Monday, December 21st, 2015 http://adamkhan.net/parries/
keep my phones longer than do most techies due to a fusing of misguided loyalty, worrying finances and perhaps some reverse snobbery. Nevertheless after 3½ years I finally upgraded my iPhone 4S (16gb) to the new iPhone 6S (64gb). I’m loving it.
Until recently the 4S had served me capably; I loved its almost retro puckishness and, with both front and back being black glass, its tuxedo-like elegance. But after updating to iOS 9 the phone was taking more than 10 seconds to do many things; and the battery, even after a replacement, was draining quickly. It was simply frazzling my nerves; I had to have a new phone or no phone at all.
[Update 2015 Dec 31: A $5 million class action lawsuit has been filed against Apple for falsely advertising that upgrading to iOS 9 will improve performance.]
At the Apple Store, tumbling the 6S in my hand felt rather nice, despite it being thinner and bigger than what my muscle memory desired. When doing the same hand tumble with the 6S Plus I dropped it on the display table. This alone disqualified the giant model; an important app for me is phone as worry bead.
Now after a few weeks of using the 6S I can say I like it more than the 4S. I prefer the materials. I did love how frictionless the 4S was, that it would slip in and out of pockets so easily. Well, the 6S is even smoother. And the aluminium back is even smoother than the glass front—in fact it’s the smoothest thing I can remember ever touching. And maybe I’m imagining it, but the 3D Touch pressure-sensitive screen makes the glass front feel ever so slightly giving, like robot baby skin. And the 6S seems much more durable; the glass back of my 4S is a galaxy of tiny scratches whereas after a few weeks of using the 6S there’s not a blemish to be seen [Update: after a couple of drops the glass front now has some scratches visible at certain angles. Further update 2016 July 9: The power button stopped clicking, I took the phone to Apple, they replaced it, and the new one, which I’ve now had much longer than the first one, has no discernible scratches at all, though there are a couple of dents on the corners from drops].
Back when switching to the iPhone 4S from the Nokia N95 I liked that the only icons Apple put on the physical buttons were the universally understood “+” and “-” in contrast to Nokia’s numerous, obscure and multi-colored ones. Now on the 6S even the “+” and “-” are gone — there are no markings at all on any of the phone’s five buttons. It’s also nice that this minimalism carries through to having less compliance jargon written on the back.
The increased size, something I was so hesitant about, feels fine to me now. Indeed, because it’s thinner it feels less obtrusive in my pocket. I’m thankful for the extra screen space on all apps—except one: Springboard, the home screen. It definitely feels designed for a smaller screen because it’s an effort to reach the higher icon rows when using the phone one-handed; the current workaround, Reachability, just reinforces the mismatch. On the 4S I kept the bottom row of icons empty in a quest for elegance, but on the 6S the lower part of the screen has become such valuable real estate due to the relative inaccessibility of the higher part that I filled up my home screen entirely, so that it’s kind of a crowded mess. I also avoid any overflow onto the next home screen because the items live way up top. Now that I’m better adapted to the phone’s size I could try reinstating my empty bottom row, but only so much utility can be sacrificed at the alter of aesthetics before we lose confidence in the underlying design. At any rate, It would be nice to have a setting to let home screen items be either top- or bottom-aligned. [Update 2016 Jan 10: “How We Hold Our Gadgets” by Josh Clark in A List Apart]
My other peeve with the 6S, where again the aesthetic wrongly trumps the ergonomic, is the location of the Power button directly across from the Volume Up button, so that pressing one often causes an accidental press of the other; when taking a picture you may just also switch off your phone. It might be an improvement to move the power button to the vertical center of the chassis and the inline SIM tray further to the top or bottom.
Kvetching aside, the iPhone 6S is a small world wonder. The Touch ID fingerprint reader alone makes it feel increasingly like an extension of my body; using it for Apple Pay is cool. Photos are subtly richer. The built-in speaker is better, so that it’s actually okay for listening to speech. “Hey, Siri” is always on. The cutely-named Taptic Engine is insistent yet crisp and polite. Everything loads quickly, which is such a joy after the 4S. And ooh those rounded edges.
At around the same time that I lost the will to live with my iPhone 4S, two other key tools also died. My original Jambox bluetooth speaker, now no longer supported by Jawbone, bricked up when I tried to update its firmware using a method I found on the internet and stupidly went ahead with before reading the warnings. And the motherboard on my Late 2008 MacBook Pro burned out in the middle of a job. After a bit of online research I replaced the JamBox with a UE Boom 2—a reminder that an iPhone 4S doesn’t lead ineluctably to a 6S. And I replaced the MacBook with a Mac Mini, holding off the purchase of a new laptop until I could decide which suited me best. I’ve since decided, but still haven’t bought it, and in the meantime am using the iPhone 6S with the Apple Wireless Keyboard as my out-&-about machine.
In fact that’s what I’m using right now to write this, sitting at the Presuming Ed Coffee House, in the Notes app [and also to edit it, in bed, keyboard-less]. To be sure, there are many things in my workflow I can’t do on the 6S, but for writing it feels almost indistinguishable from a laptop. Sure, there are other more portable keyboards out there, but this is the keyboard I use at my desk, and I think there’s value in maximizing continuity. So for me the 6S is proving an exciting next step in portable computing. (I intend to try Edovia’s Screen 3 to see if I can really use the 6S as a serviceable remote version of my Mac. [Update 2016 Apr 4: Sadly no, even this best-in class just feels too remote, is just too slow and awkward for more than a few emergency minutes.] Update: As someone dedicated to making iOS his work system, Federico Viticci’s My Must-Have iOS Apps, 2015 Edition has proven very useful here.)
One of Warren Buffett’s homilies is how enjoying a can of Coke is such a great democratic leveller of rich and poor in that everyone can afford one and it’s the same experience for all. Although an iPhone 6S remains a relatively expensive item, it’s within reach of anyone in the Western world with even a modest income, and also to increasing numbers of people in the developing world. Yet it exemplifies the absolute bleeding edge of human ingenuity; a billion dollars couldn’t get you a better phone. Indeed the only thing that might is patience until Apple produces its even further improved successor, and although we’ve come to expect it, that is never a sure thing.