When we observe the world around us we are frequently to be found comparing what we see with our previous experiences. "That's a lot of rain" is not an absolute measure of the volume of rain without considering the observer – do they come from Thailand or southern California? So it should come as no surprise that the technology we are already familiar with has a significant bearing on our assessment of new gadgets. It recently occurred to me that my own judgement has been affected in this way and I think it's a common affliction.

My revelation came from my recent phone upgrade. In late 2014 I sold off my beloved iPhone 5 and "went big" with the iPhone 6 Plus. I remember the first week or two of using the giant new phone. I had pain in my hands and wrists until I got used to dealing with the size of the screen. Then, for three years, it was simply "my phone" and gave me no real problems except when it came to pocketability.

When I decided to upgrade this year, I opted for the iPhone 8 over the 8 Plus. The dual camera system of the Plus is not a real drawcard for me (I have a real camera) so that slight issue of pocketability lead me to the "regular" sized phone this time around. It didn't hurt that it was $150 cheaper, either. I ran my 6 Plus in "zoomed" mode for the last few weeks before the upgrade to get used to the amount of 'stuff' that would fit on the screen and now I'm perfectly happy with my new iPhone 8. It seems normal to me in every way now.

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The revelation comes from observing the now reasonably high number of Plus-sized iPhones I see in public. They now look huge to me! My initial reaction many times has been disbelief that people are carrying these enormous devices around that are so much bigger than any iPhone; bigger than the device I have only just stopped carrying myself. But careful observation confirms that these are indeed iPhones Plus.

The effect was clarified for me when I observed my son's girlfriend using her iPhone 5S. It just looked like a "smaller" iPhone. Yet I remember well when I was using my 6 Plus, that troubleshooting issues on my wife's 5C felt comical; I felt like I was working with an iPod Nano-sized device. It seems it does not take me long to get used to whatever sized phone I use every day and consider all other devices relative to it.

At the time of launch of the 6 Plus, there were a lot of people online claiming the phone was simply too big for "ordinary people." I still know people who claim this. And yet, from my observations out in public, the Plus-sized phones are predominant among those who I have to assume are "normal people." The phones haven't shrunk and I don't think pockets have become bigger. Certainly, hands haven't. I believe what has changed is more people have experience of the larger iPhones now that they've been out for several years.

There have been other aspects of iPhones for which I have seen this effect in my online reading. Touch ID was going to be pathetic, or at least an unknown quantity, before it was released because all existing fingerprint readers were rubbish. Face ID seems to have followed the same pattern, although some smart commentators had spotted the Touch ID parallel.

Then there's the much vaunted iPhone camera versus a real camera. It still astounds me the number of times I read that iPhones have amazing cameras. They don't. Honestly, they produce very average images compared to most dedicated cameras. Your photos might look great on the phone but put them up full screen on any retina Mac and they will show their flaws readily. Photos from my $2500-ish camera setup are night and day better than anything an iPhone can produce. Even my "hundred dollar camera" can produce shots roughly equivalent at wide angle and they are markedly superior when zoomed due to its optical zoom capability. There is no denying the convenience of having a moderately capable camera on your phone – because it's always in your pocket or purse – but they're only good cameras for a phone.

I could add examples of software and even data plans but you get my point. Some people believe what they have is fine and anything more or different is unnecessary or overkill. Sometimes it is. If what you have does the job, then good for you. But progress is made by branching out.

I use a Mac because I wondered whether it was better than Windows. I started with a desktop (iMac) then upgraded to a laptop because I thought that would be better. Now I've gone back to an iMac and I know why it's the better choice for me. I've even added a 12" MacBook to my repertoire because I know what roles a laptop can fill for me.

I use Adobe Photoshop Lightroom because I wondered if it could do more than just collect my photos in folders. I use Affinity Photo because I wondered if it could be as good as Photoshop. I used Photoshop because I wondered if it was more powerful than PaintShop Pro.

I have had the luxury of funds to make all these changes and seek out different solutions over the years. Not everyone is so lucky. Which is why trial software is so important and, if you can, get your hands on different types of hardware to actually try them for some real tasks. Most importantly, think objectively about technology.


Banner image by leg0fenris.

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