On Tuesday, I published a eulogy for Oyster, the subscription book startup that took on Amazon. I praised the company’s vision, noted my fondness for its service, and explained why I would miss its mobile app. I also took the time to explain why I’m not turning to Apple’s online bookstore, iBooks: fear that I’ll eventually want to purchase a smartphone, tablet, or laptop not designed in Cupertino.
Now I’m thinking it might be smarter to just cave to Apple’s offering instead of supporting Amazon. Not because I don’t have the same reservations about Apple’s work culture that I do of Amazon’s — both can be quite stressful, according to countless reports — but because I’m already tied to Apple. I use its music service. I rent movies and purchase television shows through iTunes. I’ve even found some things to like about the company’s News app, which feels a little bit like an unfinished product.
The Wall Street Journal’s Geoffrey Fowler refers to this as Apple’s happy trap. “Buying an iPhone is really about getting a golden ticket to Apple Land, where all the tools to run a modern life come included,” he wrote in a recent column. “Your chats funnel through iMessage, vacation photos get preserved in iCloud and you shop for games, music and movies from iTunes.” Trying to switch to a competitive product, whether it runs Windows Phone or Android or whatever, would be difficult.
But I think I could get by. I’ve already switched music services a few times, and while it’s annoying trying to remember exactly what I’d added to my collection on Spotify or Rdio or Apple Music, it’s not all that strenuous. I tend to buy physical copies of movies, so I can’t watch them through any of my Apple products anyway. Books would just be another thing I’d have to move from one ecosystem to another. And that’s only if I decide that I’m going to read any of those books for a second time.
I’m more worried about Apple changing the fundamental ways in which we interact with our products. Just think about “Force click” or “3D Touch” or whatever other names the company gives to the technologies that allow people to use varying degrees of force to control their devices. Here’s what the Verge’s Thomas Ricker said about his experience in his aptly-named First Click column:
With the new MacBook I Force click images and files to see larger previews. I Force click words to get definitions and synonyms. I Force click to quickly rename files or to fast forward and rewind videos with pressure-sensitive control. And I especially enjoy Force clicking links to get a preview of a web page without opening a new tab. It’s pretty magical, really, when you consider the whole thing is accomplished with electromechanical vibrations. Which reminds me: where’s the Apple Magic Forcepad?
Each time I sit down at my iMac I find myself trying to Force click on the Magic Trackpad. Same goes with the Logitech Touchpad T650 I use for my Windows 10 machine. Same goes for the touchpad on my wife’s laptop. I can’t stop Force clicking things.
That’s more concerning to me than the idea that my content won’t be available if I switch devices. What good are streaming services if you can’t bounce between them without some degree of ease? Books, music, and videos can be streamed from anywhere, re-purchased, or otherwise viewed without incurring too much of a hassle. Re-learning how to interact with smartphones, however…
It reminds me of trying to drive a new car. Sure, the basic concepts are the same; it’s not like Ford opts to have people steer with joysticks instead of a wheel. But small things like the location of the windshield-wiper’s toggle, the shifter, or other tools used all the time are often in unfamiliar spots. Whenever I have to deal with this sort of thing I end up being frustrated that there isn’t a universal standard, and worry far more about dying because I can’t turn on the goddamn windshield wipers.
I probably wouldn’t die if I got used to 3D Touch on my iPhone only to switch to Android years later. (Never say never.) But it would make the device feel even more foreign than it otherwise would, and when a device used as often as a smartphone doesn’t behave the way you’d expect, a minor irritant can become a deal-breaker. Who wants to feel like they have to re-learn how to use a smartphone?
All of which is to say that I agree with Fowler. It feels inevitable that most iPhone owners will upgrade to new iPhones, at least partly because they’ve already invested in Apple’s ecosystem. But I think the frustration Ricker describes will have a much more profound effect on consumers. Apple doesn’t have to convince people to buy its devices because they’ll lose all their content otherwise; it just has to make their devices work a little bit differently (and, it would argue, better) than others.