Saying Goodbye to an Old Friend

I unlocked my iPhone 6 Plus for the last time.

My new smartphone, an iPhone Xs Max (say that again at ten times speed), was set up and ready for me to download apps and login to more accounts and download my cherished list of songs and curated playlists. Ready for me to arrange the apps how I liked them and turn off those notifications I have no patience for. I opened the settings app and found the option to erase and Reset–all in a matter of seconds. In the span of a micro-second, I hesitated before pressing the option to Reset and Erase All with my finger.

The screen went black. The loading circle animation appeared in the middle of the rectangle screen’s blackness until completing its erasing cycle. Then it glowed again asking me to begin the setup process as if it was a new phone. The audacity of that message, I thought to myself. I saddened a bit as I held down the on/off button until I was prompted to swipe to turn it off. I put it away in the bottom drawer of my nightstand. Good night, sweet prince, and may songs of angels carry thee away to heaven … or the Apple Store to see if they can recycle it. Meh.

A four-year relationship with a smartphone over. If only this were as easy in other scenarios.

Shallow and Material Pleasures

Why would anyone write about owning the same smartphone for four years? Because the world has changed in the last ten years, or so. Almost all people have a smartphone—be it the newest and greatest gadget or an older one trucking along—or one bought second hand.

The smartphone is now the pen and notepad your father or mother might have told you to always have on hand. A smartphone can do much more than a pen and a notebook. The notepad doesn’t run on battery and thus will never need to be recharged. But a pen can run out of ink, and a pencil will always need sharpening.

This story is about a relationship. A very intimate relationship. This smartphone is an extension of ourselves—for better or for worse. We are the test case–every single one of us. We still don’t know how this is going to turn out? We yet can’t say if smartphones are beneficial? An unnecessary distraction? Or the next leap in human evolution?

Year One

My first year with the iPhone 6 Plus was the year it was released. At the time it was impossible to find one anywhere. The demand had once again overwhelmed Apple. This scenario would repeat itself like clockwork each year until recently with the iPhone Xs breed. I told myself I would wait until January to decide if I would upgrade.

This was the first year Apple introduced a larger sized iPhone. I remember I used to make fun of a colleague of mine and his massive Samsung phone. All joking aside, I changed my tune once I saw and held the iPhone 6 Plus in the Apple store. After I returned home for the holidays visiting family, I was able to order a new phone online via AT&T’s website and walk into the store that very same day. They handed me my new iPhone, and I gave them my two-year-old phone.

This iPhone 6 Plus was such a marvel to my eyes that for the first time I would break the two-year cycle.

It took me a while to adjust to having a larger phone. When I travel, I always keep my phone in one of my front pants pockets. This proved uncomfortable when wearing shorts on a hot day. The giant phone seemed to steam against my thigh. On days like those, I made it a habit of putting my phone in my wife’s purse to release me of that burden.

Year Two

On year two would be the first year I damaged a smartphone I owned. At the time I bragged to any who would hear me how solidly built the iPhone 6 Plus was. I put it in a super thin cover which barely protected it.

I would soon eat my words when one day I angrily threw my own phone on the ground during an argument like an idiot. When I picked up my phone, it was bent.

The year this phone was released there was a few YouTubers who discovered they could bend their iPhone 6’s by purposely bending it. Then soon, others would come forward claiming their phones were bent after only storing them in their pants pockets. It was called Bentgate.

But mine wasn’t an accident. The bend in my phone was clearly my fault. Of course, when I made an appointment with the Apple Store, I did not share this story with them. I told them I dropped the phone by accident. They were able to fix it, somewhat, but because I didn’t buy their Apple Care program, I was shit out of luck. Unless I was willing to cough up $300 to replace the screen, etc.

I didn’t do that. I kept my phone. The screen was a little damaged, and the colors were uneven at parts where the bent occurred. But hardly noticeable to the untrained eye. And it would prove even less important since I would end up keeping this phone for another two years.

Year Three

I paid off the two-year payment plan I had with the phone. Afterward, I set about unlocking my iPhone so that I would no longer be wholly tied to one single cell phone service. Now I would be able to switch from AT&T to Verizon to T-Mobile to Sprint or whatever I wanted. The world was my oyster.

Year three would prove the first year my iPhone started to get buggy.

One day my fingerprint scanner stopped working. I tried several times to fix it via the software. After extensive internet research and browsing through support forums, I concluded the fingerprint scanner was broken. The only fix was the replace it. Even if I would replace it via a third-party, there was no guarantee it would work.

Things also began to slow down. The software during year three was buggy and didn’t seem optimized for my particular iPhone model. Granted, the bugs were minor in the long scheme of things compared to a three-year-old Android phone at the time.

Sometimes the phone would randomly restart. It had never done that before. Part of these issues also related to the very buggy iOS 11 release. From my battery draining faster than average. To apps hanging for several seconds before loading. Some apps proved unable to cope with the hardware of a three-year-old phone.

iPhone X

When the iPhone X was released, I found myself unmotivated to buy it. Face ID didn’t impress me. Before iPhone X was released, I remember reading Apple was experimenting with releasing an iPhone with a fingerprint scanner built underneath the screen. I salivated at that concept. I wanted to be a part of that dream. But that dream would prove a fantasy, at least the year the iPhone X was released.

iPhone X was also the first generation of a new version of the iPhone. I decided to wait another year before deciding if I would get a new iPhone. I was even considering if I wanted to switch from Apple to an Android phone.

Year Four

Batterygate was what the media called Apple’s throttling of older iPhones. Apple had coded older phones to throttle their performance to avoid having older iPhones restart randomly due to the nature of older batteries.

Whether that is true is hard to say. It might well be. Regardless I had had random restarts with my iPhone 6 Plus since the third-year of owning the phone. They slowed down a bit during year four. The middle of year three seemed to be when it was at its worse.

As a result of this negative press Apple offered to replace older phones batteries for $29. I signed up and waited four hours for the whole process to conclude. In the end, I didn’t witness that much of improvement before my battery was replaced.

I ran into other people who had iPhone 6’s like myself. Each of us was equally complaining about the similar issues with our iPhones. And each of us was refusing to upgrade. We were all holding on the belief that a smartphone could last as long as maybe a computer. Or maybe longer?

But a smartphone is not built for that kind of longevity. Especially when one considers its usage. We keep these tiny computers on 24/7. We use the more than we use our computers and are then surprised when they don’t last as long as some computers do.

Conclusion

My four-year journey with the iPhone 6 Plus taught me to reconsider the nature of a smartphone. If I wanted to continue using smartphones I would have to accept their truth: they are designed to last only so long. Even if they are not built-in with obsolescence, it should not be a shock to anyone most can’t last longer than four years. Granted, if I wanted, I could still use my iPhone 6 Plus today. Complain about how sluggish it was at the time or random apps crashing. But it would still work.

Nothing is stopping you or me from using a regular cellphone. A non-smartphone, if you will. But then I would lose the convenience of a device which is like another appendage of myself. Without it, I feel naked and incomplete.

The smartphone is the pen and notepad of the older generations. But it can do so much more than take notes. So much more.

As I look over at my new iPhone Xs Max (such a stupid name, Apple), I can only think of how much technology has improved in four years. It’s been a fantastic journey. Only more to come.

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