Life in iPhone hell

I've been in a love-hate relationship with Apple since the iPod seduced me in 2002. I suspect I'm not alone

By D. Watkins
September 17, 2017 9:30PM (UTC)
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iPhone 8, iPhone X and iPhone 8 Plus (Getty/Justin Sullivan)

I have an iPhone, and eventually I will have an iPhone X. Not because I like products or I thirst for innovation; it’s because all of my tech, including work and home computers, are Apple products, so why may make things more difficult than they have to be? And everyone knows that old iPhones break when the new ones drop. (I can’t prove it, but ask your friends, they’ll tell you.) So I know the iPhone X is in my future, but I can't get excited about it.

I wasn’t always this jaded about new Apple product releases. I used to love them. I thought about new Apple designs more than I thought about my own unborn children. It all started back in 2002 when this guy Jerry introduced me to the iPod. Jerry was one of the most unimpressive people I knew: a Knicks fan who wore big cloudy diamonds in his stainless steel jewelry.


“Yo, D,” he said, running up to me on the basketball court. “I’m about to change your life!”

Jerry dug deep in his pocket and pulled out a square device with a small screen and a circular dial.

“Yo, I hate video games,” I told him as I finished my jump shot.


“No, bro!” he screamed. “This is the future. This is the iPod. Give it a listen, I put every Jay Z album and mixtape on this thing!”

I gave in, put the earphones on and played with his device for a few minutes. When I had to give it back I knew I needed one of my own. From that day forward, Jerry became my tech guru­­: henceforth, the most impressive guy I knew. It was Jerry who guided me through the Apple Store on my first visit and showed me how to work my first MacBook and officially made me an Apple guy. Windows — with its viruses and limitless levels of corniness — became a dirty word.

Fast-forward to 2007. Jerry and I, along with our fellow Apple addicts, went crazy when Steve Jobs laced up his New Balances, threw on the black mock turtleneck and introduced the world to the iPhone. We ditched Sprint, Verizon and T-Mobile because the iPhone would only be available on AT&T and we had to have it. Jobs sold it as the phone that could do it all and he wasn’t lying: music, email, web surfing, games, stocks and unlimited apps!


And by the way, what’s an app?

We weren’t sure in the beginning but we loved them. And yes, the iPhone changed everything.

Before I knew it, I was paying bills, taking pictures, making videos, buying music and running my schedule off of one device. The iPhone reached the mark of greatness, as Dave Chappelle would put it, when everything that came before it was rendered obsolete by its arrival, and everything that came after would bear its mark. Every other phone company went on to try and create their own version of the iPhone, but Apple has been winning the war ever since.


But somewhere along the way, Apple’s winning turned to a loss for most of us, mainly because they release a phone every year or so, and the primary technology is basically the same. FaceTime and the thumb lock screen were both amazing innovations, but what other memorable changes have occurred over the past 10 years? The new model always has an improved camera and a more sleek design, but I don’t think that necessarily warrants a new product every year, especially in 2017 when I subscribe to Verizon, which is supposed to have the best network in the world, and I still can’t get through a three-minute YouTube video on my phone without the video pausing 10 times.

And then what happens when your phone breaks?

People have been complaining about the $1,000 price tag of the new iPhone X, but when have iPhones been cheap? That first iPhone from 2007 was $599 until Apple dropped the price to $399 with a two-year contract. If you buy an iPhone now most of the major cell companies make you either buy the phone outright, get a payment plan or lease it — yeah, lease it. The iPhone 7 is currently $649 and still requires a contract. But God forbid something happens to that phone before the term expires. It’s easier to get a new kidney than to find a suitable replacement.


Take my friend Blue, who's been in iPhone hell for the last month. She dropped her phone in the toilet and it died. Experts instructed her to soak the phone in all different types of rice, but none of that worked. She scoured the internet for solutions but found little to no hope. Her options were limited. She could buy a new iPhone 7, which was bad because the 8 and X are dropping soon. She could get her phone fixed, which costs almost as much as buying a new one. She could get by with trying to communicate with her friends and family through her other Apple products. Or she could buy an old iPhone SE. She opted for the iPhone SE, which, even though it's an older model, still cost $422 after tax.

So, $422 is the price for breaking an iPhone without a warranty or after the warranty expires. Sometimes an older model can be fixed for a cheaper price, but that wasn’t her case. The saddest part, according to Blue, is that the SE, which looks like an iPhone 4, doesn’t work as well. According to Blue, it’s slow and doesn’t function well. I hope she is happy with the iPhone X.

It has a new and better camera with face ID, a mechanism for unlocking the home screen without your thumbs, advanced lighting so you can take the best selfies ever, and new emojis that are alive now. There are a few more features that seem cool, but will it be able to play a YouTube video without pausing?


I bumped into Jerry a while back after not seeing him for a year so and, surprisingly, he had switched to Samsung. I thought about our past, and how crazy it is that the guy who brought me to Apple jumped ship, but I’m loyal, and not as tech savvy as Jerry to pivot, so I’m going to stay on board with Apple even though it feels like the ship is sinking.

Guess I’ll start saving for the X.

D. Watkins

D. Watkins is an Editor at Large for Salon. He is also a professor at the University of Baltimore and founder of the BMORE Writers Project. Watkins is the author of the New York Times best-selling memoirs “The Beast Side: Living  (and Dying) While Black in America” and "The Cook Up: A Crack Rock Memoir." His latest book, "We Speak For Ourselves: A Word From Forgotten Black America," is out now.

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