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10 October 2017

Apple's Head of Design Says Some People 'Misuse' iPhones — and It Reveals a Growing Problem for Apple

Apple's chief design officer, Jony Ive, said that constant
use of an iPhone was "misuse".  Getty
Apple's head of design says some people 'misuse' iPhones — and it reveals a growing problem for Apple
by Kif Leswing, 9 October 2017

  • Apple's two most senior executives have answered questions about people overusing smartphones by suggesting they get an Apple Watch.
  • The Wall Street Journal, the Financial Times, and The Guardian have all recently published long stories about how smartphones can be addictive.
  • Smartphone overuse is a growing public-relations problem for Apple — one it doesn't have a strong answer for yet.

Jony Ive, Apple's chief design officer, is clearly proud of his role in the invention of the iPhone, the device that spurred the smartphone boom, created multiple billion-dollar industries, and changed the world.

But he acknowledges that too much of a good thing can be bad.

He pointed to "constant use" of an iPhone as one example of iPhone misuse during a public talk at The New Yorker TechFest on Friday in New York, after the magazine's editor, David Remnick, pressed him on whether he ever felt ambivalent about inventing the iPhone.

Does Ive check his email and texts constantly, the way many of us feel like we have to on our iPhones?

"With my new [Apple] Watch, I tend to not," he said.

His solution to the increasing problem of device overstimulation — get another device made by Apple — echoes how Apple CEO Tim Cook handled a similar question Fortune asked earlier this year about the perception of iPhones as a tool of "bad social behavior, like distractedness and children who stare for too long into a screen."

"Our whole premise is to infuse our products with humanity," Cook said, before segueing directly into a sales pitch: "So if you think about what the watch does ... it allows you to have a curated level of connection without being absorbed in it."

To me, Cook's and Ive's answers are distinctly unsatisfactory — and Cook's is unusually unclear for him and jargon-heavy.

While neither executive is denying that there's a growing distraction problem created by smartphones, neither wants to dwell on the issue.

The solution to a problem created by an Apple product should not be another Apple product — one that, in my experience testing an Apple Watch over the past three weeks, actually has contributed to my level of device distraction. (Apple Watch: Buzz. You've hit your move goal! Buzz. You've received a text message! Buzz. Here's a headline: "Trump White House to repeal...")

Starting to become obvious

The downsides of smartphones being such addictive and entertaining devices are starting to become obvious. If you live in a city, for example, you're probably used to seeing "smartphone neck" — people buried in their iPhones on the subway and the sidewalk.

The problem is clear to parents who sit down to dinner with their kids only to have them buried in Snapchat and "Clash Royale" the entire time.

It's clear to iPhone users who turn like Pavlov's dog anytime they hear the iPhone notification sound, even when it comes from someone else's phone.

Eventually, Apple is going to have to come up with a clear and coherent answer to questions about iPhone overuse. It's going to be asked more and more of Apple executives at every public occasion.

Apple is fortunate right now in that it's not facing the same level of scrutiny about regulation and fake-news issues as its Silicon Valley neighbors Google and Facebook. Apple is good at privacy and security, and it doesn't sell many ads.

But perhaps smartphone addiction is the big public-relations problem starting to appear on Apple's horizon: What can it do about its products being so good that its customers want to use them all the time?

Over half of iPhone owners can't imagine life without it

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