iPhone 5: the best phone you’ve never needed

I was raised in an Apple family, on a steady diet of 1990s Macintosh computers. I have loved Apple since long before they were cool. I don’t like to bash Apple.

That being said, I’m getting a little irritated with Apple.

A few days ago the iPhone 5 was released, and millions of people around the world immediately jumped for the chance to get one. They lined up at Apple stores to acquire this magical new handset, even though in some cases they didn’t even know why.

To be fair, the iPhone 5 is definitely an improvement upon the 4S, in basically every area. It’s faster, more powerful, lighter, and thinner. It has a bigger screen, better optics, and an ultra-modern physical design.

But even given all that, I am still amazed that so many people want to spend $200 to upgrade to it.

There are some people that may have managed to beat the crap out of their previous phones, so they’re in the upgrade market anyway. There are also people who find themselves eligible for a free upgrade through their carrier. So, you people have excuses. Good job.

But to everyone else who’s getting one: What the f#ck?? Why?!

On Apple’s fancy new iPhone 5 promo video, lead designer Jonathan Ive explains how the new device was evidently a divine gift straight from Mount Olympus, lovingly delivered into Apple’s hands for benevolent resale. He does all of this in his incredibly seductive British voice, which signals to his audience that he is infallibly trustworthy and sophisticated.

He goes on to explain that the 5’s construction is so advanced that the parts are machined with tolerances measured in microns. And, the 5’s new chamfered edge is cut using crystalline diamond (mined from asteroids I presume), which results in a mirror finish that approaches industrial-design perfection.

But, why the hell any of this matters is beyond me.

Your new iPhone 5 is not going to sit in a backlit glass case to be marveled at. It’s going to be in your hands all the time, and in your pockets, your purse, backpack, or briefcase. Unlike your imaginary glass case, these places are dirty and bumpy, and will not treat your iPhone kindly. Within 24 hours it will be covered in your own fingerprints. Within three days, it will have been dropped on asphalt or hardwood floors.

Within a week, it will be covered with an effing plastic case anyway. So your iPhone’s magical chamfered edge will spend its lifetime hidden from view.

Augh! Is anybody else irritated like me, now? Why do we fall for this crap? Why does everyone want one?

One thing’s for sure: it’s not because the iPhone 5 offers some amazing new capability. There are, occasionally, truly groundbreaking products that change the way we interact with technology. Apple has released several of those products over the years, but the iPhone 5 is not one of them! It’s still just a goddamn iPhone. It doesn’t fix anything that was broken. It does not do your taxes any better. In fact it only does about 1% more neat things than the iPhone 4S. In all other respects it is simply lighter, faster, and cleaner.

The answer, then, is that we just want the iPhone 5 because it’s new. And that, my friends, should be a disappointment to all of us. As Jimmy Kimmel hilariously demonstrated earlier this week, most of us don’t even really understand or care about what has actually changed — we just know the new version is better. And we want it.


We end up wandering down this road because we believe that new stuff makes us happy. And of course the advertisers have been telling us this for our whole lives.

And they’re right, sort of — a new thing will make you happy, for the first few times that you use it. And then, as with everything else, after a week or two your senses will accommodate to the new stimulus, and your level of enjoyment will again normalize. The luster fades, the dust and scratches accumulate, the new fast becomes the new normal, and what was once impressive quickly becomes a baseline expectation. Life goes on as normal. This is hedonic adaptation at work, and it’s the reason that last year’s iPhone 4S is no longer regarded as interesting or magical. It’s also the reason for the rather comical graph shown here — borrowed from Mr. Money Mustache — which accurately portrays much of the human condition.

The truth is: new stuff won’t make you happy. It won’t even make a dent in your quality of life, after the first week or two.

So, I propose this exercise: whenever you want a new toy, just pull out your older toy from 1-2 years ago, and look at it carefully. Observe the worn and broken parts of it. Note how your affection toward this object has waned, even though only a few months ago you drooled over it.

Accept that your object of desire, the new toy, will soon look like your old toy. Think about it. Good.

If your new toy is just new and that’s all, then congratulations: you have disarmed the illusion. You don’t need it anymore. You are free to go.

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