I bought an iPhone 5s, but I returned it the next day

It's a beautiful device, but it loses out against cheaper Android devices with better usability.
Written by Matt Baxter-Reynolds, Contributor
Gold iPhone 5s -- Return to sender!
This thing is going back.

I've been using a Nexus 4 since January. Somewhere down the line I must have developed a deep attachment to it. I really dig that smartphone.

The iPhone 5s is beautiful. It's perfectly hewn from metal and glass. Everything about it feels carefully thought through and fantastically executed. I loved it, and I loved the gold colouring.

It also has all the apps that I need. Over the past year I've adopted quite a high number of day-to-day apps on Android. They're all supported on iOS. So if you looked at it from the perspective of could it do what I need it to do, it certainly could.

What I found though was that there were two major problems in the way that it did the things I needed it to do.

Firstly, the screen format is bizarre. The actual screen quality is fantastic -- it seems way better and brighter than the iPhone 4S I used for a good long while before changing to the Nexus 4. Another thing I liked was that the surface felt to have physically lower friction and the Nexus 4. Simply, it's more slidy, and that's nice.

But the screen has such a funny, illogical shape. It's smaller than I'd like, sure, but this weird "tower" arrangement makes no sense. You hold it in your hand and end up peering at the shape, rather than losing yourself in the content of the screen. To my mind, the screen on the iPhone is something Apple is really mucking up, which is weird if you consider that the iPad mini screen format is so perfect.

Going from another other device with a normal screen to the iPhone's weird screen is very off-putting. However, that's the sort of change that people get used to and I'm sure I could have got use to that. That wasn't the main reason why I returned it.

Never go back

I returned the iPhone to Apple because it didn't have a "back" button.

Post-PC encourages users to be lazy. I don't mean that in a bad way, it's just how these devices are supposed to be used. Post-PC devices like smartphones and tablets are designed to hang around in the background, and brought forward into the foreground to be used. These devices need to have very low "cognitive loading". Simply, they shouldn't ask you to think too much.

The problem that Android users going to iOS will have is that Android trains you to use the back button as a lazy way of getting around an app. You never have to look for the back option on Android -- it's always in the same place and does essentially the same things. It's become part of every Android app design.

iOS devices don't have back buttons. This means that wherever you are in an iOS app you have to think in order to reach back into the app -- for example, to go back to your inbox, or a list of folders. It's this thinking that makes iOS less easy to use than Android. That grates when you're trying to use the device quickly, or when you desire to do so with little effort -- e.g. when you're on the hoof, or when you're tired.

If you consider that an Android phone now more or less does everything an iPhone does, but in a slightly less classy way, you have to think about what you're gaining by going from Android to iOS. You're probably going to be losing hundreds of dollars. What do you get in return?

The Nexus 4 is a very cheap phone, even before it was discounted as we approach the Nexus 5. The iPhone 5s is not cheap. I always buy my smartphones SIM-free, so I spent nearly $900 (£549) on a bottom of the range device. And for what? The "joy" of learning how to deal with a funny screen, and for a user experience that was harder than on Android for doing the equivalent things.

Plus, the Nexus 4 is so cheap that if I dropped it, lost it, or broke it, I probably wouldn't care. Dropping, losing, or breaking the iPhone 5s would likely make me cry. That's something worth thinking about.


Talking about back buttons, there's a rumour that Windows Phone will soon lose its hardware back button. That now seems like a tremendously bad idea. It's worth considering that as we approach the 20 year anniversary of mainstream web browsing, we're probably quite used to the notion of "going back", which is why I think it's so natural to use on Android.

What I've learned over this week is that a back button on a smartphone is both very helpful, and a big deal. Smartphones are better with back buttons.

Interestingly though, tablets don't seem to suffer with the same problem. That might be because they generally are less often used in casual settings (waiting in line at the store, etc) compared to smartphones.

Turns out the cliché was wrong. It's not "never go back", it's supposed to be "always go back".

What do you think? Post a comment, or talk to me on Twitter: @mbrit.

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