The myth that iOS is easier to use

Apple hardware used to be great. I had three Mac laptops (and still use my 2008 Macbook all these years later although I run Linux on it now) and we still have a bunch of iPods around the house. I have to support countless iPhones at work (though being a BYOD company, I had nothing to do with buying them). The hardware quality has definitely gone downhill over the years – one particularly egregious example was chargers (2011-2012) with wires separating leaving exposed bare wires and there was no way to use any other kind of charger you have to buy a new $80 Apple charger and they only have the one that breaks. I could go on about bending iPhones, and now in iPhone 8 batterys apparently exploding.

But this rant is about iOS. There is a myth (much repeated) that iOS is “easier” which sets me off every time I hear someone repeat it. What they mean is –

iOS is more like the iOS that I’m used to than something which isn’t iOS

Its not “easier” by any real measure. What is a real measure? Here’s one: Try to use the operating system to get various tasks done and measure how long it takes to get them done, if you can get them done at all.

A person making the “iOS is easier” claim, faced with this argument will dismiss my concerns suggesting that I am a “techie” and want to do things normal people do not need to do. This argument falls apart pretty quickly. Its true I want to be able to use the device to do more things than an average user but I also want to be able to do some basic computing on this massively powerful hand held computer and iOS makes even the simplest tasks difficult or impossible.

My own experience with this started years ago with a simple request from my boss to put a custom ringtone on his iPhone. I still have to do this for him every time he gets a new iPhone and I suspect there will come a time when we will no longer be able to even get that job done at all. What’s the hardship? All we’re really wanting to do is move a file from somewhere (maybe your desktop computer) to the phone, then set that file to play instead of whatever file is playing by default for an event. Instead of recounting the BS involved in getting this simple task done in iOS, read this if you’re interested in someone else’s experience (which mirrored my own).

But there are lots of tasks which are either super difficult or impossible to get done in iOS. As I mentioned above, many iOS users shrug and ignore me about this until they want to do that task themselves. Then they come and ask me how to do such and such and we waste a bunch of time only to discover that Apple has purposely made doing whatever it is impossible for a reason. Usually that reason is to keep their users inside their “walled garden”. This is the number one reason I left Apple and will no longer buy their products. Accepting these limitations of the iPhone and still being able to argue that iOS is easier to use is difficult for me to understand.

Beyond the most basic computer use, iOS controls and restricts what files you can transfer to and from the device. Does that make it easier to use? If you want to transfer files to and from the device as you might expect to be able to do on any computing device and you find you cannot do so its certainly not “easier”. Try to copy a video clip from your desktop to your iOS device. Try to copy a music file from your desktop to iOS (the ringtone example above is basically just another expression of this problem). This one is particularly galling to me as I record my own music which I want to have available on my handheld device. You can’t argue that its easier to move files around on your iOS device because you can’t do it. My idea of easier is to plug the device into your desktop, have a folder open for a location on your phone, drag some files on your desktop over to it and have those files copied to your phone.

When plugged in to your desktop, your smartphone is basically a big USB flash drive. It should be simple to just plug the phone into a desktop, copy files to some folder (even a segregated area inaccessible to the OS would be OK) and then plug the phone into another desktop to retrieve the files. Naturally, I’d like to be able to access those files from the device as I described in the previous paragraph, but even just transferring files to and from so you don’t have to carry a separate USB flash drive would be useful (and easier). Not possible on iOS out of the box, and not reliable or simple with third party apps. You basically have to “jail break” your phone to do it. Not something typical iOS users are going to do.

Settings on iOS are all in one place. Sounds easy. Except that seems to be the number one problem folks have – they expect that when they are in an application (lets say, Mail) that they will be able to get to the Mail Settings somehow easily from where they are (in the Mail program). They can’t. You have to close that program, open up Settings, then navigate through a bunch of menus to get to the Mail settings. Contextual menus would be easier (think of it as a shortcut to those settings from the app you want to change).

Dig around to find the wifi connection on iOS a couple times to realize that in almost every other OS its easier to find and change.

Don’t get me started on iTunes (how is this still a thing that is at all necessary and required for a device) or iCloud (huge number of users who don’t understand this, how to get into it or change how its working and there are real privacy questions that users should understand here).

The main issue here seems not to be “ease of use” but rather familiarity and consistency in the OS. iOS users like that the OS hasn’t changed very much over time and that their new iPhone/iPad works pretty much like their last one. They know where everything is and that familiarity equals ease of use (for them). This is a valid argument especially if you compare iOS to android where the UI on two new android phones can appear to be vastly different. iOS users should buckle up though. iOS 11 appears to be a whole new interface and will take some getting used to. None of the things I don’t like about iOS (and Apple generally) are addressed by this update, but big UI changes might finally shatter the illusion of ease of use for some iOS users.

One Reply to “The myth that iOS is easier to use”

  1. One reason for Apple users to have iTunes around still was made evident today when I ironically had to save someone’s iPhone from themself. This user never used a passcode, but after an update the iPhone was demanding one. Was it set initially and then turned off? Either way, it was off before the update, and after the update the iPhone was suddenly requiring it. The user had no memory of ever setting one, we tried the default (which happens to be 123456) and every other code he could think of until we got locked out and each attempt was postponing the process another 15 minutes at a time. As a result, the iPhone was essentially an encrypted brick. He could still answer calls on it and see some notifications on the screen but couldn’t unlock the phone. We ended up restoring the phone (to Nov, 2016!) with a backup that was stored on his iTunes. Should a user really need to have a dedicated behemoth application on another computer just to perform a backup? I don’t think so, but at least in this case I was happy we had it.

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