Motherboard staff is exploring the cultural, political, and social influence of the iPhone for the 10th anniversary of its release. Follow along.
This is a story about how all of my friends are now dead to me, because of the iPhone.
When a group of pals I hang out with in Brooklyn started referring to a group text thread I wasn't part of, I didn't give it much thought. I'd been out of town for a few weeks, so I assumed they were sparing me the logistical details of their kickbacks. How thoughtful: My hatred for sorting the "who/what/where do we meet up" in group chats is well-known. I would have muted it anyway.
But when I told one of them that I was writing about having an Android phone for the iPhone's tenth anniversary, a friend who shall not be named bravely leaked an extremely sensitive screenshot to me.
If you add someone to a group chat that isn't on an iPhone, you can't name the group—and can't refer to the group by name, in public, in front of your friend with the Android phone, as if she knows what the fuck is going on.
I'm neither red nor nude about this specific instance, I promise. And I'm not here to try to convince you why my current phone—a Samsung Galaxy S6—is better than the iPhone.
What I would like to unburden myself of is my experience with iPhone users for the last 10 years.
The iPhone came out in the summer between my high school graduation and my first full year of community college. By the time classes started in the fall, many of my classmates had this new device that I didn't quite get. It's an iPod that can make phone calls? And take photos? My flip phone already did most of those things, AND snake. I bought prepaid minutes by the month on cards sold in the checkout lines at grocery stores, to load onto that glorified doorstop with buttons. It came in a clamshell case, swinging on a hook in the electronics department for less than $50.
The first iPhone, on-contract, cost $599. Coincidentally, the device's first tagline, "Everything," was also what it would cost me.
I'm not exaggerating when I say I've had the earliest stages of teenage friendship—even people who are now close friends in adulthood—compromised by the inability to see my text messages in green instead of blue.
This little rectangle of unattainable (for me), impossibly thin (for the time) glass and plastic didn't seem like a world-changer at first. But quietly, as everyone I knew replaced their flip phones with iPhones, a rift widened between us. By the end of my freshman year, not owning an iPhone was a social sin.
Then, people started signing emails with the default signature, "Sent from my iPhone," as if to say, winkingly, Please don't ever forget for a minute that I'm using a piece of technology that makes me cooler than you.
Apple hardly invented the phenomenon of phones as status symbols. Flip phones were part of this. One particularly well-off friend would snap her hot pink Motorola RAZR in half for fun. They weren't cheap: Nicole Ritchie's trendsetting phone set the bar for iPhone prices. My friend's dad ran over one of these RAZR iterations with their minivan in the most dramatic punishment for going over texting minutes that I've ever seen. She had a replacement phone a week later.
But soon after, the iPhone came out, and owning even a Razr—which was always just out of my reach as a teenager—became passé. I was suddenly not just uncool in my technology choices, but light years behind.
In developing countries, mobile phones can help close the societal gaps that leave underserved populations isolated. They provide amazing access to otherwise unattainable resources. In middle and working-class America, however, the emergence of the smartphone and the brand loyalty that came with it seemed only to widen the social gap. A 2016 study showed that iPhone market share was bigger in higher income states in the US. Is that because the iPhone is more expensive and within the reach of the wealthy, or because owning anything but an iPhone looks gauche? These days, modern smartphones are all fairly similar in specs, which makes me believe it's the latter.
In 2012, MacDailyNews hit publish on a take that calls Android users the "Hee Haw demographic:"
Unending BOGO promos attract a seemingly unending stream of cheapskate freetards just as inane, pointless TV commercials about robots or blasting holes in concrete walls attract meatheads and dullards, not exactly the best demographics unless you're peddling muscle building powders or grease monkey overalls.
In 2014, MDN opinion writer SteveJack wrote (in a since-moved or deleted post with the slug "even-more-proof-that-android-is-for-poor-people): "The bottom line: Those who settle for Android devices are not equal to iOS users… The quality of the customer matters. A lot."
If you were an early adopter, you were probably reading these niche sites, and this is the tone they set: We are better than you.
But back to that friend with the phone-snapping fetish: When she got an iPhone, and when iMessage rolled out in 2011, being able to text over WiFi using iMessage was no doubt a relief to everyone on that family plan.
So, let's talk about the goddamn bubbles. From her and everyone else, I heard, "Just get an iPhone already" several times a week. As a teenager, my peers always had newer cars, more expensive clothing, and brand-name shoes, but no one was telling me to "just get a Gucci bag already." Not owning an iPhone, however, was a personal affront to their sensibilities. It was connected to how we communicated. Owning one (or, in my case, not owning one) became a point of identity.
I'm not exaggerating when I say I've had the earliest stages of teenage friendship—even people who are now close friends in adulthood—compromised by the inability to see my text messages in green instead of blue, or use iMessage instead of SMS. Using WiFi-based texting did make more sense, if you were being cautious of burning through data plan minutes and wanted to avoid your dad mowing over your phone when the bill came. But now we have Whatsapp and Signal and whatever the hell else if you must use WiFi instead of SMS or MMS, and texting "minutes" have become an arcane billing concern for most people with a smartphone.
But, as nothing ever really changes, the teens are still on their bullshit about this.
I wish I could say that this phenomenon stayed in adolescence, as we theoretically started caring less about logos and more about actual specs or personal preference. Then I read something like this—in which a technology writer gleefully shits on Android users in that same "Sent from my iPhone" wink-nudge to others in the club because she's THAT offended that a fictional movie character uses an Android device—and I'm right back in freshman year of college, wondering what planet I'm on.
But even after 10 years of this, I still don't want to get an iPhone. Maybe that's my sticking point of identity. Maybe refusing to convert is my own equally stubborn way of holding on to those high-school punk sensibilities.
The only feature, I will concede, that gives me iPhone envy is the unicode emoji. I have to jump through some truly weird widget hoops to use emojis that aren't totally borked on my phone. The "screaming" face on Samsung is the most dramatic thing I've ever seen. But even that, I kind of like. How else am I supposed to communicate that your meme about late capitalism (sent with an iPhone) gave me an out-of-body experience?
In conclusion, to the iPhone users I've been forced to endure for the last 10 years, I ask: Can't you just get something other than an iPhone, already? I would really like to be able to hang out again. As much as your obsession with Steve Jobs' world-altering device annoys me, I miss you assholes.