Why iPhone design is no longer the gold standard for usability

Apple products were renowned for being user-friendly, but that’s no longer the case

Those side buttons on all current iPhone models are soul-destroying. They’re easily the worst user interface Apple – normally stellar on usability and user interfaces – has introduced in my 35 years of using Apple products.

This design hell comprises two buttons on the left side of the handset, which are officially “volume”, not “side” buttons and confusingly, also do non-volume things, and a larger “button” on the right side which, I’m sorry Apple, is more of a bar than a button. Let the confusion begin! The following woeful scenes were all caused by this button combo abomination.

1: I am sitting in the National Concert Hall and prepare to turn off my phone before the music begins, so that a shrill trill doesn’t accidentally mutilate the Mendelssohn. On all its current handsets, Apple has deemed that in order to shut off the phone – that is, to bring up the screen slider to turn it off – you now do a fiddly thing where you hold either of the two “volume” buttons while simultaneously depressing the right side bar/button.

Instead of turning off my phone, I take a screenshot, because, irritatingly, the shortcut for taking a screenshot is to do the exact same combination, but you don’t hold it. Except, of course, you inevitably do not get the timing right because a long hold isn’t that easy to do, or you forget whether it’s hold or don’t hold. Maybe the handset is slippery due to the plastic cover you’ve paid extra for to protect said handset from falls, or your fingers and thumb can’t maintain the hold-hold-hold until the slider appears, or a finger slips off one of the buttons prematurely. I take three screenshots in a row before I succeed in turning the phone off.

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Everyone I know with a newer iPhone has a photo gallery full of these unwanted screensaver images.

2: I want to screenshot something to share online. But of course, instead, I hold it for too long (whatever that arbitrary divide between short and long might be) and I keep getting the slider for turning off my phone.

3: I am in a quiet cafe having coffee and accidentally launch a video on the handset. Loud music/speaking begins and I desperately try to stop the video or lower the volume. When that doesn’t work I try to turn off the phone. My thumb dexterity is inadequate and I turn up the volume. I am now the most despised person in the room.

4: I am at a supermarket checkout making a purchase that requires me to insert rather than tap my debit card, but the card reader insists my chip isn’t readable even though I just used it twice for road tolls (don’t even get me started on the joys of faulty chip cards).

I ask, “May I use Apple Pay?” The cashier says yes. To use Apple Pay, Apple says “Double-click the side button.” But the button on which side? Oh yeah, the left buttons officially are “volume” buttons, not “the side button”, even though they are small buttons, on the side.

Also, if you hold the handset flat in your palm, balancing it between thumb and fingers so you don’t drop it, it’s very hard to click, much less double-click just one side. So I double click the top left button then bottom left, and make the ringer volume increase and decrease. I take a screenshot. Feeling like an ancient who cannot manage today’s technology, I ask the young cashier for help because I seldom use Apple Pay and think I am doing it wrong. She takes a screenshot. Then she turns the volume up. I take my iPhone back, double click every button available and eventually get Apple Pay to appear. So much for “Okay boomer”.

5: Exasperatingly, the “emergency SOS” sequence on the iPhone utilises the same action as “power off”, except instead of holding buttons on both sides of the handset and using the “slide to power off” slider at the top of the screen, you slide the red SOS “emergency call” slider located midway down the screen. A friend who had only glanced briefly at the phone while doing this (having shut down their phone many times) thought they’d turned their phone off in the car just before pulling out into traffic. Instead, they initiated an emergency call and, now driving in traffic without a hands-free system, could not legally or even, easily stop the call. A swift shouted explanation to the emergency dispatcher ended the call, but alas, not before the iPhone also sent notifications to all their emergency contacts, who then started trying to call my friend while they were still driving. Nightmare.

6: My 80-something mother needs to replace her iPhone. Horrified, my brothers and I sort a used iPhone 8 for her, which still has the intuitive, easy-to-use manual button for phone functions. Thus, the iPhone will not destroy her continuing quality of life by imposing impossible side button combinations.

7: I now contemplate reverting to an iPhone 8. Or switching to Android.