Mobile // Mobile Devices
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11/21/2012
10:52 AM
Larry Seltzer
Larry Seltzer
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iPhone And iPad: My Top 5 Complaints

I've never liked my iPhone. Apple's restrictions on interface customization, storage expansion, hardware interfaces and the battery make the experience disappointing. Chalk most of these problems up to Apple's arrogant design philosophy and its desire to make as much money as possible.

People usually look surprised when I tell them that I dislike my iPhone. It's a 4S and I got it pretty much the day they were first available. It was my first personal iOS device.

I'm a long-time professional tech critic, so I'm generally inclined to look for problems. And while I know my iPhone does many things well and a lot of other things adequately, I've never been happy with it. What are my biggest beefs? I focused more on the iPhone than iPad while writing this, although four of the five points apply equally to the iPad. I have an iPad, but I don't rely on it in the way I rely on my iPhone.

1. User interface can't be customized.

The user's freedom to reconfigure the iPhone screen is extremely limited. You can make pages and move apps around on them. You can change the wallpaper. You can make pathetically simplistic folders. Android puts iOS to shame in this regard.

The same culture of limitation applies to developers. iOS has no widgets, which are dynamic home screen elements, like an email icon that tells you how many unread items you have. There's really nothing dynamic; compare this to Windows Phone with its "live tiles" that convey a great deal of information without even having to touch the screen. And in Android if you don't like the standard keyboard layout, you can get replacement soft keyboards. These are verboten in iOS.

2. No storage expansion.

This is one of two complaints of mine (the other is #4 below) that boil down to Apple greediness. You are limited to the amount of storage on iOS phones and tablets. Not every Android device has a microSD slot, but lots do, which means buyers have the option.

As BYTE's George Ou recently explained, microSD is slower than internal storage, but it's better to have it than not to have it. For very little money you can store -- for example -- a large movie library to watch on a long flight, and the performance of microSD is perfectly adequate for this. If you want to add storage to your iPhone or iPad, you have to buy a new, more expensive iPhone or iPad.

3. No back button.

This is the biggest one for me and the one that makes me mad every single day. Apple's "elegant" industrial design, limiting the physical interface to one big button, might look pretty to a certain mind set, but it gets in the way of ease of use all the time.

If any functionality is necessary in an application, like moving back a screen, the developer must surface the functionality in the app via a soft button. Of course, they don't always do that, with the result that you often have to take circuitous routes through an app's UI in order to get to where you want to go.

Android and Windows Phone (and Blackberry, for that matter) include a back button because, as even the earliest Web browser developers 20 years ago knew, moving back a step is often very useful. You want to make it easy and obvious.

4. Too many proprietary interfaces.

Every other smartphone or tablet in the world uses microUSB now for data interchange and charging. Other USB standards are emerging for greater bandwidth and power interfaces. Apple is too big and important to bother with these, and would rather all accessories go through its licensing control.

Neither the 30-pin nor Lightning connectors do anything positive for the user -- except maybe Lightning's reversibility. They exist purely to give Apple more control and make it more money.

And it doesn't stop at hardware. Apple can be proprietary and unreasonable in software as well. There's no better example than FaceTime, a purely Apple solution that works with nothing else. When they announced FaceTime at the WWDC a few years ago, Steve Jobs had the nerve to brag about all the standards it uses and to promise that they would work with standards bodies to make FaceTime an open standard. Apple never followed through on this.

5. The battery.

My sister still has a BlackBerry and one of the major reasons is that the battery life is superior. When she tried the iPhone she couldn't make it to the end of the day on a single charge. A lot of people make this complaint. With most other devices you can keep an extra charged battery around, but not with Apple. They pioneered the sealed case, meaning you have to take it into the store so a "genius" can change the battery for you.

The need for boosting battery power was so obvious that a small industry developed for iPhone cases with batteries in them. In fact, the only reason I get more than a few hours of use out of my fully-charged 13-month-old iPhone 4S is that I'm using a BoostCase Plus, which has more capacity in it than the iPhone itself.

It's worth noting that the iPad doesn't seem to have this problem. Even though the iPad 3 took a step back in battery life, it's still very good. Perhaps it's the phone parts that make the difference.

Lesser complaints

Some would argue that Apple's totalitarian control over the app ecosystem is a weakness, or at least a downside. There's an argument for this, but the benefits of it are substantial. To the extent that Google, for example, has exerted less control over Android apps, it has let malicious actors into the process, and Android users must be more on alert for such things than iOS users.


Read about Fake Apple Apps In Google Android Play Store.

Expect Microsoft to be more controlling over its store than Google, but full Windows 8 systems -- as opposed to Windows RT -- can install legacy Windows software, so there are clear limits on how much control Microsoft can exert there.

I'm also going to pass on the obvious problems with Apple Maps. Yes, they botched it badly, at least for now, but there are third-party options that work well, and maybe Google will release a good app eventually. Maybe Apple will fix the problems, too.

But it won't matter to me. The next phone I get won't be an Apple phone. I've had enough.

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