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October 14, 2020

CHEN | iOS 14: Apple’s Cry for Help?

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Each year, Apple rolls out a new update for their mobile operating system, iOS. Typically, it’s nothing more than flatter icons, a jiggle mode for deleting apps or the ability to organize your home screen into folders. Apple’s most recent update, iOS 14, has been placing widgets on home screens and hiding app pages. It’s all incredibly new and shiny — but it’s taking Apple, as a company and as an ecosystem, in the wrong direction.

First: 404 App Not Found. I used to know where each app on my phone was at all times via muscle memory. Sometimes, without even realizing it, my index finger would open up Instagram or Facebook. That’s how synced up my brain was to this random block of glass. But post-iOS 14 update, there are unpredictable Siri-suggested apps. There’s an ability to hide certain screens on your phone. You can access your entire app library, alphabetically organized, on the rightmost screen. And even better, if you’re really at a loss for where your apps are on your phone, you can use the search bar and physically type in its name.

Apple should be more focused on minimizing actions, rather than increasing them. Convenience and simplicity used to be the top priority of any electronic device, but having more and more features introduced every year complicates that. Now, I’m grateful that there’s an app for literally anything you need nowadays, whether I want an airhorn sound to prank my friends (guilty) or an ordering platform for each individual restaurant, but Apple has over-complicated the way that many people get to their apps in the first place with this software update.

Second: Android 2.0, but worse.  There has been plenty of excitement — and eye-rolling — at the fact that plenty of Apple’s ‘new’ features via iOS 14 were directly taken from capabilities that Android has been providing its users with for years. Whether it’s picture-in-picture, app libraries or real time translating, rumors have it that Android users were spotted yawning during WWDC’s (the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference) unveiling of iOS 14. Widgets, especially, felt like déjà vu. But as iPhone users, being able to see certain information like the weather or calendar events just from the homescreen would have been revolutionary, had it not been for Apple’s miniscule range of widgets to choose from. I’m sure that Apple will be able to expand their range soon enough. Maybe they wanted to start out small to test out the market, but that’s pale in comparison to Android’s iterated-upon-for-years widgets. These Apple widgets lack the one thing they are supposed to provide you with: more utility out of a single glance at your homescreen. Yet, after updating my phone, I found that the only widgets available to me were via Apple’s core apps — the annoying ones that you often try to delete, but can’t.

I’m not usually the type to encourage large tech ecosystems and monopolies, but to be successful in this new chapter of iOS 14, Apple should have fully harvested their worldwide power to extend widgets beyond just Apple applications. I am in desperate need of a Spotify widget that would allow me to swap between my most played playlists. Or a pomodoro timer widget to keep me on track during my study sessions. But opening up the possibility of Apple widgets with an Apple calendar when I am a loyal Google Calendar user? Or a stack of randomly selected photos for what — memories? It halts the ‘wow’s and the gaping faces when users realize that this new shiny feature is in no way as useful as it once seemed — because right now, it’s not.

And finally: digital hoarding. As many of us are learning in the 21st century, digital space is a trick. The clean grid of the home screen and the ease of folders makes your overload of apps seem clean. And now, Apple has provided us with the digital-world equivalent of shoving the clutter of your room under your bed right before your mom enters the room. You can now hide entire screens of apps from your phone within a few clicks so that you don’t see them while swiping back and forth between app pages. You can keep the possibility of the page there because what if you need it again? You can also move apps to the App Library instead of deleting them to keep all of the data stored within, because what if you still need the 126 levels you beat on Candy Crush? I deleted Candy Crush after middle school, and I still have bragging rights. It’s okay.

As Marie Kondo has coached us, get rid of the objects that do not spark joy for you. Don’t keep them collecting digital dust in your hidden app screens and wrinkling App Libraries. If you don’t use an app often, delete it. Apple doesn’t just want you to keep the apps around for your convenience. They probably want you to beg them for more digital storage for your phone in the future — and they’ll gladly watch you whip out your credit card when that happens.

Now of course, there are certain qualities of the software update that I still appreciate. There are privacy and security features, added actions for more accessibility and widgets are still amusing to play with nonetheless. I can already hear the critics on my shoulders telling me, “If you don’t like Siri suggested apps or seemingly useless App Libraries, just shouldn’t use them, instead of shouting into the void about a multinational multi-billion dollar company.” And I agree: Apple isn’t forcing us to use widgets or the App Library if we don’t want to. They are giving us the options because the confidence of being the trendsetters — the revolutionaries of tech — is gone. Steve Jobs once introduced the first touchscreen to the world and said that this was the new way we were going to interact with our screens. Anyone who thought otherwise was about to be left far, far behind. Nowadays, Apple instead gives us what quivering personal assistants give their terrifying bosses: a ton of options.


Jonna Chen is a sophomore in the College of Engineering. She can be reached at [email protected]. jonna.write() runs every other Wednesday this semester.