The Apple Allure
I had the opportunity to tour Apple's London headquarters during their launch of the original iPhone (yes, that groundbreaking 1st Generation smartphone) with other fresh-faced, college of business students.
Apple’s marketing has always favored the avant-garde, hype-train approach. Their tech is sleek and beautiful, and the London campus embodied the Apple hype.
During a tour of the main office, we stared at the rows of fish tanks on each level in awe of the grandeur.
Apple’s campus, which had no artwork except for glorious, massive pictures of their products (which were changed out every month), represented the Mecca of tech and innovation.
We fell for its spell.
During the tour, an executive shared Steve Jobs's vision for Apple to claim 100% of the smartphone market share. At the time, in a world dominated by Blackberry and Razr, we felt it was a crazy dream in spite of Apple’s allure.
Fast-forward thirteen years, and Apple’s product is the leading smartphone brand. To boot, our own market research at Techless has shown that 93% of our user base use iPhones (starting from 0% market share, this is an epic achievement).
Look, I get it. People love their iPhones: they’re chic, easy to use, and well-built.
Don't get me wrong, there is a lot that we love about Apple. The Techless team is allergic to PCs 😉. Josh Banko, our technical advisor, led the team behind the Apple iPad. One of our content writers thrives on Apple’s holy trinity: MacBook Pro, iPhone, and iPad. At the office, I run Techless on a glorious Apple retina display. We know firsthand the beauty and usability of Apple products. In fact, much of the design ethos for KidsOS is inspired by Johny Ivy’s rigid minimalism.
As much as I love their computers, I’ve found a sinister and dark corner under the hood of the iPhone.
I want to share with you why I would NEVER give one of my kids an iPhone.
Our Kids & Teens are Smarter than the iPhone
The conception of the iPhone didn’t include the needs of children. As amazing as this technology is for adults, it’s dangerous when placed in the hands of a young person, and Apple makes a half-hearted attempt to support parents trying to protect their kids.
The Washington Post has reported how easy it is for teens and children to "circumvent" Apple's Screen Time and other safety features. They use simple backdoors like accessing YouTube through iMessage. It’s so easy, the reporter calls it “child’s play.”
And it’s not like our kids are training to be hackers. A quick Google search reveals the simple backdoor methods any child could use with their friends. According to the Post, “Kids are outsmarting an army of engineers from Cupertino, Calif., home to Apple’s headquarters in Silicon Valley.”
Because of this, locking down an iPhone is exhausting and near impossible for parents.
The Safety Illusion
Apple does offer parental controls and restrictions within its interface. But, these “restrictions” are far from watertight and serve as a playground for kids to work through.
To truly hand a child a safe, locked-down phone requires tremendous research and effort.
And dozens of steps. 😩
I’ve tried this for myself, pouring over blogs, tech FAQ’s, and Apple’s documentation to lock-down an iPhone. As part of a promise I made on my wedding day, I personally carried this “locked-down” iPhone with restrictions that only my best friend could lift. However, Apple makes it hard to control media.
I remember when a new version of iOS force-installed Apple’s News app. Within a few minutes of scrolling through my news feed, I stumbled upon sexually explicit material.
Wait...what!? I hadn’t approved of the explicit media. But there it was, blending in with other news reports as if on the same footing. I realized how inappropriate content weaves itself into the fabric of standard iOS apps.
So, even if we succeed at locking down an iPhone with Apple’s features, all of those easy backdoors and sneaky apps reveal Apple’s restrictions are more of an illusion than a solution.
There are a hundred loopholes that any motivated kid can get around, allowing unfiltered web access. And when it comes to your children, even one minor slip-up can cause irreparable harm.
There has to be a better way.
A Bold Declaration. No Fine Print.
Techless debuted its vision for KidsOS at 2019's Consumer Electronics Show, the world’s biggest tech trade show, in Las Vegas. I was there a day early to set up our booth before the crowd arrived. As I stepped off the monorail platform, a 13-story Apple ad looming over the expo entrance stared down at me.
In bold white letters contrasted across a black background, it declared, “What happens on your iPhone stays on your iPhone.”
And whether we care to admit it or not, this sentiment has an underlying tone of sexuality—one that Apple paid big money to publicly proclaim.
Michael Simon, a staff writer for MacWorld, offered an analysis of Apple's move here, noting there should be a big ol' "asterisk" next to this statement.
He recognized the marketing hyperbole; however, he felt Apple's privacy issues demanded more. He concludes his article by noting “there should be [an asterisk], along with a whole bunch of fine print."
He’s right. Though Apple may seem concerned about privacy and security, this bold statement carries a dark irony: the iPhone promotes secrecy.
When another guy at the water cooler leans over and whispers with a sly grin, “You know, what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas...” he’s not talking about safety or security. He’s hinting at the assumed secrecy and sexuality, the darker side of Vegas, and the deeds he can’t speak aloud.
The Vegas strip is concerned with profit, fulfilling desire, and instant-gratification—not the well-being of young humans who need healthy habits. Likewise, Apple designed the iPhone for maximum entertainment and engagement, and it will offer a myriad of apps to make sure that happens.
Here's the bottom-line: iOS is intuitive, fun, and beautifully engineered, but the "fine print" is not apparent. If we have a hard time navigating the safety of Apple's proprietary software as adults, how can our children?
We have to ask ourselves if this is a brand we can trust with our children’s best interests.
Apple’s Vegas Mindset
An iPhone's operating system—even with its parental controls—leaves the door to pornography and mature content wide open.
For example, some iOS app developers masquerade pornographic material within their seemingly innocent interface. One Chinese app in particular looks like a fun, useful app for ordering snacks. In reality, it’s a porn portal.
Calculator#, an approved “Utilities” app in the App Store, looks unassuming with a boring calculator icon. But, a quick read of its description reveals its true purpose: “It’s deceptive and disguised design makes it impossible for hackers and other users [insert “Parents” here] from discovering your hidden data.” In other words, the app is designed to hide sensitive material from those around you. You have to type a hidden password into the calculator to access the secret files, essentially blocking a parent from any oversight.
Note the app’s intentional subtitle: “Hide and protect your secrets.”
I’d have no clue about the app’s dangers just by glancing over my child’s list of apps. And even if I were to open it, I couldn’t view the hidden media or history. As well, if a child were to request permission to download Calculator# and say “It’s for school,” I’d imagine most parents hitting “Approve.” Maybe they’d miss the 17+ age rating in the process. The child then can easily bypass Apple’s Parental Controls with the app store itself.
As parents, we want our kids safe. We want to trust them. Yet, Apple allows a suite of untrustworthy apps into their lives. So, we have to become app auditors, scrutinizing every nook and cranny of their iPhones.
Does this path develop mutual trust with our children?
Apple’s Vegas mindset erodes that trust since our kids are offered these tantalizing app-ortunities out of a parent’s tech radar.
Lifting the Apple Spell
After Vegas, Y Combinator—a supporter of startups—flew me to California for an interview. I took the opportunity to meet-up with a good friend, who happens to work for Apple, at a grand opening of a new observation deck at the new Apple Campus.
He walked us around the campus, and we ate lunch in the employee cafeteria. I remember feasting on a bison burrito on a recycled paper tray, sitting at the very cafeteria table Steve Jobs would frequent.
Despite the world-class amenities (a $40,000 coffee machine), and being surrounded by some of the brightest minds in the world, I couldn’t get as excited as I used to. I thought back to my enthusiasm on the London campus a decade earlier and realized that the magic had faded.
My friend casually poked fun at my tiny, outdated iPhone 5s as he showed me the impressive features of his iPhone X. He insisted I buy an upgrade. I shrugged him off, and in that moment, I decided to do something crazy:
Try an Android. 🤯
At first, I felt blasphemous leaving Apple, but the more I used it, the more I felt okay.
As time went on, the Apple spell lifted further.
Amazingly, my life went on without an iPhone. Now, I use Wisephone® as my primary phone and haven’t looked back.
As a father of three biological and six foster kids, I implore you: Do not just hand your child an iPhone. Its allure is strong and its content is sneaky.
Instead, let's be intentional with the doors we open for our kids when they begin their tech journey.
The good news: we are on this journey together.