Virginia Heffernan: Why I hate my iphone

To read the hype, you'd think you couldn't live without one – the sleek Apple gadget has become a status symbol of the wireless age and its fans are legion. But Virginia Heffernan, technology blogger for The New York Times, isn't impressed
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The Independent Tech

The iPhone was charging. Refined, introverted, mysteriously chilled, my new tile of $200 technology lay supine on a side table, gulping power from the wall. Actually, the iPhone probably sips, like a lipsticky girl with a vodka drink. It usually does things in a cute way. Whatever. At four in the morning, I was in bed, fighting rage. I couldn't stop thinking about that device's tarty little face and those yapping 'apps' you can download for it. The whole iPhone enterprise seemed to require so much attention, organisation, explanation, praise, electricity. I know - I know: in the morning, Apple's latest miracle machine would fill my palm with meaning and magic. So why couldn't I contain my annoyance? I had no new-thing excitement. It dawned on me: I hated my iPhone.

I was late to get one - and maybe that's the problem. Maybe my hopes for the iPhone curdled in the time it took for my perfectly good T-Mobile plan to expire so I could switch to balky AT&T and purchase one. But I had bided my time. And, really, my enthusiasm survived right up to the moment at the AT&T counter, post-sale, when a saleswoman transferred my address book from my battered BlackBerry to the sweetie-pie iPhone.

"Can you set up my e-mail too?" I asked. She handed me the phone and told me what to type. Pressing her good nature, I asked if she'd do that part too, since I wasn't yet handy with the iPhone's character-entry system - the D screen-based simulation of the qwerty keyboard.

She gave me a hard look. Truly, as if she was supposed to be on the lookout for people like me. "It's your phone," she replied briskly. "It's time you started typing on it."

It's time. She was like a nurse for newborns, urging me - a new mother - to step up and change a nappy or something. And I felt just like a sullen new mother, not ready for her role. "Can you just do it this one time?" I said weakly. She poked in the necessary codes. She didn't trust me, but she let me take the iPhone home anyway.

I didn't trust myself, either. There were warning signs. I didn't rush to explore the phone or load it up with apps. I didn't fantasise about its features, as I did with the feedable Baby Alive doll when I was six or with my first Macintosh, when I was 19. Instead, the iPhone stayed in my bag. A hard weight with glossy surfaces, it kept aloof from the animal warmth of my leather wallet. I didn't even face the iPhone again until it rang, or chimed - or produced some audio confection that seemed cloyingly churchy.

You can see I wasn't thinking clearly. To answer the phone, I had to touch the screen. Years of not touching screens - so as not to smudge or scar - made me wary. But I brushed the "answer call" and up came fragments of my mother's cheerful voice. AT&T no doubt works like a charm in other areas, but as I'd been warned, it wasn't so hot on holding calls where I live. I let it drop her. I hunted for a keypad to call back, but it was gone.

The morning after my sleepless night of charging the phone, a text message arrived from a colleague, about breakfast. It came up in a little dialogue bubble, as if we were characters in a comic book.

Now I had to reply. My throat tightened. "Running late," I decided on. "See you in 15 min."

What came out was this: "Runninlate. See you in 15 Mon."

Why? Why, because of course that's what I typed! What did I know of this wacko kind of typing? I spent my adolescence touch-typing, convinced my life would be passed secretarially, my left pinkie building novelty muscle manning the A. Then the technology changed, and I improvised an inelegant three-finger style for computer keyboards.

Then years ago, when I bought a BlackBerry, I adapted again. My two hands met as if in prayer, as the thick thumbs took centre stage. I liked it. Thinking with my thumbs made sense in a way that thinking with nails and feebler fingers never would or did. And the transformation of thumb-twiddling into typing! Nervous motion was turned productive, as it is in knitting or whittling. Ingenious.

Oh, God. I really was losing it. As I composed my running-late text, the iPhone's iciness deepened my revulsion. Did this device, which was built never to be cradled, ever warm up? I was also mortified by my illiteracy. My right index finger - the only digit precise enough to hit the close-set virtual iPhone keys - seemed an anaemic, cerebral thing, designed for making paltry points in debating club. I repeatedly stabbed to the right of my target letter. It was like being four again - or being 90. I couldn't see, it seemed; I couldn't point; I couldn't connect.

And so the iPhone made suggestions. Did I want to say Ride? Ripe? Ruin? No. I wanted to say Running. You know, the way a human might. But with its know-it-all suggestions, the iPhone seemed to want to be more human, more helpful, jollier than I was! The vaunted Apple user-friendliness was exposed, before my eyes, as bossiness and insincerity.

I refused to fight further with the smug phone. Off sailed my text - the work of a blithering idiot.

At breakfast, my colleague said she loved her iPhone. She insisted my typing would improve, but she clearly has more native index-finger skills than I do. I asked her if she thought the iPhone was "coy" or "cold," and she looked at me blankly. As I spoke I felt like a chippy freak - one of those people too intransigently cranky even to like Barack Obama, or recycling, or the internet. I thought of how clearly the iPhone suits the moment: Apple once again getting ahead of the game, offering something cuter and funner and more Appley than anyone else.

The failure to appreciate the iPhone was all mine. But I decided not to dwell on that. "I thought you might be back," the AT&T saleswoman said as I walked in the door. "So?" I said. "You were right." With some satisfaction, she took the iPhone, and I walked away with a new BlackBerry and money to spare.

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