronological feed. This format is one I understood even very young through-and-through as a being existing on a single-direction metaphysical time plane. I was a very astute consumer of at least a dozen and a half creator’s output for a very long time, and I managed to do so without so much as the means to “mark as play.ed.”
From my perspective, there is virtually zero value or use in selecting a “subscribe” toggle without said feed. I know it to be entirely futile to keep up the way I did, then, without it.
Its replacement will never be trustworthy enough to turn notifications on ever again. I’m sorry, I have never had to count on suggestions… Until you took away the tools I had to actually discover and associate. The problem is that its
…the reason I’m bringing this up is that I’ve found iOS to be slightly more bearable by actively seeking alternatives in my direct control to whatever Apple is trying very hard to get to guess when I wanted to so that I don’t have to push the button???
That’s the lesson: whenever you can, find that fucking button. My general role seems to be finding and reclaiming as many of those metaphorical buttons as possible, which is, yes, an inherently ridiculous and frustrating undertaking.
The automated focus is the perfect example of this shit’s inherently impossible/,mostly unwanted, and ridiculously resource-gluttonous situation.