Apple

Christmas reflections on iPhones, iPads, and apps

Sitting around the table at Christmas dinner, it's amazing how much technology we have and our differing comfort levels with it.

The infamous selfie stick after Christmas dinner.

My wife and I live in Southwest Colorado, far away from most of our family. We grew up in New England and headed west for more sunshine, fewer people, and much less traffic. Thanks to the internet, I can write from nearly anywhere, and she can work in the tourism industry, which is everywhere in Colorado.

But it also means that we go to Christmas Dinner at her aunt's home, the only family either of us have in the area. Her aunt has something of a holiday dinner for misfits, attended by a variety of folks who also don't have family nearby. It ends up being a nice cross-section of people — some older, some younger. However, like many people these days, we all had smartphones. And, in a peculiar coincidence, all but one have iPhones, and they were used quite a lot.

I love talking with "normal" people about their iDevices. It reminds me of my days working at Apple Retail Stores, and it keeps me grounded. As a technology reporter, I'm completely engrossed in blogs, Twitter, and Silicon Valley, and I have to work hard to remember that 95% of normal people couldn't care less about what the scandal of the week is in Apple-world, whether that's an app that's been removed from the App Store for no good reason, or Facebook Messenger's privacy settings.

Normal people make up the vast majority of iPhone users, and it's critical for developers, reporters, and executives to remember that. They simply want their devices to work.

Primarily, we used our phones to take pictures of each other (including a bunch with a selfie-stick that a selfie-obsessed friend of mine received as a Christmas gift), to look things up on Google, or to trade game recommendations. We also used them to video chat with family across the continent and around the world.

I learned that even when Apple makes things really easy, people still get confused. I had a friend ask if a cellular carrier software update was safe to run and other questions about recent updates to iOS 8 (all safe, and good updates to run). I was asked simple questions about whether they should get a new iPhone or iPad, which capacity, and which data plan. Lots of questions that were simple to me as an "expert" but caused lots of consternation for the average user.

It reminded me that what I might find easy to do and the that problems I might find fun to troubleshoot are very difficult for some people. I'm happy to poke around in the preferences and settings of applications or my iPhone to try to change a setting, but many people will just deal with an inconvenience rather than risk breaking something (for example, one person asked why their phone only showed a week's worth of emails. It's a simple setting to change, but one they'd never gone looking for).

Everyone involved in developing technology, building hardware, or designing a user interface needs to remember who their real users are — the people who, at the end of the day, will actually be using their products. Keeping technology simple but accessible is one of the things that makes Apple better than everyone else (though even they fail at it a good amount of the time).

Have your holidays and family gatherings turned into a smartphone extravaganza? Do the majority use iDevices? Share your experience in the discussion thread below.

About Jordan Golson

Jordan Golson is an Apple Columnist for TechRepublic. He also writes about technology and automobiles for WIRED and MacRumors. He has worked for Apple Retail twice and has been writing about technology since 2007.

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