I Bit the Apple, and It Bit Back
Well, I did see this coming for about a month and a half as I was trying to get accommodations set up for work. I do have to say that I was filled with dread at the prospect of having to try to learn how to use an iPhone for anything at all, even just for one app, especially since I played with one at a store about 10 years ago and said at that time that I wouldn't take one if someone paid me to take it off their hands. But as time went on, my dread decreased and my technically-minded nature asserted itself. Maybe, just maybe I could learn to use it. Perhaps maybe after 10 years, the technology has improved to become easier to use. After all, I learned how to evolve with Android when the manufacturers all took away the keyboards I relied upon, and I've heard lots of people say iPhones are easy to use, although there are just as many who need special classes to help them figure them out. Still, when I received it a week ago, I was ready to give it a shot. The company paid for it for me, and they pay me to work there after all.
This has to be the worst thing done to me with the best of intentions. How in God's name do people actually use this thing? It's even worse than it was 10 years ago. I just don't get it. How in the world do so many people apparently find it so easy, especially using its screen reader? I nearly broke down several times because it was such a pain to use. I'm technically minded enough to figure out any piece of technology put in front of me, except this. Hell, I flashed a new operating system onto my current Android phone with little difficulty, but this iPhone nearly made me quit my tech support business, as it made me feel utterly stupid, especially being touted by so many as the ultimate blind phone and some kind of gold standard that everyone else lags behind and is still catching up to.
Well, some of the basic functionality was easy enough ... I did find a notification of a spam text from some kind of fake home buying company wanting to buy Stephen's home, and I could find and dial the phone ... once I made it to the home screen, which seems impossible now that they removed the home button, both physical and the virtual button I'm used to seeing. I set up gestures on my Android phone to do that, but that's only because it told me what I was turning on and how to use it before I ever turned it on. By default, I had a set of navigational buttons: back, home and overview, which were easy to understand and easy to use. In any case, dialing was much like what I have seen in some third-party Android apps and on I think an LG phone I had some time back. The phone icon was in the lower left corner of the screen where I expected it to be, and although the dialpad wasn't a button accessible from just about anywhere in the phone dialer, I had no trouble finding its tab. And although the dialpad required double-tapping every number, I've seen that and worse before, usually as I said in third-party apps, so I was able to get a number dialed and place a call. The problem came in when trying to answer the phone. How does anyone call three different types of incoming call pop-ups depending on whether the screen is awake or asleep or an app is open before the call comes in easy? If the screen was awake and unlocked when the phone receives an incoming call, the pop-up is easy and intuitive, unless of course an app is open, in which case, it gets a little harder, but is still not impossible. In these cases, I could find something similar to what I'm used to: buttons on screen to answer or decline the incoming call. This was great, right up until I placed another test call with the screen locked. All I found on the screen was the number of the incoming caller near the top and an area near the bottom of the screen that said "slide to answer." Now I don't know about anyone else, but if something says "slide to answer," I expect to be able to answer the phone by sliding one or more fingers on the screen in a specific direction. After all, that is what it said to do. But I slid one finger, two fingers, three fingers and even four fingers in every conceivable direction, and could not answer the phone. Someone recently told me that I could have double-tapped two fingers on the screen to answer, but if I was supposed to double-tap two fingers, the damn thing should have said "double-tap with two fingers to answer," not "slide to answer" as it told me to do. Even then, how am I supposed to reject a call when the screen is locked before I receive it? Again, the buttons to answer and reject do not appear when the screen is locked. I'm used to seeing two different incoming call pop-ups on phones: one when I am on the home screen and another smaller version of the same pop-up with exactly the same functionality over an open app. And this is Android before 7.x Nougat I'm talking about, and even then only on a single phone that I owned. Even this was easier to use and more intuitive than having three different incoming call pop-ups with entirely different layouts and functionality depending on whether or not the screen was awake and unlocked or asleep or if an app was open before the call was received, one of which told me to do something that did not work at all, and was by all accounts far different from what I was supposed to have done.
What in the world is easy to use about a phone that wakes up every time I move it? I could not find where to turn that off, so it woke up every time I moved. I put it in a bag, it woke up. I moved the bag, it woke up. I put the bag on my shoulders, it woke up. I stood up and walked, it woke up. I took it out of the bag and put it in a shoulder harness that incidentally fits my own phone perfectly, it woke up. I walked with it in my shoulder harness on my body, it woke up. This is not only counterintuitive and counterproductive, but it's also annoying AF. The worst thing any Android phone ever did like this was the knock to wake feature on LG phones, but this was neither counterintuitive nor counterproductive, as it only woke up when I knock-knocked on the display screen, not when i put it into a bag, took it out of a bag, moved around, whenever it felt like waking up. Granted the notification wake thing on my current LineageOS phone is rather annoying, and it can be hard to turn off, but at least it doesn't light up real bright and start talking every time I move a muscle.
What does the buzzy sputtery vibration mean? I'm used to my screen reader vibrating only when the focus changes as my finger moves around the screen. But VoiceOver was doing this motorboat vibration every time I moved my finger, which was confusing AF, not to mention the beep tick tick beep tick tick beep thing it was doing at the same time, which seemed unrelated to the other similar clicks and beeps it made when I found some of the useful elements on the screen. As I recall, the motorboat vibration stopped for a very short time when I did get to a useful element, but it started right back up again if I left my finger there too long or moved it even slightly.
I mentioned this earlier, but I couldn't find the home screen if an app was already open. Worse than that, once I did get to the home screen, which I had to do by holding in the button opposite the volume controls and saying "Take me to the home screen" into the phone, if an app was not on the first home screen, I could not figure out what I needed to do to get to either the second page or to the screen that should show me every app installed on the phone in a scrollable alphabetical list or grid. And I only needed this for one single solitary app that I could have just as easily added to the phone I already own and know how to use. Yes, I could just keep talking to the damn thing telling it to open the app I needed, and yes, that worked. But that's not how I use my phone. I need my phone to talk to me, I don't want to have to talk to it to do simple things like closing an app and getting to the home screen, or opening an app that isn't on my first home screen, which on my phone takes less time than all that speaking even if it starts with the letter z. And I feel even more strongly about using voice dictation to send text messages or type anything at all in public places. I want my earbuds in and I want to be able to type messages manually without hunting and pecking or double-tapping every single letter, which is why I love my new cheap flip phone that really has buttons on it, along with a user-replaceable battery, a headphone jack, an SD slot, an FM radio and even a real USB-C port.
How am I supposed to connect bluetooth earbuds reliably? I got a really nice pair as part of the same accommodation at work, to work once because they had already been connected. But then after being turned off and put back into their charging case, they would no longer connect. They said they were connected, but I couldn't hear anything through them, and the voice was still coming out the phone's speaker when it should have come from the buds. I had no such trouble conecting the same buds to both my Android phone, a Motorola G7+ running LineageOS 19.1 with MicroG and a cheap flip phone running KaiOS 3.0. The buds work extremely reliably with both of these, and really they are some of the best wireless earbuds I have ever owned. But the iPhone would not connect them until oddly enough I connected to the flip phone and then turned off the bluetooth on that phone. After that, the buds connected to the iPhone without too much more difficulty. Still, I've never had this much trouble with a bluetooth connection on any device.
I think the worst part of all this is that VoiceOver simply decided it would no longer speak. Sure, it kept right on doing the motorboat vibration thing, and it kept right on making its video game sounds, clicks, ticks, beeps, bloops, blerps, etc, even the beep tick tick beep tick tick beep thing, but the voice just up and stopped. Well, maybe I had forgotten that I could talk to the thing, so I didn't think to tell it "Turn off voiceOver" and then "Turn on VoiceOver," but I'm not supposed to have to do that just to get the gold standard blind phone to start speaking to me again. Even worse, this did not happen only once, but it happened twice over the course of two days, with a total usage that probably added up to less than three hours. That for me was the last straw, and certainly was one of the times that I nearly broke down and cried, as it was either that or lose my cool completely. I am extremely heavily reliant on a working screen reader. Without it, I am completely lost. Talkback on a couple of the phones I had maybe 8 or 9 years ago would sometimes crash out, but it usually came back in just a few seconds. VoiceOver on the other hand simply refused to speak the first time until I found someone with eyeballs who could go to the settings and turn it off and back on for me, and then the second time it stopped, it did come back, but it was dead for more than a minute. There is no way on earth I could have kept using this phone effectively, especially not for a single app that could be installed on my phone that is far more reliable. I didn't find out until more recently that I could have triple-tapped the power button to toggle VoiceOver, but by the time I did find this out, it was too late. And still I was dumbfounded by the lack of reliable screen reader operation on a device that is said to be so rock solid stable.
So I had to give the phone back. I made it a point to say that I was not unappreciative by any stretch, but that I was unable to use the iPhone effectively. In short, I bit the Apple and it bit back. I'll never do that again, and can't figure for the life of me how so many other people have had so much better luck with it than I did. As a matter of fact, I now know why there are so many classes that go on and on trying to teach blind people how to use the iPhones and iPads that the state told them they needed. It really is that hard to use that it needs special classes. At least this was my experience.