Photo: Alex Cranz (Gizmodo)
Year In ReviewWe look back at the best, worst, and most significant moments of the year, and look forward to next year.   

Lording atop its portfolio like some kind of $1,000 crown jewel, the iPhone is undoubtedly the Apple’s most important product. And for years, people have droned on about how the phone that Jobs built is the most innovative and user-friendly device out there. But is it really?

There’s no doubt Apple builds excellent hardware, and the sheer existence of Apple’s homegrown mobile OS years after competitors like Windows Mobile and Mozilla’s Firefox OX is a testament to iOS’ success. But more than ever, the decisions that go into improving the iPhone seem at odds with how people actually want to use the device. Here’s a rundown of all the annoyances iPhone users have had to put up with in 2018.

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The frustration train has been building on for a few years now. According to the company, it took great “courage” to eliminate the headphone jack on the iPhone 7, but really, it just got rid of a universally accepted I/O standard in an effort to get people to pony up for AirPods, the only wireless headphones you could count on to work seamlessly with the iPhone. Emboldened by Apple’s “courage,” competitors were content to follow Apple’s lead, turning what would have otherwise been a singular screwup into an industry-wide plague on the category.

Then last year, Apple took away people’s home buttons and replaced them with a big fat notch that basically does two things: unlocks your phone with your face, and turns you into a furry that’s not quite ready to yiff.

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That brings us to 2018 when Apple had the gall to take the iPhone X’s $1,000 price tag and bump it up to $1,100 for this year’s iPhone XS Max. When compared to a $900 Galaxy Note 9, that $1,100 price tag seems outrageous as the Note 9 features a screen that’s essentially the same size (with a higher resolution), double the base storage, a microSD card slot, and an included stylus.

So what else actually got improved? The iPhone XS’ pictures are a little better, but still not as good as what you get from a Pixel 3, and it doesn’t have the bounty of cameras you get on other flagships like the Mate 20 Pro or LG V40.

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Thanks to Apple’s new A12 Bionic chip (which is a powerhouse of a mobile chip), the new iPhones are faster too. But honestly, has anyone in the last few years ever complained about their new iPhone feeling slow? So what’s left? More durable glass and slightly faster Face ID unlocking? It’s a good thing Apple took the original iPhone X off shelves after just a year. Otherwise, there’d be very little reason to buy an XS unless you absolutely need to have the 6.5-inch screen on the XS Max.

Even with all that, Apple somehow still found a way to be cheap as hell because, despite hopeful rumors to the contrary, Apple didn’t upgrade the power brick that comes included with new iPhones. That means if you want to take advantage of the iPhone’s fast charging capabilities, you need to shell out at least another $50 for a more capable power adapter and a new cable.

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While we’re at it, with the new iPad Pros recently switching over to USB-C, Apple’s continued support for the Lightning connector on the iPhone has become even more appalling. The new iPads have USB-C, and so do new Mac computers, but if you want to connect an iPhone to either of them, now you need a different wire. Why does asking for one cable that works with everything have to feel like summoning hellspawn?

Then there’s the iPhone XR, Apple’s supposed “affordable” iPhone, which starting at $750, costs $125 more than a Galaxy S9 and features what Apple calls the most advanced LCD in the industry. Dog, for real? The iPhone XR’s screen resolution is 1792 x 828, which doesn’t even qualify as full HD. Also, when you spread those pixels across a 6.1-inch screen, you start to run into PPI issues because unless you have bad eyesight, you can actually see individual pixels from more than 6-inches away. There’s nothing special at all about the XR’s screen.

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What’s worse is that if you want anything that even remotely resembles something cheap, your only option is to buy older iPhone models. It’s like Apple doesn’t care about people who don’t have the better part of a grand to spend on a new handset.

Where things get really annoying is when you combine all of Apple’s 2018 decisions with its Fort Knox-like ecosystem, because for a company that’s so invested in tech, trying to tweak your device often feels like trying to argue with the government. Want to change the way your icons look? Nope. How about customizing your theme? Hell no. You can’t even install any app that doesn’t come from the Almighty App store without basically needing to be a developer with a Test Flight account. In a lot of ways, Apple has become the gadget company for people who don’t care about tech.

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Apple’s focus on delivering a simple user experience has resulted in a phone that’s tighter than Zuck’s face while getting grilled by Congress. The iPhone is the smartphone you give to your grandparents or children, because yes, it is easy to use. And yet, iOS 11 was one of the buggiest versions of Apple’s mobile software ever released. It was plagued by things like “i” getting autocorrected to “A”, a random character in Telugu that could crash your system, crackling audio, and more, with things getting so bad that Apple decided to delay new features in iOS 12 to fix all the broken shit in iOS 11.

And those bugs don’t even include Apple’s battery throttling. While the company’s intentions may have been in the right place, the execution and communication of that feature were more than a little misguided. But in a lot of ways, that’s Apple for you. Changing things behind the scenes for the “greater good” without ever considering you might care or want to know what’s going on. 

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Being a long-term iPhone user can be disappointing. For every neat new feature like Face ID, something like Touch ID gets taken away. Is it that hard to do both? And sadly, because Apple and only Apple can make new iPhones, you can’t just switch to another phone running iOS. It’s the closest thing the tech world has to Stockholm syndrome, where your captor is also your savior, holding you hostage with the threat of taking away your iMessages or App Store purchases if you ever even think about switching to Android.

With the iPhone, it’s Apple’s way or nothing, and with the company continuing to make moves that have a growing number of users feeling like they’ve been abandoned, it’s no wonder Apple fans maybe didn’t rush to upgrade to the XS.

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Smartphone Smackdown 2018: This week we’re looking at the year’s very best smartphones—and what we didn’t like about them.

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