I’ve been looking forward to my first iPhone for nearly 6 months now. I’ve been patiently waiting, and now that they’ve announced the iPhone 12… I ordered an iPhone 11. I was going to go with the latest and greatest, but then I realized the 11 with 128 gigs of storage costs US$650. Between the disappointing upgrades in the 12 and that price, I just couldn’t say no. As a bonus, I picked up a pair of AirPods Pro during the Prime Day sale with the money I saved. I’m also looking forward to buying a Watch SE, but I wanted to acclimate myself to iOS first.
I've been an Android user for years. Ever since I had enough money to ditch my 5th-generation iPod Touch for a Nexus 6, I left Apple behind. I am not a fan of the big fruit, despite being one myself. We’ve got a history that goes way back to the G3 iMacs and the awful experience I had with them at my elementary school. More recently, a 16-inch MacBook Pro that I bought for school left a sour taste after I discovered that Voiceover for Mac OS is riddled with bugs and quirks that made it unusable for what I needed it. I sold that thing a few months ago, but I was still dead set on getting an iPhone. My dislike of Apple is matched only by my frustration with Google and their inability to support their services. I’m a victim of Google+, Google Play Music, Chromecast Audio, Inbox, and I’ve had enough. I’m sick of Talkback’s lackluster app support, and the second-class treatment I, as a blind user, receive from hardware vendors. Also, Brailleback and WearOS are both terrible.
Not going out nowadays is a pretty good idea, so I ordered through Apple’s website. I ordered my new iPhone last Wednesday. I’m very much not in favor of the removal of the charging brick, but I added one, along with a headphone dongle, to my cart. The phone and brick arrived Friday at different times, and the dongle arrived nearly a week later. Seems like it would’ve been cheaper to send them all in one box, but hey, what do I know about logistics? Maybe the dongle wasn’t in stock.
I turned on my shiny, purple beauty and was immediately thwarted by the lock screen. I triple-pressed the side button to enable Voiceover, but I couldn’t figure out how to get any further. After some fidgeting, I figured out it had to do with putting my finger near the bottom of the screen and waiting to hear an audible pip. Apple really should add a hint here for Voiceover users. One thing I noticed was that my phone told me that attention mode was disabled for FaceID. I remember users here complaining that previous versions of iOS did not notify you that this was disabled, so I’m glad that was changed. One thing that I noticed as soon as I was presented with an edit field is just how fluid typing is. Once I switched over to touch typing mode, I found that there was almost zero delay between focusing on a key and Voiceover speaking it. This is so much better than Android which has an absolutely infuriating delay to every key press. Next came the time to transfer data from my old phone. I downloaded the app onto my Galaxy s9+ and went through the steps. I started the transfer… and was told it would take two hours to transfer the 10 gigs of photos I had. I can’t help but imagine my phone transmitting PNG images of ones and zeros carved onto stone tablets so that the iPhone can OCR them and enter them into memory. Once that was finally done, I finished setup and was presented with the home screen. It was exactly like I remembered it back on my iPod Touch except with more apps. The phone asked me if I wanted to download the apps that were transferred. I said yes. It got maybe half of them, and half of the half that it got was bloatware that I never used on my s9 anyway. Uh, thanks, I guess.
I began tidying things up. I have previous experience with Voiceover on a 2016 iPhone SE, so I swiped for actions and edited the home screen.
I edited the home screen. I did it on my own. That doesn’t happen on Android. It’s so finnicky, requiring muscle memory, lots of swipes, and blind emulated touches. This was a breath of fresh air. I finally mastered the navigation gestures an hour later, finding that Voiceover gave me subtle audio and haptic context clues. Hey, I was under the impression that there’s a gesture to go backwards. Anyone know how to do that? I straight up can’t find a tutorial for these navigation gestures, which seems very strange.
The first app I signed into was Discord, and wow. The iOS version is a BIG step down for blind users, compared to the Android version. I can’t scroll the conversation. This is usable, but the switch stings. Another thing I already sorely miss from my s9 are the radial context menus. By default, Talkback uses list menus which are absolutely miserable, but one tap of a toggle will give you the same menus arranged in a radial formation. Simply drag your finger over the desired item and release to activate. The rotor simply feels less elegant and clunkier than the radial menus on Android. That’s about it though. Almost everything else feels much better and more fluid. Whereas haptic feedback was the first thing to be shut off in Talkback, I very much enjoy the haptics in Voiceover and throughout iOS. I love that it buzzes in time with your ring and notification tones.
At this point, I was starting to notice just how scary fast FaceID was. I decided to turn on the attention feature, and so far, I’ve not had too much trouble with it. FaceID works most of the time, and if that means I have better security, I can deal with it. Everything on this phone feels so fast and fluid. If I didn’t know better, I would have assumed that it came out this year.
There was some additional content I needed to transfer from my Android phone. You see, I’m one of those clowns with 4 google accounts, and because of my laziness, my contacts were spread through those 4 accounts. I’d like to deprecate all but one of them eventually, so I decided to copy my contacts over to iCloud instead of syncing them. The best way I know for doing this is to download a contacts file from Google and upload it to iCloud. I don’t have a Mac, and I feel much more at home on a keyboard, so I used iCloud on the web via Firefox and NVDA, and wow that was a mistake. Apple’s web interface is a disgrace. I had to use emulated mouse clicks all over, but once I finally uploaded my contacts and cleaned up duplicates, I was good to go. That’s not an experience I wish to repeat. I get the feeling the web interface hasn’t been updated in years.
Amazon decided to grace me with an early delivery. I stuck on a glass screen protector (hooray for application frames), popped it into a cheap Spigen case, and unwrapped the real prize, my set of AirPods Pro. Since I purchased them, they’ve been with me to the emergency room, and they’ve been fantastic. The lid did start creaking and wiggling excessively. I’m not surprised one bit, but at least Amazon has decent customer service and shipped me a replacement. Pairing is comically easy, and transparency mode is incredible. I thought reviewers were exaggerating, but it really does sound as if you don’t have anything in your ears, save for higher frequencies being a bit muffled. I imagine they do this on purpose so that you don’t hurt your ears. There’s practically no latency, so you won’t stumble over your own words. Some noises are perhaps a bit amplified, but that’s it. I feel confident in walking around with these in my ears. Noise cancellation is cool, but I feel an uncomfortable pressure when it’s active. Thankfully, I found you can turn it off in the settings, along with remapping gestures so you don’t have to yell “hey Siri” like a tool while riding the bus, which is good because Siri is the only way to adjust the volume if your iPhone isn’t within arm’s length. I tried the larger ear tips, but they don’t provide any additional improvements to noise cancellation. The buds stay in my ears while on a walk, but I’m not sure I’d trust these for a full run. These AirPods don’t sound like $200 or $250 earbuds. Frankly, my US$80 Audio-Technica ATH-m40x cans hooked up to a cheap eBay 6j9 vacuum tube amp sound better, but I don’t care because of how seamless and easy they are to use. They’ll be even cooler when I get my Apple Watch. If you have the means, I highly recommend you pick them up. Spatial audio is an absolute trip. If you want quality over features, I recommend Sony WF-1000-XM3 or XM4 buds (They really need to rename those things).
I made my first call on the first day. I’ve always insisted on purchasing my phones unlocked. In the world of Androids where hardware vendors bend over backwards to accommodate carriers, some features, like visual voicemail and Wi-Fi calling, don’t work unless your phone is on the carrier’s whitelist (E.g. you bought it from the carrier and not unlocked). However, Apple puts on it’s big-kid pants and tells the carriers to sod off and makes them support all iPhones equally If they want to sell them in their stores. This is why many MVNOs don’t sell iPhones. I’m so happy to finally have a phone that supports wi-Fi calling and visual voicemail properly without having to lock myself into a contract or be weighed down by carrier bloat. Sound comes through crystal clear, and other people hear me perfectly too. The AirPods sound almost as good as the phone mics, according to the people I called. One thing I noticed is that the call answering screen sometimes provides me with buttons to accept or decline the call, and sometimes it gives me a slider. Oh well, I can communicate quite clearly with people now.
On the subject of communications, I was hesitant to pick up the iPhone 11 because of the modem situation. Apple and Qualcomm had a bit of a legal spat, and while it was resolved, it wasn’t rectified soon enough to include a Qualcomm modem in the iPhone 11. Ever wonder why you get less signal than your non-iPhone friends? According to tests, the iPhone 11 uses the Intel XMM7660 modem which is Intel’s last modem before the division was bought out by Apple. It’s okay. My s9 gets a solid 2 bars of LTE in my room, but my iPhone jumps between 1 and 2 and straight up won’t pick up the GSM signal without a SIM inserted. My SIM-less s9 gets full GSM signal in my room. Big oof. Still, once I’m activated on my carrier, I get enough signal to make a VoLTE call, so it’s not a lost cause. The iPhone 12 is likely using either the Qualcomm x55 or x60 modem, so it won’t have these problems. I can’t give you speed tests on mobile because my carrier cheaped out and used mostly T3 backhaul for their towers. Ever wonder why your phone maxes out at around 40 megabits per second? Many Asian countries get up into the hundreds of megabits on LTE because they use fiber. Mobile speeds are bad, clocking in at less than 2 Mbps in my room. That’s bad, but it’s about in line with my s9+. My s9 gets full signal with no SIM, and my iPhone gets nothing, so there’s clearly a disparity going on. Fortunately, the iPhone can max out my 175 Mbps 5 GHz wireless AC connection with flying colors. I’ve still got one week to change my mind. Maybe the extra money is worth the Qualcomm modem in the 12 if it gets less signal in more places. I’ll have to do additional testing, but so far it hasn’t been a problem. Data was more than fast enough while I was in the hospital. Speaking of speed testing, the Speedtest app by Ookla has much better accessibility on iPhone. I thought that was interesting. I also downloaded Dystopia. There are a few things I don’t like, but the simple fact is that I can use Reddit accessibly on iOS, and on Android I’m stuck with the first-party app which is merely okay.
I love the mute switch. I dislike the lightning connector. The haptics are fantastic. The built-in speakers have some really funky digital signal processing which makes music sound good, but it can make many voices (especially men) sound somewhat unnatural, as though it’s boosting the brassiness and glottal fry. So far, I’m quite happy. However, picking up an iPhone has made me remember why I so despised (and still despise) Apple. I don’t like the way they do things. I don’t like their prescriptivist attitude towards tech, but I think it’s that very controlling nature which makes the iPhone so accessible. I’m not a fan of their draconian repair practices, especially the total lack of repairability on AirPods, but that’s a topic for another time.
I will leave you with one more thought. I am perpetually disappointed in the tech industry for one reason or another. My girlfriend knows all about that. A new Android phone for me means 2 or 3 hours of frustration and anxiety and asking her for help on one thing or another, but with the iPhone, things were different. There was no frustration. There was no anxiety. Instead I found a breath of fresh air. What Apple has given up in user freedom, they’ve made up for in user experience. Voiceover feels like it was created by a blind person, and I know it was because I had the chance to speak with Dean Hudson at the Braille Institute of LA. He helped co-create Voiceover. Did you know the team was originally going to use the home button to activate elements? The hardware team told them that the home button wasn’t designed to be pressed hundreds of times a day, so we got the double tap instead.
Oh yeah, Siri! She’s no Google Assistant, but she excels at local device control. She feels a lot like Bixby, except actually competent. I’ve sent tons of texts with her already, but there’s more trial before I can give a final verdict. I do rather like her though.
That’s it. Those are my first impressions. So far, I’m satisfied with my purchase. My phone and Airpods are sitting next to me right now. I think I might pick up one of those combination wireless chargers for my desk, and I’ll be ordering an Apple Watch SE soon. This isn’t what I want, but as a blind woman who wants her tech to just work, it is what I need.
Oh hey, anyone know how to refresh the video feed in the YouTube app? I can't figure it out.