Profound Revelations in iOS 12

Back in 2016, Poké­mon Go, over­clocked Apple Watch­es, piss­ing wear­ables, and What You See is What You Get blog­ging ser­vices all claimed unprece­dent­ed casu­al­ties among con­sumers accord­ing to Future­land’s iOS 10 episode, which we did our absolute best to dra­ma­tize in order to sur­vive what was expect­ed to be the dullest event on record. We’d only that day been first made aware of Boomerang pho­tos and the mys­te­ri­ous nature of “Live Blog­ging” as an occu­pa­tion. Air­Pods were intro­duced and sub­se­quent­ly shit on, and the com­par­a­tive­ly archa­ic 3.5mm ana­log audio jack was con­fi­dent­ly part­ed with, final­ly. At least I got over “for­get­ting” about Live Pho­tos because it’s rapid­ly becom­ing dif­fi­cult to keep stuff on the phone now. I am com­ing sin­cere­ly close to believ­ing none of this is real, any­way. Today, though, it’s a damned straight ball­game, isn’t it? Months have passed since Apple pushed out its major mobile OS release of the year to more lit­tle rec­tan­gu­lar com­put­ers than any one per­son could speed­count in a life­time and YouTube is already rec­om­mend­ing me dozens of videos about the next one. At this point, you and I are already aware of the iOS devel­op­ment com­mu­ni­ty, who has already been using Inter­net Oper­at­ing Sys­tem 12 on their per­son­al devices for more than half a year by the time your iris­es are land­ing here. Hope­ful­ly, all but two or three strand­ed, dying explor­ers in the arc­tic have updat­ed their iPhones and iPads by now, and why wouldn’t they?

Our expec­ta­tions from this rit­u­al are com­plete­ly alien com­pared to those we’d need to antic­i­pate from the event 5 or 6 releas­es ago, when one’s phone had to be sent away (in a sense) to latch itself tight to the sta­bil­i­ty of a desk­top-class prod­uct in order to under­go a lengthy, des­tined meta­mor­pho­sis. Some­times, back­ups via 30-pin to USB-2.0 cables took hours, after which the cus­to­di­an may or may not find their companion’s repli­ca­tion had com­plet­ed suc­cess­ful­ly. If it had, one had to be sure to close any appli­ca­tions apart from iTunes to pro­vide a work­ing envi­ron­ment of utter silence – restart­ing after fin­ish­ing the down­load was my own pre­ferred method – before entrust­ing the despi­ca­bly unre­li­able soft­ware to whit­tle away in a some­times fran­ti­cal­ly reboot­ing, fever­ish pro­ce­dure with near life-threat­en­ing stig­ma: it wasn’t uncom­mon for an update to inex­plic­a­bly fail, “brick­ing” the sub­ject iPhone and requir­ing that one take two whole steps in the wrong direc­tion and restore it from the entire back­up they’d just cre­at­ed (hope­ful­ly) in order to… make anoth­er, pre­cise­ly-iden­ti­cal attempt, for lack of vari­ables or alter­na­tives to the process. How­ev­er, if the user planned suf­fi­cient­ly and made a point to begin the whole cha­rade imme­di­ate­ly upon arriv­ing home for the evening, these poten­tial frus­tra­tions could be com­pen­sat­ed for, and odds would favor count­ing on their smart­phone to emerge safe and sound from the pro­ce­dure just before bed, when even those hold­ing the sec­ond-newest prod­uct in the lin­eage would have just enough screen time to notice that text entry, web page load­ing, and win­dow man­age­ment had notice­ably slowed before sigh­ing and toss­ing their device toward the dark­ness.

These days, one would need to try very hard to be incon­ve­nienced by iOS updates. My iPhone 8 Plus is two or three times more pow­er­ful than my lap­top at the moment, and my new friends’ WiFi con­nec­tion is bet­ter than what the State gov­ern­ment uses inter­nal­ly, back home. I haven’t need­ed to phys­i­cal­ly back it up more than once or twice since I bought it — iCloud stores the lot for $4.99­ a month any­way. I blinked once watch­ing Riki-Oh with high school friends some time ago and all of the sud­den, a 1.6GB down­load isn’t real­ly a big deal. Sid­down and watch your Insta­gram sto­ries for twen­ty min­utes, and hey! You’re ready to update! Some­how, I have abrupt­ly found myself in a real­i­ty in which I am the obvi­ous bot­tle­neck and my 100 words per minute on a smart­phone key­board, even, is no longer fast enough: my fuck­ing phone is now wait­ing on me when it updates. The key­hold­er is the whole god­damned holdup.

So, what pos­si­ble pur­pose could there be in pound­ing out this “Review” of a free soft­ware update that’s in no way option­al (wait­ing a month is no longer a ratio­nal min­i­miza­tion of risk — it’s just dumb,) not any more dif­fi­cult to attain than the bills cur­rent­ly wait­ing in your mail­box, nor allowed by the nature of mobile oper­at­ing sys­tems to com­pete with any cross-plat­form alter­na­tives? For myself, it’s proved a grat­i­fy­ing tra­di­tion of sorts and a good use of my appar­ent­ly-abun­dant time if only for the record’s sake (hel­lo, future web archivists, neo­hu­man and oth­er­wise!,) but this release – assum­ing I haven’t over­looked some­thing – is the most globe-shuck­ing of all because of one sin­gle fea­ture­set: Siri Short­cuts. How­ev­er, the v ast major­i­ty of the intra-Apple press’ cov­er­age of this release has come across near­ly as uncon­cerned with them as I was orig­i­nal­ly. Take Mac­world’s iOS 12 Review, for instance: it was the first result in my Google search for “iOS 12 review,” yet Siri Short­cuts are only men­tioned in the bot­tom quar­ter of its first page. When I record­ed the “iOS 12 Review” episode of my “pod­cast,” I spoke as if I was some­how the only per­son on the plan­et who com­pre­hends the pro­found impli­ca­tions of this soft­ware addi­tion — which was, of course, more of an absorbent acqui­si­tion — but I have since dis­cov­ered one gem, at least, which has con­tin­ued the con­ver­sa­tion in a most superb man­ner. It’s a tech­nol­o­gy pod­cast called Super­com­put­er, and it’s host­ed by Alex Cox and Matthew Cassinel­li — the lat­ter of whom devel­oped a sig­nif­i­cant amount of the iOS app Work­flow (and wrote most or all of its doc­u­men­ta­tion, appar­ent­ly,) which Apple assim­i­lat­ed as Siri Short­cuts. Both are extreme­ly knowl­edge­able and com­pe­tent com­men­ta­tors on — as far as I can hear, at least — vir­tu­al­ly the entire iOS lifestyle. (For those on the out­side who’ve nev­er stepped in: laugh if you must, but yes it is a lifestyle, still, and it’s new thought leader isn’t exact­ly com­ing up short these days.) iOS is tech­ni­cal­ly soft­ware, yes, but it leaves an intractable itch for some greater, tran­scen­dent term.

In just forty min­utes, with­out any pri­or knowl­edge about this fea­ture, I was able to cre­ate a Short­cut which sends any giv­en handset’s IP address and pre­cise GPS loca­tion (among oth­er mun­dane met­rics) in a text mes­sage to my phone num­ber. I could share this short­cut among my oth­er sub­mis­sions to Share­cuts or, where any iOS user could down­load and sub­se­quent­ly send this infor­ma­tion back to my phone. (Don’t believe me? Have a go at it your­self and I’ll send back a screen­shot if you’d like.) I accom­plished this with­out any par­tic­u­lar skills or edu­ca­tion in soft­ware devel­op­ment or cyber­se­cu­ri­ty — with­out any real mal­ice, even — I was just play­ing around. As far as my rec­ol­lec­tion goes, Apple has nev­er includ­ed such a pow­er­ful, poten­tial­ly-dan­ger­ous piece of soft­ware in a stan­dard soft­ware update before. It’s both absolute­ly bril­liant and sortof a ripoff to be so entrust­ed for the first time. In many ways — like my Dis­able Blue­tooth & WiFi short­cut — Siri Short­cuts rep­re­sent an awful­ly half-assed solu­tion to some of the most basic, long­time incon­gru­en­cies with­in iOS. Sure, it’s great that I can just make myself a short­cut to com­plete­ly dis­able my phone’s WiFi and Blue­tooth activ­i­ty with one press or Siri com­mand (com­bin­ing “type to Siri” with Siri Short­cuts basi­cal­ly enables a form of Com­mand Line func­tion­al­i­ty in iOS,) but frankly, one should’ve expect­ed the world’s largest com­pa­ny to do it them­selves in per­haps the sec­ond of third ver­sion of this oper­at­ing sys­tem instead of say­ing okay, here are the tools — you do it! in its twelfth.

I’ve found it inevitable when speak­ing on iOS to avoid dis­cussing the oth­er lit­er­a­ture avail­able on the sub­ject at any giv­en time. The depth to which tech­nol­o­gy media has assim­i­lat­ed the habits and man­ner­isms of a sin­gle Amer­i­can com­pa­ny is absolute­ly mind-bog­gling, regard­less of its his­to­ry, its mar­ket share, or even its recent tril­lion-dol­lar val­u­a­tion. Dozens of media com­pa­nies – Cultof­Mac, MacRu­mors, Mac­world, 9to5 Mac, AppleIn­sid­er, iMore, and… more – exist sole­ly to cov­er one sin­gle inde­pen­dent com­pa­ny: Apple, Incor­po­rat­ed. One won­ders how the sum total of the indi­vid­u­als involved with and these orga­ni­za­tions com­pares with the total num­ber of employ­ees work­ing for the com­pa­ny their careers are (for the moment, at least,) entire­ly cen­tered around. (Fur­ther inter­est­ing ques­tions: are there any com­pa­ra­ble sit­u­a­tions any­where else in West­ern cap­i­tal­ism, and if not — doesn’t this sort of atten­tion con­sti­tute some kind of Monop­oly, even if it was not nec­es­sar­i­ly an anti-com­pet­i­tive one?) For “rea­son­able peo­ple,” the image one con­jures up of The All-The-Time Apple Beat does not lend to envy, but let’s choose to lim­it our­selves to only the most casu­al forms of spec­u­la­tion. I do not wish to mock them, for I, too remem­ber the sen­sa­tion of The Apple Drug from an unfor­tu­nate time in my child­hood devel­op­ment when I was will­ing to wear a cheap sweat­shirt brand­ed with a stu­pid Mac vs. Win­dows Users joke uniron­i­cal­ly to a real live pub­lic Junior High school. There are few more embar­rass­ing admis­sions, except per­haps admit­ting that a part of me gen­uine­ly yearns to return to this lev­el of enthu­si­asm, as mis­placed and cringey as it was. It’s the addic­tion to the mys­tic; it’s aspi­ra­tional in its democ­ra­ti­za­tion. Bil­lion­aires are run­ning the same oper­at­ing sys­tem and much of the same soft­ware as I am every day — even the most fol­lowed per­son on any giv­en plat­form is still access­ing it through the same inter­face I might be. These are incred­i­ble truths, but they also reflect a dan­ger­ous lack of com­pe­ti­tion in a prod­uct cat­e­go­ry that has become more essen­tial to day-to-day human life than any oth­er in just three or four blinks of an eye.

Fuck David Blue, though. Who are the real, hard-hit­ting minds who’ve kept this indus­try and this com­pa­ny in check? Well, it’s fun­ny you should ask that, because the people’s quirky New York Times tech crit­ic of late — the esteemed Farhad Man­joo — has just con­clud­ed a five-year-long tech­nol­o­gy col­umn with some essen­tial (if per­haps a bit uno­rig­i­nal) advice: “just slow down.” If you’re still fol­low­ing along, you shall sure­ly enjoy click­ing some of his links, and I would cer­tain­ly encour­age that you do until you’re out of free arti­cles, at least. When Man­joo speaks, Apple lis­tens: his Jan­u­ary decree for Apple to bend with the indus­try wind and build “a Less Addic­tive iPhone” is con­vinc­ing­ly prophet­ic con­sid­er­ing Screen Time — prob­a­bly the most mulled-over iOS 12 addi­tion. As some­one who was diag­nosed with Atten­tion Deficit Dis­or­der (how­ev­er much or lit­tle that may mean to you) just one or two years after I began using my/the first iPhone, I’ve devel­oped a his­to­ry of what he might call Addic­tion to iPhones in vari­able oscil­la­tion touch­ing both extremes. I car­ried my first-gen­er­a­tion iPhone for almost 5 years — as you can imag­ine, it was far from a 100%-functional device toward the end of that bell curve. In con­trast, I’ve also stood in line at dawn for two iPhone launch­es, jail­bro­ken, lis­tened to pod­casts only about apps (far before they were good,) and been com­pelled to chron­i­cle and reflect upon all of it for as long as I can remem­ber.

There’s no deny­ing that the iPhone has had a pro­found effect on my life most­ly thanks to my own choic­es, which is why it’s worth telling the vast major­i­ty of you that fea­tures like Screen Time will nev­er help you achieve what­ev­er vague con­cep­tion of reduced usage you may have. If you haven’t yet quan­ti­fied the fig­ures you’ll find with­in it in men­tal esti­mates, you aren’t real­ly con­cerned at all and if you have, Screen Time will only con­firm them. Using reminder noti­fi­ca­tions to opti­mize your appflow makes no attempt at all to actu­al­ly escape the men­tal­i­ty of the behav­ior you seek to lessen from your­self. Anoth­er app is still anoth­er app; a noti­fi­ca­tion remind­ing you to stop using an app does noth­ing but add still more stim­uli. If you want to stop using the phone so much, stop using the fuck­ing phone. If you are tru­ly con­cerned about how your hand­set com­pan­ion has changed your life, turn it off for a week/month/quarter — how­ev­er long you pos­si­bly can. By that, I mean no more or less than what you can man­age with­out get­ting fired/dumped/expelled/etc. If you have tru­ly reached this point, any­thing less is prob­a­bly worth it. There is sim­ply no oth­er way to get a clear pic­ture of how it’s changed you.

Google, Face­book, and the rest of the indus­try are well aware of this, but know they can’t actu­al­ly advo­cate against the fun­da­men­tal mech­a­nism that dri­ves their busi­ness­es, so they express con­cern by doing what they know: build­ing more soft­ware. Apple is in a slight­ly dif­fer­ent sit­u­a­tion: they still need you to buy their phones — and even to look at them — but not past the point of hurt­ing your­self emo­tion­al­ly, men­tal­ly, or phys­i­cal­ly because those injuries tend to hurt one eco­nom­i­cal­ly. Screen Time’s pur­pose is to keep us thriv­ing and buy­ing, but the only effec­tive solve for this can only be com­mu­ni­cat­ed in garbage cin­e­ma lan­guage: you must find it with­in your­self. I am actu­al­ly the worst per­son from which to mod­el your life, except per­haps for my iPhone use: unless there’s lit­tle else wor­thy of my atten­tion, my phone is not out. Even if check­ing my emails, Mastodon, Twit­ter, etc are my default tasks, there are infi­nite­ly many besides that come first. Every once in a while, it’s okay to fin­ish an impor­tant mes­sage while walk­ing down the street or wait­ing at a stop­light if things are urgent, but I can guar­an­tee you that my atten­tion is bet­ter con­sol­i­dat­ed on trav­el­ing in 95% of cas­es — mov­ing with pur­pose and then focus­ing on my com­po­si­tion after I’ve arrived is almost always more effi­cient. I real­ize that I’m cow­boy­ing it here and sound like your Dad, but I’m bet­ter with iOS than he is, yet I’ve nev­er pub­licly run into any­thing while look­ing down at my smart­phone in 10 years of hard­core use. Find some­body who’s com­pa­ny makes you for­get about all of this for hours at a time and trea­sure them. Also: stop play­ing games on your phone. What the hell are you doing? Read a blog! Explore the won­ders of the open web! Your peers, your bat­tery, and your elder­ly future self with thank you for it. (One excep­tion is play­ing word/trivia games with your part­ner. That’s very cute and good for you.)

I was elat­ed to see that even Apple sup­ports my age-old cause for Twit­ter Lists. Also, the new func­tion in Apple Music allow­ing the user to search by lyrics appears to work very well

To get back to specifics, the new Pho­tos appli­ca­tion is now basi­cal­ly what it should have been all along, 3D Touch has been vir­tu­al­ly eclipsed for those strange bas­tards among you who nev­er liked it, and the release’s most demo­c­ra­t­i­cal­ly-redeemable fea­ture is opti­miza­tion, which even on my iPhone 8 Plus was bla­tant­ly notice­able and very wel­come. How­ev­er, prob­a­bly the best insight to come out of my long, ram­bly End User review was the rev­e­la­tion that basi­cal­ly any oth­er human activ­i­ty is a bet­ter use of time than applaud­ing Apple for learn­ing to hold new fea­tures off until they’ve been thor­ough­ly test­ed and focus­ing instead on smooth­ing exist­ing soft­ware. In fact, I’d argue there is absolute­ly no rea­son for some­one like me to say any­thing even remote­ly pos­i­tive about the world’s wealth­i­est com­pa­ny ever again, though that doesn’t apply to The Verge or Chaim Garten­berg, who’s review — for the record — was much more use­ful to 9999 times more peo­ple than any­thing I’ll ever write. How­ev­er, isn’t it sortof unrea­son­able to expect any­thing but absolute per­fec­tion from Apple at this tril­lion-dol­lar junc­ture? A hand­ful of vary­ing inter­pre­ta­tions of absolute per­fec­tion per prod­uct cat­e­go­ry, even.

With gor­geous, iCloud-enabled pre­mi­um apps like Bear in the pic­ture, inte­grat­ing whol­ly into the Apple envi­ron­ment has main­tained its rel­a­tive rank above the alter­na­tives to its spe­cif­ic min­i­mal-esque util­i­tar­i­an nice­ness which appeals so strong­ly to those peo­ple among both con­sumer and pro­fes­sion­al buy­ers. Read­ers from with­in this cul­ture rec­og­nized a short time ago that iOS is in the process of replac­ing MacOS as the star com­po­nent of this envi­ron­ment across the board, though there’s at least a mod­er­ate jour­ney ahead before it tru­ly reach­es this achieve­ment for the medi­an user. For myself, iOS 12 improved the expe­ri­ence of using my 8 Plus and cer­tain­ly gave me some­thing intrigu­ing to play with in Siri Short­cuts. For the rest of the world’s bil­lions of dai­ly iOS users, I say be as insa­tiable as pos­si­ble — always expect more.