Why Some Left-Handed People Are Having Big Problems With the iPhone
On Friday, thirsty shoppers around the world finally escaped the endless lines outside Apple stores to get their clutches on the new iPhone 6s and 6s Plus. As usual, the throngs were rapturous, the first customers in line were giddy and the employees were ecstatic. Even Apple CEO Tim Cook got in on the action.
Despite the ritualistic hubbub that surrounds every iPhone launch, for some iPhone users the latest model's excitement is outweighed by something else: the difficulties they experience as people for whom the left hand is dominant.
One in 10 people is left-handed. With 13 million brand-new iPhone 6s and 6s Plus phones sold in three days, statistically speaking, more than 1 million southpaws may well have gotten their left hands on iPhones this past weekend. Many are finding issues with some features on iOS 9, from closing images to navigating the new right-hand side dock on the iPad.
"The iPhone has never really been designed for lefties," said 23-year-old Kaitlyn Jakola, a Mic copy editor. (Many lefties in the Mic office noted issues with the iPhone.) To compensate, she devised a system to make her lefty life as easy as possible: employing both hands, using a Swype keyboard and using her right hand instead of her left to tap, among other things.
Except it all fell apart as soon as she downloaded iOS 9. "Before, it seemed like the iOS was designed for everybody," she said. "Now it seems expressly meant for use by right-handed people."
Among Jakola's biggest complaints are the new card-style app switcher, which "keeps tripping me up as I try to quickly get rid of apps I don't need anymore," she said. Closing programs in iOS 8 required a simple swipe upward; now, users have to swipe right to clear out their Rolodex of apps. She also has trouble with the favorites list, for which tapping the new left-side photos takes users to the contact information rather than prompting an automatic phone call.
"The problem is biggest with the things I do most often," Jakola said.
"Why is there no way to alter the orientation?"
Others had problems before iOS 9. Danielle Landau, a 26-year-old lefty iPhone user, told Mic that there are other problems at play: an "unconscious bias against left-handed people." She relies on her right hand to control her iPhone, but she noted it wasn't necessarily a conscious choice.
Try it yourself: Closing out of pop-up ads in a mobile browser gets annoying when you have to switch hands to hit the X on the top right corner.
Bryan Liles, a 39-year-old software developer, specifically cited this problem while discussing his lefty woes with Mic.
"The only problem that I really run into is the 'close' button [on apps] is never on the left side. And that's just really for app developers to understand that you don't know what hand the phone is going to be used in," he said. "I usually hold my phone in my left hand, not my right hand."
"Most people are right-handed, and a lot of people just don't think about it as they're building the apps." — Bryan Liles, 39, software developer
He never had problems with his Google Nexus phones, which he used before switching over to the iPhone. Those devices were smaller than his current phone, making it easier to reach across the screen to close out apps. "On the 6S Plus, you can double click on the home button and the screen moves down," he explained. "But I [shouldn't] need to do that."
In Liles' view, the onus is on app developers rather than Apple itself — though he did add that his Apple Watch wasn't particularly lefty-friendly, either.
"It's not the iPhone, it's the application developers," he said. "Most people are right-handed, and a lot of people just don't think about it as they're building the apps."
As blogger Jen Gorfine argued in 2013, mandatory adaptation to another way of doing things is irritating and ostensibly unnecessary. "I shouldn't be forced to override my instincts when it comes to using a device that is otherwise customizable just because I'm left-handed," she wrote.
For some lefties, it's simply easier to use their nondominant hand rather than mold their dominant hand to a phone that doesn't want to cooperate.
But while the design of some products is largely static — the spiral notebook hasn't exactly changed all that much since its creation — the iPhone has gone through a number of iterations since its inception. While it's easy to personalize some aspects of the phone, like creating a custom home screen, left-handed accessibility isn't a feature. Many users are calling for a mirror mode or more left-handed options.
Gorfine called for a similar option, inspired by Nintendo. "Wii Sports ... allows lefties to use the same simple controller as righties, but flips their characters' equipment and body positions when given the order," she wrote. "Apple's designers could give left-handed iPhone users the option to flip the layout of all default programs and functions, including the 'slide to unlock' bar."
Liles, for his part, told Mic that a left hand-specific iPhone isn't an idea he's into ("that's weird!"), but a mirror mode "would be nice to have."
Of course, some people disagree. Landau told Mic she hadn't noticed much of a difference in her smartphone experience. "It's hard for me to gauge whether or not [it's harder], because I don't know what it's like to not be left-handed," she said. "There are plenty of things that are super annoying, like writing in a notebook. I just haven't necessarily thought about [the iPhone] before. It's never been a thing I've really had a problem with."
There are also people who fall on the other side of the spectrum — the ones who believe that the new iOS 9, for example, is actually stacked against right-handed people. The new app-switching function, accessible by pushing the home button twice, now swipes from left to right instead of right to left.
At the end of the day, no one lefty is the same. Some have no problem with the iPhone, and some think it's irritating and biased; there's no one-size-fits-all fix. (Moreover, all the lefties Mic spoke with were also quick to emphasize that the issues they faced were not dire, nor were they particularly different from other problems lefties have — it's simply par for the course.)
Still, the issues deserves to be acknowledged, especially since technology, in all its customizable glory, is designed to make our lives easier, not more irritating.
Or, as Jakola put it, "It's just one of those things that makes you wonder, 'Why didn't this occur to them?'"