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The iPhone user fallacy: Not everyone’s a super-user

A friend of my wife’s was due to visit a few weeks ago.

The day before, the friend sent a text messaging asking my wife for directions to our house.

“The postcode will do it,” I said to my wife, “Or she could lookup the road and number.”

I mentally checked out of the conversation and got on with driving into High Wycombe. After decades of lambasting boring people for doing nothing at the weekend, the best my wife and I can do, at the moment, is get baby Archie into the car, drive to the shopping centre, rush to Wagamama whilst he’s still asleep, wolf down the food, buy some stuff and get back into the car and home, before he has a chance to consider bursting into tears with tiredness. This strategy is working well for us right now.

“No, she needs directions,” my wife responded.

I nearly crashed

“Has she got some piece of rubbish handset?” I asked, expecting to find the friend has a rubbish Samsung or 5 year old Sony Ericsson.  Who on Earth needs ‘directions’ any more?  How ridiculous.  Directions?  If the place isn’t available on the satnav, that’s fine.   But who texts for ‘directions’ any more?

“She wants directions from the M4,” my wife continued, “What’s the name of that road?”

“It’s the A404. What phone does she have?” I replied.

“She has an iPhone,” said my wife, as she tapped out the directions.

I was incredulous

“She has an iPhone and she’s ASKING YOU for directions?” I thundered.  I nearly ran over a moped.

“She forgot to print out the directions,” my wife explained in a matter of fact tone.  She knew it was winding me up.


I got a mock glare from her before she enlightened me,  “She normally finds the route on Google Maps then prints it out.”

“SHE DOES WHAT? And she’s got an iPhone?”

Well then.

There we have it

Conclusive proof that iPhones most certainly aren’t everything.

There is, you see, an overwhelming body of opinion within the industry that the moment you give someone an iPhone, they experience a come-to-Jesus [Steve Jobs] moment and ascend into user interface heaven.  The assumption is that after a few weeks of messing around, the new convert will have received the light.

I found it astonishing that this particular person required my wife to actually type out a three-text-long set of instructions when the iPhone offers so many faster-better-nicer alternatives than sodding about with paper, a printer and Google Maps.

Let’s count the ways

  1. She could have used the Google Maps app on the iPhone
  2. She could have used Google Maps ON the iPhone’s browser
  3. Waze offers free (good quality) satellite navigation along with traffic updates
  4. There are countless other free sat-nav apps available
  5. She could have blown £50-60 quid on the TomTom app
  6. Or CoPilot is a much more reasonable £19.99
  7. She could have used a variety of apps with sat-nav/direction add-ons like many of the traffic related apps
  8. Or she could have visited an array of other web based services

But no.

It wasn’t familiar.

Clearly, my wife’s friend thought it was far more appropriate to either use Google Maps and print the results; or ask for directions.

In fairness, it’s a far more reliable attitude. Paper works. It doesn’t run out of battery and it is not reliant on patchy mobile data signals.  Quite often, I’ve found myself in the middle of nowhere with zero mobile signal, feeling like a bit of a plonker, because I relied upon my mobile operator (like the time in Paris).

My point is that it’s far too easy to assume that the millions of iPhone users in the UK are all using the devices as we expect or assume they should.

What’s been your experience?


  1. Fundamental problem with the iPhone (I have a 3GS) is that they forgot it is primarily a voice and text device. As a voice device its really very poor with bad sound reproduction unless you want to stick a lump in your ear (I don’t) and it frequently will not connect to the network or drops during the call. I suspect poor antenna and its not even version 4. The biggest design flaw is of course the network so it really doesn’t matter how many apps there are because without network they dont work. As for the keyboard how frustrating is that. A more end to end perspective when designing solutions would be intelligent. The iPhone is like a Bugatti Veyron in a world with petrol stations every 1,000 miles – Oops

  2. I know what you mean. My iPhone is like a “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”, but it is much more about the apps that I have taken the time to seek, discover and load. Only this modern day HGttG is also a phone. The original one was not. The apps loading process is one that takes time and understanding of the art of the possible. Some people are very talented at searching and finding anything on the Web and others are not. In the same way, iPhone owners need to slowly add applications and links useful to them. No two iPhones look the same.
    I had a beer with a casual acquaintance last night and noticed 2 phones on the table, an iPhone and a boring phone-calls-only Nokia. Why two phones? Business and personal. IPhone for business and Nokia for personal (the opposite of what I had expected). “When I am not working I turn the iPhone off”. I asked if he didn’t know how to silence the ringer and let business calls go to VM (same result as if the phone is switched off). “Why leave it on?” Don’t you use mapping or have apps, I asked? He then proceeded to proudly show me a fart producing application that his boss had showed him.
    End of my conversation with him on this topic!
    I think there are a lot of people like this who have iPhones. How can we help them?

  3. 90% of mobile users don't even NEED a smartphone let alone a smartphone they can't or won't use. This drive by vendors and carriers alike to move users to the most expensive handsets and data plans is like stealing candy from baby's.

  4. I think people fear the unfamiliar, untried and untested – It is much easier for someone to show you how something works from their own experience, rather than having to figure it out yourself! I think all apps and features should come with at least basic video tutorials as introductions so that you can just watch and learn and you know that you are doing it right!

    Old habits die hard and though there are all these additional features on smartphones nowadays, it doesnt mean people will relinquish their own tried and tested ways of doing things altogther.

  5. On the face of it your comment seems like common sense, the kind I'd normally agree with, but actually I disagree.

    Otherwise the same argument can be made for all technology. Right, so most people don't need dimmers on their light switches – they can just have the light on or off. They don't need different wash settings on their washing machines – you just wash or not, end of story. They don't need most of the features on modern cars – five gears, a brake and a clutch will do. Why does anyone need more than a web browser and a word processor on their PC? And so on.

    No, people DO need smartphones. They don't necessarily need every feature smartphones currently have, the industry is trying things out and see what sticks. But nav certainly seems like a good one, as do lots of other features. This is the evolution of the personal computer, don't forget.

    No, the issue is, shock horror, dare I say it, THE IPHONE'S UI and user experience ISN'T GOOD ENOUGH. Uh-oh, I just said a taboo thing there. Social exclusion and a visit from the powers that be shall follow no doubt.

    But actually, it isn't. The iPhone STILL doesn't have a good enough UI and UE for many people. And that's why they're not using the extra services on it. And that's big room for improvement. This isn't comparative by the way – if you want to say Android, Nokia etc are all worse than iPhone that's fine. But my statement still stands.

    iPhone took a leap in UI and UE, and everyone thinks they're at their destination. But they're not. They have further leaps to make, if they didn't everyone would be using all these extra services when they need them, but they're STILL too complicated, and they STILL make the user conform to their way of working, un-intuitive, and unnatural.

    But we will see this all resolve itself as time goes by, so don't worry 🙂

  6. Many people who buy an iPhone dont know what it can actually do. Ive sold phones to many people knowing its not the right phone for them, but they insist they want it, even if I say there is something more suited to their needs. Simply put…”they just want an iPhone” abit like this video…

  7. My experience…I have a Nokia 5800 with on-board voice navigation. Since the relevant maps are stored in the phone…I do not need a network to navigate. The phone’s battery is very good…so little worries with power as well. Good luck with Steve Jobs’ cloning device.

  8. Putting “iPhone” into the headline and pretending that the story is really about the iPhone (as opposed to it being about light users of all smartphones in general) is a good way to get web traffic, but it marks you as someone whose work I should avoid. It's a bait and switch.

  9. Your comment marks you as someone who definitely 100% should never, ever EVER read my work as you clearly won't (and don't) get it.

  10. No. I read it and understood it. But the SAME THING applies to just about any other popular smartphone. Pushing the iPhone angle means you're trying to get page views. The only other possibility is that you're not bright enough to understand that simpletons buy Android devices and Blackberrys and have the same experience of not having a clue why they're buying it or what the device does.

  11. Just stupid writers who aren't wise enough to admit it when someone else has a valid point. I spent long enough as a newspaper reporter and editor to know that it's smart to listen to readers better than you're apparently capable of. It seems very likely (both from the style and the content) that you wrote this column simply because it's a personal irritation of yours that some people think an iPhone is so easy for ANYONE to use that it doesn't require any further guidance. The fact that geeks think (and say) the same thing about other platforms is apparently something you're not willing to consider. Since it's your site, you can be whatever kind of idiot you want to be, but it's not good journalism OR good business. But I've wasted enough time with you already. I won't respond what whatever arrogant response you come back with, so please feel free to take a shot.

  12. No shots here David. You are totally inaccurate to assume I care about pageviews. I don't. They're just about the most irrelevant measurement for me.

    My measurement is based on:

    – how I feel
    – how the key readers feel

    The post went out in today's newsletter. I wrote it for those readers. Entirely private. Not public. Not for pages views. I copied it here so people could respond, as they have done.

    You've just got the slight wrong end of the stick.

    You do have a point in that it's potentially lazy of me to use the word 'iPhone' rather than 'Smartphone'. But it was 90% iPhone based. And I started writing the post with that headline. And I used 'And' to start the sentence there, illustrating I'm not anywhere near being a traditional journalist.

    Using the word 'Smartphone' would have been dull, though, I'm sure you agree (given the context I've outlined).

  13. My wife has trouble with a light switch. Yes – technology is not on her resume.
    She has been screening at me for months to get her a sat nav device so she could find her way around.
    Solution = New Nokia.
    Step 1 = on your computer before travel.
    Step 2 = Find destination and add to favourites.
    Step 3 = go outside to travel, do a quick sync [of favourites] then go – real turn by turn nav.

    Even she can work this out.
    She is happy. It is SO simple and just works [without NEED of net connection]

  14. I get your point, nav IS a useful feature, even as it puts the satnav people out of business. SatNav is all a bit geeky, and with the U.S. being so geographically illiterate, is a great education system, albeit a brutal teacher 🙂

  15. Now hang on there a moment Ewan, you can't be seen to praise an app on Nokias, because they're crap, Nokia don't have a clue about such things, and no one uses Nokias for apps, right? (my impression from reading MIR for a while). Only an iPhone will do and if one of those isn't around (alas, poor souls, how will they cope!?) then an Android.

    /sarcasm 🙂

    On a more serious note, this thread has reminded me (as if I needed it!) why I'd only ever buy Nokias until someone comes up with some half decent competition, which hasn't happened yet. 😉

  16. Nokias are absolutely rubbish and don't work as mobile phones.

    /end winding-up-of-Alex

    I think you make a key point about Nokias, especially in the context of telephoning. I haven't used a better brand than Nokia to actually make phone calls.

  17. I've got an iPhone. I know what it can do. And you know what? I use printed instructions whenever possible.

    1. Maps is no good for driving. It doesn't do turn by turn, and it doesn't announce anything. Even when a passenger is doing it, we still get lost. And it's inaccurate.
    2. Google Maps is actually slightly less accurate. (Which is odd: I thought they used the same data source.)
    3-7. Most (all) of these apps have poor ratings in the Canadian store, and the main complaint regarding them is accuracy. Accuracy matters.
    8. Google Maps gives incorrect directions around here. So do the other services I've tried.

    So my approach? Print the Google Maps directions, then review them for accuracy before I leave the house. Because there's probably at least one really bad bit of advice in them for any long route. But directions from a human are better, when available. A human can tell me “Turn right at the second light, it's right before the Safeway, right after a Chevron gas station. You can't miss it.”

    I really miss my dedicated GPS. I've often wondered if one of the GPS apps would work for me, but it's so hit and miss. Mostly miss, from what I've seen.

  18. I've had an iPhone 3GS for over a year, and I've only dropped one call. And it was dropped on the other end, since when I called back they mentioned being in a garage.

    Audio quality is good, too.

    I think it really depends on the network. The 3GS has its problems, but as a basic phone? Never in my experience.

  19. Nokia apps, could do with a lot of improving granted

    Returning to the subject of maps. . .

    Ive just return from a week of driving in the EU, i drove 810 miles in France, Belgium and Netherlands. IHaving used my nokia 5800`s free Ovi maps for the entire journey. I did not use any paper maps at any point, did not get lost, got to all my appointments on time. I was very impressed.

    All the parking, fuel stations were clearly marked and were easy to navigate to.

    To top it up, i only incured £1.10 data charges while using the maps abroad.

    Im definately keeping my nokia now. Ovi maps, i salute you!!

  20. You see what has happened to most users is, that somehow the general consesus became that out of all the options one has in nicer “smarter” phones, the iPhone is the correct choice. It's the good choice because Nokia is going down hill and everyone should have it because it's safe and it's really the only sound option.

    I run in to this mentality all the time as I sell iPhones to houswives. They come to me eyes gleaming in front of this luxury item, but should they come to see me, they're struggling to understand where the phone's browser is. Can't blame them, “Safari” sounds more like a game.

    On the other hand, the iPhone is truly perfecrt for people like this: they don't know what they're missing, and so they're content, because finally it's cool to have a smartphone. And that's all that matters.


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