The Blame Game: When Customers Obsess Over an Apple iPhone

3 minute read
| Particle Debris

[Editor’s note. This week’s edition of Particle Debris is only one page.]

When a company makes a great product that people love, some will use it prudently and some will obsess over it. That’s human nature. That’s also why it’s hard for Apple executives to get pinned down about whether the iPhone can be too much of a good thing. Here’s the discussion: “Apple’s head of design says some people ‘misuse’ iPhones — and it reveals a growing problem for Apple.

iPhone X

iPhones are beautiful. Easy for some to be obsessive about.

My own thinking is that just because Business Insider says it’s a growing problem, that doesn’t make it so. There are a myriad of useful, helpful products in our society. Some people abuse them, and some people use them wisely. It’s not Apple’s job to make its products less useful, less elegant and less lovable. Introspection about product use varies, and it’s up to the individual to exercise judgment when the product is otherwise safe to use.

I saw a news report on 9 News/KUSA in Denver the other day about a group of teenagers who were working together to spend less time on their smartphones and spend more time engaging with life all about them. I’ve witnessed many other people who are so busy doing something productive in their lives that they hardly have time to fixate on their iPhones.

I think it’s more likely that some writers would like to make some people’s problems Apple’s problem and generate some editorial buzz. I’d call that equally obsessive behavior in writing.

More Debris

• As Apple grows and iOS becomes more capable, it must be a source of frustration that so many security gotchas keep cropping up. Even so, here’s one described by ars technica that Apple should fix right away. “Beware of sketchy iOS popups that want your Apple ID.

• We’ve been waiting and waiting for Amazon’s prime video app to show up on the Apple TV. Now, Yoni Heisler BGR has shed some light on a possible date for release: October 26th. “Amazon’s Prime Video app will hit the Apple TV in two weeks, rumor claims.

• There are occasional articles that misunderstand Apple CEO Tim Cook on purpose to argue a bogus point. But this one is valid, polite and intriguing. Having spent a lot of time in my career writing code, I can sympathize with the reasoning here, and it’s an interesting read. “Tim Cook doesn’t seem to understand that good programmers have to learn English.”

• This article has a flaw. can you spot it? “Why Apple won’t move the Mac to ARM.” Here’s my analysis. Arguing that Apple’ won’t do something because there’s no obvious reason to change is perilous work. Apple always has an internal technical agenda and roadmap. In this case, moving to ARM might fit in with Apple’s future product designs and integration with iOS. It might cut costs. It might lead to lower power and higher performance. It might allow Apple to roll out new Macs on its own schedule instead of relying on Intel.

I’m not arguing for a change from Intel to ARM. I’m just saying that Apple tends to surprise us from time to time with its genius, and thinking about good reasons to change helps us understand potential change. Yet the author writes:

There is simply no technology or marketing reason for Apple to migrate macOS from x86. I’m certain they could do it, but without a good reason, why would they?

But to argue that it won’t happen because the author can’t think of a reason why it should is shaky ground.

• Finally, here’a a great article at the Independent about Tim Cook and his views about speaking out, human dignity and respect, honor and duty. “Apple’s Tim Cook: The World is Gradually Getting Better but People Must Speak Out.” I like how Mr. Cook expresses these notions.

Particle Debris is a generally a mix of John Martellaro’s observations and opinions about a standout event or article of the week (preamble on page one) followed on page two by a discussion of articles that didn’t make the TMO headlines, the technical news debris. The column is published most every Friday except for holiday weekends.

4 Comments Add a comment

  1. pjs_boston

    Thanks for a well reasoned take, John.

    We read so much sensational, poorly reasoned click-bait these days. Articles like this one are a refreshing change.

  2. ibuck

    I agree with pjs: nice work, John.

    I also agree with Tim Cook about dignity and respect. Everyone deserves it. Although I sometimes find it hard to give it to people who behave badly, especially if they wear such awful behavior as if they are special or think it’s the right thing to do.

  3. wab95


    One does not even need to read the Business Insider piece to know not only where it is going, but whether or not one agrees with it. In my opinion, this is not simply an example of confirmation bias, but a diversion from an uncomfortable truth.

    Just as a product, from Apple or any other company, can fulfil a need in work or play, it can also fill a void in social, psychological or spiritual life. In the latter case, the device’s supposed inappropriate use is a symptom of a problem and not its cause, just as its supposed appropriate use is a sign of productivity. In both cases, its human volition, ie choice, that is driving use, and not use that is altering volition or even judgement. Unless an agent actually alters volition, judgement or even the ability to be rational, such as a highly additive mind altering substance to which one has been unwittingly exposed, it is difficult to make the case that it is bending our volition to its use or abuse. What both neutral and addictive phenomena share in common is the need for exposure. The one remains dependent on the exercise of choice for its use, even if that use case becomes culturally entrenched; the other use case is driven by physical or psychological dependence, and volition and choice are overridden.

    Nowhere is evidence being presented that the iPhone is a mind altering device to which people become physically or psychologically dependent, and that it overrules our judgement and even our ability to choose. Rather, what is clear is that social norms continue to evolve, and that social relationships are hard even in the most culturally stable settings, more so during periods of social and cultural transition, such as we are witnessing worldwide, no more so than in affluent settings with abundant exposures and opportunities.

    Books and papers are now being written about how Millennials are maturing more slowly than previous generations, at least insofar as adult life experiences are concerned, are having prolonged adolescences as determined by personal responsibility, but are having wider social exposures and simultaneous relationships. Even if not intimate, these relationships can be deeply personal and expose the individual to substantial vulnerability in both professional and personal life. Finessing, balancing and sustaining these relationships requires time and devotion, which is being satisfied by our personal devices, which obviate the need for physical presence; indeed the number and territorial spread of these relationships would be impossible to maintain without a device (my kids communicate with friends and colleagues across at least three continents daily). Enter the iPhone, together with Instagram, Facetime, Snapchat, Twitter, Facebook and a plethora of emerging apps.

    While an older generation may see this behaviour as a problem, this is seen by many a Millennial as the norm, and while cultural equilibrium may not yet be achieved, this is modern life that ‘old people’ seem to be struggling to understand, let alone cope with – forget mastery. From that vantage point, the problem is an older generation that seeks to impose its views, norms and behaviours on an emergent generation and its culture. The Boomers have become their parents, and the iPhone their version of ‘sex, drugs, and rock and roll’. Now, log off of my lawn.

  4. wab95


    Time for just a short observation. One of the things I appreciate about PD is that it is a mix of articles that can be, roughly, divided into the hard technical, including how things work but security as well, strategic (technical and business model) and philosophical, including social commentary. There are exceptions, of course, and some articles are a mix of themes. This week is a fine illustration of that distribution.

    On the strategic technical side is Robin Harris’ piece about why Apple will not move to ARM processors for the Mac. It made me go back and re-read Jeff Butts’ thought-provoking piece, and the thoughtful commentary that followed, of the same theme from 29 September. Acknowledging that I lack the technical expertise, training and experience to authoritatively weigh in on this discussion, I share your observation about the thematic omission such definitive declarations about what Apple will not do make in common. I recall, back in 1997 when Apple had rolled out macOS 8, hailed as the ‘largest overhaul of the classic macOS system since macOS 7, and was rumoured to be developing a UNIX-based system to supplant the classic macOS, a colleague of mine with more expertise in UNIX than I had, persuasively argued that Apple would not adopt a UNIX system because UNIX would never run videos in full-screen (I no longer recall his argument, but he walked through it in detail). It just couldn’t be done, and apparently up to that point, had not been done by anyone. And never mind the cost to the user base in switching to a different platform. It would put their platform at a competitive disadvantage. Then came macOS X. And video. And rapid adoption of the new system.

    The genius of Apple has been in balancing the centre of mass of their products over the user experience and not the technologies that support it, whether it be the OS, the CPU, or the tech specs. If Apple can create not simply a competitive but superior user experience using any technology, including ARM processors, and if doing so provides them more control and efficiency over their production, why would they not do so? And if any company can make such a transition, why would it not be Apple? In any case, while I think that these discussions have merit in terms of thinking about where we’re headed, and in shaping that direction from the grassroots, I would not be quite so definitive about what Apple will or will not do in the longterm.

    Work beckons. Cheers.

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