Donald Duck Applecore

Note: Before I begin, I’d like to state for the record that I understand that no one has died, no one is on fire and no one is trapped in a car that is rapidly sinking into a lake. I am about to rant about a smartphone, which is the epitome of a “First World Problem.” There are many other problems in the world that are a bigger priority than this one. In fact, most of them are bigger. However, this is a pop culture site that considered The Last Airbender a war crime. So perspective is something we are well aware of yet choose to brush aside for entertainment purposes. You know that, I know that, and so…let’s begin.

It is well documented on this site and on podcasts that my previous phone was a Samsung Captivate running Android. I have a personal rule. Understanding that I would be, if left to my own devices (no pun intended), one of those people who buys every single new and shiny device that came out, my rule is that I can’t buy the next X until the current X dies. So I am very careful about what device I buy, knowing that I am stuck with it for a while.

Despite checking everything out and determining what I thought was an excellent phone, the experience was a nightmare. A day in which my phone only rebooted itself at random four times was a good day. There was no way to update the phone without it bricking itself. There was no way to plug the phone into my PC and access the device–“mounting” the phone, also known as That Thing The Phone Should Be Smart Enough to Do Itself, never worked. When I decided that I wanted to ditch my AT&T Android build in favor of another, I gave up after three hours trying on three different PCs to load the three drivers in succession that it would take to re-image the thing. What’s worse: it tended to reboot while I was on the phone. With customers. So it failed at the most basic thing it was supposed to be: a phone.

It was, in no uncertain terms, a time-sucking, sanity-destroying piece of shit.

And yes, I replaced the entire phone with a different Captivate at one point and it made no difference at all.

I know that it might not have been Android’s fault. It might not have been AT&T’s fault. I know it was Samsung’s fault because all the other Samsung devices in my life tend to fall apart. But to me, that’s the problem with Android. If you’re young and/or have time on your hands and/or are into tinkering with technology, it seems like a win-win. You can do pretty much anything you want with Android.

And that’s my problem with Android. I don’t want a smartphone that, because it can run on 15,461 pieces of different hardware, I have to wonder if it will run successfully on my hardware. I also don’t want to wonder if one of the apps I’m using, which hasn’t been tested on my hardware (and, who knows, maybe wasn’t even tested on the software properly) is what’s causing my issue. There are too many variables and at the end of the day, I’m not in the Phone Tech Support business. I need a smartphone that just bloody works.

Samsung Captivate, the Spawn of Satan

Yes, I still have it. No, I haven't donated it to any charity or anything. Why would I wish this Spawn of Satan on anyone else? If you need a cell phone from a charity, you're having a hard enough time without having to deal with this nonsense.

So I moved to the iPhone 5. Running iOS 6. And I know that people bitch every time Apple blinks. Based on what I’ve read online, Apple products are expected to continually use less power and resources plus get smaller while at the same being monogrammed and able to dry clean your socks. At fifty paces. If it only works at forty paces, then God help you, Apple.

I am not one of those people. One of my favorite bitching points is battery life. I actually understand that if I’m asking the same phone with the same battery to do more stuff, there’s a good chance it could need more power. Which might make the battery drain faster. So being a sensible human, I will either turn off some of the stuff…or charge my phone.

The only problem I had on my iPhone 5 running iOS 6 is that I would have to re-input my home WiFi password every so often because the phone would forget it. That’s it. I think there might have been one other small problem, but it’s so small that I’ve since forgotten it. This was a vast improvement over random reboots multiple times a day, so I wasn’t complaining.

But here’s the thing–and it’s what I’ve heard Apple advocates say for years. “It just works.” It was true. My phone Just Worked. I understood what buying into the Apple closed ecosystem meant. There were certain things I was not going to be able to do. But none of them were critical to what I needed the phone for. I need a phone. I need to check e-mail. I need to get on the web. Since the phone’s reliable now, let me go ahead and load music on it and play music with it. This…is brilliant.

Flash forward to the release of iOS 7.

Morgan Freeman: Box from Seven

Should've learned my lesson last time I accepted a package involving the number Seven.

I am not one of those people who loads an update Day One and then is surprised that there are bugs. The only time I will ever upgrade immediately is if I’m having a seriously critical issue or there’s some sort of weird virus or poltergeist or something that is going to pounce on me without the update.

After a certain amount of time, I decided to load iOS 7 on my iPad. I don’t use my iPad for production work, so if something’s a bit wonky with it, I can live with that. And that’s when the first issue happened.

The zooming animation. I know, maybe it didn’t bother you. But I’m one of those people who couldn’t look at the screen while it was transitioning without getting nauseous. I also can’t read in the car for more than about a minute before I feel ill, so maybe the two are related. But regardless, I was having to use the iPad by clicking something, then looking away, then looking back. And there was no way to turn the animation off.

Let me state that another way: even Microsoft, who cares about as much for the customer experience as Loki did for property values in New York, lets you turn off animation on Windows.

Apple, having been shamed by hundreds and hundreds of reports in the media on disgruntled people literally being made ill by their update, released 7.0.3 and, as I confirmed on the iPad, it let you turn all of those silly animation things off. And, seeing how the apps were starting to pile up that required iOS 7, I decided to update my phone.

Now. Here’s the thing: I know a lot of people were turned off by the redesign and the icons and whatnot. I actually don’t spend a lot of my time staring at the home screen, so I didn’t care about that. I also find these weird security holes amusing (“If I hold the phone upside down, then swipe down and press the camera button, then chant that bit from the book in Evil Dead, then spit over my left shoulder, I can access your contacts.” What?), but they’re things nobody is likely to do with my phone.

What I realized first is that the music app was barely usable. It now pauses up to eight seconds between actions, even if it’s just to hit pause. Sometimes I find myself having hit pause-play-pause because it was taking so long I didn’t know if I had successfully hit the pause button. It’s like the people behind iTunes for PC (which even Apple fiends have stated, yes, it’s crap) had been put in charge of the iOS 7 music experience.

But even beyond the bugs like the fact that telling Siri to “shuffle ALL music,” which worked fine in 6 now will only shuffle the playlist you’re in–beyond that, the setup of the app was not tested by anybody who actually actively listens to music. I use the rating system to identify music that either needs to be deleted or cleaned up, since I can do neither from my phone–had the same limitation on my iPod.

Now to just check the rating on a song, I have to hit the menu thing in the upper right, then hit Rating on the upper left. If I then want to skip to the next track, I have to hit Done–back in the upper right, then Forward, which is towards the lower right. In other words, my ability to work through my music while driving, which used to be a one-screen affair that I could do without my eyes leaving the road, is now something that is finger gymnastics. If I don’t need to rate the song, I can at least use Siri to skip to the next track. So that’s something.

Here’s the evidence that nobody tested this. On one side, is the song before I’ve hit Rating. On the other side, is the song after I’ve hit Rating and exposed where the stars go.

iOS 7 Music Rating iOS 7 Music Rating

That’s right: with the cover art blurred out behind it, unless you squint really hard and look for the line below the stars–or if you check to see if the word “Rating” is bold or normal–you can’t tell if the space for the star rating is even available or not. Which is amazing considering they basically force you to have cover art–without it, you get slanted text as a phone-generated placeholder that looks so ugly it would inspire Rox to dropkick a duckling.

Smart playlists were broken. Location-based reminders have stopped working. When I plug my phone into my car stereo, instead of picking up the song where I left off, it will–seemingly at random–decide to forget that song and move to the first song in my library and start playing it. (Which, when you unknowingly transition from a Richard Dawkins audiobook to “A-B Machines” by Sleigh Bells, that will really mess with your head.) Things I used to use Siri for that were handy, like “Start a timer for 30 minutes,” no longer work. On iOS 6, that would be no problem. On iOS 7, it decides to search the web for those terms.

Things are so bad that unless some serious fixes show up by iOS 7.1, I’m considering seeking out a jailbroken build so I can get back to the functionality I had on 6. What’s wrong with that, you might ask.

Here’s what’s wrong with that: that’s precisely what I switched to Apple to avoid. With iOS 7, Apple has failed at a fundamental level. Because that fundamental level was “It just works.” Even “It just works if you use this weird setting” or “It just works once you get this update” would be acceptable or understandable, but iOS 7 is rubbish in so many areas it is staggering.

How could someone not have pointed out in beta that when setting the time on the alarm, unless you put your finger just right on the numbers, you can’t spin them? Why would an app be that unforgiving with finger placement unless you had a button that launched missiles right next to it? Why would you create a control center that appears when you swipe upwards when so many apps (Gmail, anyone?) make you swipe upwards to move down? I finally turned Control Center off, because it kept appearing when I didn’t want it and not appearing when I did want it. It was the software equivalent of Endora in Bewitched.

It’s obvious that Apple tested iOS 7 in the same way that James Cameron tested the screenplay for Avatar. Both things will make the creators a lot of money, and both things might look pretty, but at the end of the day, underneath the hood they’re both a bit shit.

As a side note, hilariously, iOS 7 did fix my WiFi problem. So credit where credit is due, I guess.

And lastly, no, I won’t go back to Android. Why? Because the Phone portion of my iPhone still works. So at least they have that going for them.