How Losing My iPhone Sent Me Back in Time

This article first appeared in Alpha Efficiency Magazine: Issue 12: Milestones

It’s official: I’m a time traveler.

Ok, maybe not in the Michael J. Fox, kiss-your-mom kind of way, but having broken my (already aging) iPhone 5 over Christmas, I’ve regressed to the year 2012 – the last time my old iPhone 4 saw the light of day.

I can still remember how I felt when I traded my 3GS in for the iPhone 4 in 2010 – the alien, yet alluring boxiness of this strange, rectangular beast; the rounded corners, the metallic band (with its own “signal death grip” scandal) and the eye-watering clarity of the new display.

So I wasn’t unduly daunted by the prospect of winding the clock back two years – even though I’d have to do a little spring cleaning to squeeze the current contents of my 64GB iPhone onto its smaller 32GB predecessor.

24 hours in, and I have to confess: I’m a little shell-shocked.

 

No Restore from Backup

The first pain point was a little unexpected: because the iPhone 4 doesn’t support iOS 8, I can’t restore my iPhone 5 backup to it. This has been a major pain in the backside. iCloud (and indeed iTunes) restores have become painless to the point where I’ve come to take for granted that I’ll be up and running pretty much on a new phone the same as before in less than 15 minutes. This time, I’ve had to take a much more labor-intensive approach, which has resulted in me setting up much less of my old stuff.

Weight and Performance

When I upgraded to my iPhone 4 it seemed to fly through tasks with ease, and it was a joy to hold. Taking the backward step makes me feel like I’m holding a brick, and menu items seem to take an age to load. Of course an element of this will be due to the fact that the iPhone 4 struggles to meet the demands of iOS 7 and the apps optimised for later version of the operating system, but there’s no getting away from the fact that I’m much less tolerant of delays in load times than I used to be.

No Siri

I’d forgotten that Siri was only introduced for the 4S. I tried to send a text using Siri and was greeted with this strange, unfamiliar thing called “Voice Control” that seems to want to ring random contacts on my phone whenever I try to give it a command. I’ve never been a big fan of Siri and would have described my use of it as light, but I have to say I’ve had several occasions already when I’ve noticed its absence, particularly for performing near-hands-free tasks when in the car.

was greeted with this strange, unfamiliar thing called “Voice Control” that seems to want to ring random contacts on my phone whenever I try to give it a command.

Size

I’ve given much thought to the larger iPhone 6 models lately, and it’s been a real concern to me that I won’t enjoy the larger form factor of the 6 (I’ve never considered the 6 Plus). I didn’t have those concerns when upgrading to the 5 (I still think 4″ is a perfect size), but boy do I notice the difference when I go back to 3.5″. Home screens feel cramped, Safari is difficult to read and manipulate and app-switching previews seem tiny. Perhaps some of this is because iOS 7 is designed primarily for a larger screen; maybe iOS 4 was more sympathetic to the more cramped dimensions of the iPhone 4, but whatever the reason, I feel short-changed in the display department.

Lack of LTE / 4G

I have to say the one thing I haven’t really noticed is the disappearance of 4G. This may be because my hometown doesn’t have great 4G coverage, so I’m more accustomed to 3G performance. If I lived in London and had spent the last 2 years or so operating at 4G all the time, it seems like that I’d also be shocked and appalled at how slowly all my data demands were being fulfilled (I haven’t even attempted to stream a movie on Netflix…the thought makes me shudder).

Battery Life

The one upside to all this is that the battery is lasting noticeably longer – I’ve finished the day with 62% charge – unheard of on my iPhone 5, which often needs a midday boost to last the whole day. Some of this can no doubt be explained by the fact I’m using it a lot less, as I haven’t been bothered to reinstall the apps I use frequently (I’m talking about you, Riposte) and I can’t use power-hungry services like Siri. But still, it’s a nice blast from the past to remember what it was like to not have to plug my phone in if I wanted it to be operational at bedtime.

Raised expectations in a fast-moving world

Why does any of this matter? Other than a long rant about my own inconvenience, what struck me throughout this experience is how much my own expectations have changed in a relatively short period of time. I’ve only been using the iPhone 5 for two years, yet I’ve become accustomed to it to the point where the iPhone 4 user experience – something I once reveled in – has become an unenjoyable chore. What’s more, this process has been entirely invisible to me. At what point did a half-second delay in load time become unendurable for me? When did Siri become an integral part of my daily routine?

These expectations and minimum standards have formed unconsciously in my brain through repeated exposure to a particular user experience. In the same way that I can no longer stomach the bargain basement bottles of wine since I got a taste of the good stuff, it would seem that exposure to great UX has “spoiled” me in terms of ever enjoying a lesser version.

Yet against all this, I consider our general fascination with all things “retro.” I’d quite happily play a game of space invaders, and I’d drive a classic car every now and again if I could afford one. So what is it that makes one particular experience a “classic”, despite its technical inferiority? What experiences remain enjoyable to revisit and which ones should never be recreated?

I’m not sure I know the answer, though perhaps it has something to do with the function of the item in question. Those things we enjoy at our leisure (chairs, games, cars) perhaps age better than those with a specific purpose (cameras, phones, TVs).

Whatever the reason, my own experience has been a rather sobering wake-up call about how my own behaviors, perceptions, and expectations have changed in a mere two years without any real conscious awareness on my part. With Bojan now encouraging me to bite the bullet and upgrade to the iPhone 6, I wonder:

How will I fare on my beloved iPhone 5 if I repeat this exercise in 2016?