Updated at 4:13 pm ET on September 12, 2022
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I shook my first iPhone like an egg after I bought it. The year was 2011; it’s winter. The ground was cold, but I was afraid to carry it on the train. It was an absolute luxury, by far the best and, I felt, the rarest thing I owned—more Fabergé than a farmyard.
The standard model is the iPhone 4, which looks like an ice-cream sandwich from the side and feels solid. It’s not just that I’m worried about slipping and dropping: it’s dark, I’m in a bad part of New York, and I look like I’m scared in Death Cab for the Cutie show – will someone hit me in the face with cut it? The iPhone was unknown at the time; BlackBerry – the choice of traditional owners – is still more popular, but both are more popular than Android. My Nokia woke them all up. Most Americans don’t have a cell phone, and many don’t have a cell phone at all.
In a market generally characterized by hunks of plastic, Apple has made progress through a sleek design that is actually less functional than most of the competition. Many reviewers have rightly pointed out that the touchscreen is worse for typing than a physical keyboard, and have complained about the iPhone’s weaknesses. In those early years, buying one was a fashionable choice, not a practical one. It was cold.
How things have changed. As of this summer, for the first time ever, more Americans now use an iPhone than any other cell phone. Children hold them while sitting in strollers. Parents hold them while pushing the vehicle. For a time during the pandemic, the Kardashians were harassed every week to film their show without endangering the crew. There is no mystery, no lack, and not much in terms of novelty. An iPhone is like a briefcase with a few cameras: a useful primitive.
That doesn’t mean people won’t buy new ones, of course. On the contrary. This week, Apple announced its new iPhone models: iPhone 14, iPhone 14 Plus, iPhone 14 Pro, and iPhone 14 Pro Max. They are similar to last year, the year before, the year before that, and the year before that. By now, the culture is familiar; every year, Apple ships two hundred million phones to be purchased by probably millions of people who sign up for the company’s annual upgrade program, and many more who don’t. These phones are expensive—$800 and up—and not everyone can afford them. But Apple got around that problem with the upgrade program, which converts the upfront cost into monthly loan payments.
That’s a big part of the problem in a nutshell: A system built around annual upgrades means that many, many people buy an iPhone and then literally live in debt to Apple, which is more than its competitors. to lock people in the “wall. the garden”—or, as writer Cory Doctorow calls it, “the food lake.” What used to be a bold consumer choice now seems like a dip in the hill.
I wouldn’t predict any of this on that cold ride home, and not just because I can’t imagine being in a position to upgrade from a nice new device. A few months before my big purchase, in 2010, Gizmodo he paid $5,000 to buy a lost iPhone 4 model—which I would eventually gingerly hold—and I published all his secrets before Apple announced them. This iPhone felt new and exciting, even after Apple made it all official: the first with a selfie camera! FaceTime! Retina display! And… the gyroscope? Great. Apple eventually called it the iPhone that changed everything, and it was right. The sales matched the delivery and people went ballistic, lined up by the thousands, and the big digital stores struggled to keep up.
The iPhone 14, at the moment, with a lot of improvements and improvements in reality, is the iPhone that will not change anything. That’s not a knock on Apple, exactly. It’s a tribute to a company that, where iPhone quality is concerned, the scale slides from “good” to “very good.” But the prediction of the iPhone is a sign of the changing culture surrounding the device – and the changes in behavior brought about by Apple itself. Where the iPhone once symbolized verve, it now evokes the inevitable crush. The company will produce, people will consume, and waste will accumulate (and more and more). Don’t let the brand fool you: With the launch of new devices, Apple has now created 38 iPhone models since 2007, once all Pluses, Maxes, Minis, and SEs are counted.
We are in phones, and the negative feeling that many people have about technology is from their face. Many Americans have been forced to rely on their cell phones for reliable internet options during the disaster. Statistics show that most of us see big problems in the activities that are the way to go: social media toxicity, misunderstanding, data collection, abuse. Your iPhone’s pixels light up the Instagram post that gives you FOMO, the YouTube video that makes your uncle doubt vaccinations, the NFTs that sell for millions, and the tweet that orders you to log in forever. Bo Burnham was right when he described the internet as “a little bit of everything all the time” – digital life has become a little bit like shrinking. It makes sense that the iPhone would follow suit; Everything is designed to fit its screen.
It makes sense. Having so much value from Earth with new gizmos created every year – did you know that mankind produces more than 59 million tons of electronic waste every year? – Big Tech looks to the stars for its new ideas. Maybe I have nowhere to go. In the meantime, we’re all down here moving the debris. Take yourself from time to time and say hello to your neighbor: They probably have an iPhone.
This article initially undermined the popularity of the iPhone in relation to Android smartphones.