Monday, 12 September 2016

The Courage to Buy a Smartphone

Another year, another iPhone model is released, and once again I'm contemplating what smartphone (if any) I should buy.
For the past four years I have been happily using an iPhone 5. It is archaic, it is tiny by today's standards, and in many ways it is a brick; it literally takes a couple of minutes for me to be able to initiate a phone call. Luckily for me, I hardly ever make phone calls. Even better, I do the bulk of my heavy lifting with a powerful iPad, which relegates the phone mostly to texting duties (in my case, Signal and Twitter), music playing, and navigational duties.
There are definite benefits to my particular smartphone/tablet use cases. Take gaming, for example: unless there is a good reason to do so, such as multiplayer games, I do all of my gaming offline. This way I can enjoy the game without giving the games the opportunity to send private information of mine back to the third party trackers, Facebook and the lot. In other words, I can play privately, the way playing should be, without the risk of missing calls on my phone.
I will add that, in similar vein, I do try to minimise my use of apps while online to a few core apps. Most apps (think TripAdvisor) send tons of information to third parties, whereas the exact same functionality can be derived through using a well protected browser instead without the privacy surcharge.
Still, even I can acknowledge that I am being limited by my phone. The time has come for a new one. The question is, which?
Normally, the answer would be "the latest iPhone". But the iPhone 7 makes it really hard for me to spend $1500+ on. As weird as it may sound, that is entirely the fault of Apple and it's silly product launch.

Sure, the iPhone 7 is a good phone. It has a powerful processing unit, probably the most powerful around. It's got a nice camera, too. What it doesn't have, though, is a good reason for people to pick it over any other phone.
In contrast, and in what seems to be the daftest marketing move in the world, Apple has told us that it courageously removed the phone's headphone jack. Did it give us a good alternative? No; it can stick those EarPods it's planning on selling us up its nostrils. If these are anything like the existing EarPods, they sound like shit. I have my headphones, I have many, and I have made my choices; through a complete lack of coincidence, they are all wired models (with the exception of one $10 pair I use for late night gaming).
Essentially, what Apple is doing is telling me to f- off. So I will. And I will mock them in the process.
I will add there are already multiple conspiracy theories doing the rounds with regards to Apple's removal of the headphone jack. One that I consider more than a mere conspiracy is Apple trying to outbid payment dongles such the ones coming from the likes of PayPal. These often utilise the headphones jack. All is fair and love and trying to promote Apple Pay, I guess.

Given Apple has been making numerous strategic moves to secure Apple Pay's future, and given Apple knows the fragility of its current position where its income is too exclusively dependent on iPhone sales, it seems more than likely Apple sees its future in the financial services arena. Think General Electric.
Regardless of this particular conspiracy theory, I think it is safe to say the main reason behind Apple removing the headphones jack is its usual control freak, walled garden, nature. Maybe they already gave up on beating Android?
Whichever way you look at it, It is very hard for one to justify spending $1500+ on a product one mocks. Courageously mocks, to be accurate.

So which phone should I get, then?
If you are a security conscious person, and I argue you should be, your choices are limited to either iPhones or Google Nexus devices. The reason is simple: only these models receive regular security updates. And there is always a new vulnerability being found (Apple had a serious one a couple of weeks ago, Android a couple just a couple of days ago). The catch is that once a vulnerability is published then every dumb hacker wishing to make a name for themselves can now utilise it. Whereas, prior to exposure, the hack was limited to probably the NSA and a few others (in the case of the Apple vulnerability, it is known to have been sold off by an Israeli company to a Middle Eastern dictatorship where it has been used against dissenters and journalists).
At this point I will praise Apple (and praise it again, quite warmly) for its efforts in keeping phone up to date ad secure. Take my iPhone 5 as an example: this phone is in its fifth year of operation now, and it is still running the latest iOS version and receives all the security updates.
Moving from security, if you are a privacy conscious person, and I argue you should be, you would steer away from anything Google on account of the mind numbing amount of information that Google collects and passes on about its Android users. In case you haven't noticed, Google is an advertising company; and what makes this multi-billion behemoth tick and ground the [advertising] competition to dust is the amount of stuff it knows about you. Bottom line, every service and every product Google delivers has collecting your data as its ultimate purpose.
So, what phone, then?
I can give up, buy a cheap but flashy Android like the Xiaomi Mi Note 3, not do anything critical on it so as not to care that much about security, and do my best to brick Google out of the way. But that would be putting my head in the sand; the first thing I will do on my phone is emails, and email account security is critical. Similarly, one cannot use a Google phone without Google.
An iPhone 7? Maybe, but not because I want it; only because it does seem like the only sane choice (together with, it has to be noted, the much smaller iPhone SE).

Which means that, at the bottom line, I will be doing my best to squeeze another year off my iPhone 5. I really hope it doesn't fully brick itself later this week when I upgrade it to iOS 10. Plus, it's got that revolutionary headphones jack!
I also hope next year's iPhone will do better than the 7. Headphones or not, Apple can still get me to throw money enthusiastically down its greedy claws with a design that actually gives me something I haven't had before. I know I'm asking for a lot, but - historically speaking - Apple used to be the company that delivers historical products. Maybe it still is.

I found the above image on Twitter. I have no idea who owns the right for it, but I am allowing myself to reproduce it here under fair use.


wile.e.coyote said...

Users can add a headphone socket to the iPhone 7, which only has a Lightning port, by drilling into the bottom of their phone revealing a 'hidden headphone jack'

Anonymous said...

And gullible people can earn a third ear by drilling a hole in their brain.
Some people actually fell for that rumour.