Why Is Apple Forcing Us All To Put Our Phones In Our Pockets Upside-Down?

Future Tense
The Citizen's Guide to the Future
Sept. 27 2012 7:15 AM

Why Is Apple Forcing Us All To Put Our Phones In Our Pockets Upside-Down?

Apple iPhone 5 headphone jack
Are you a right-side-upper or an upside-downer?

Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

I was sitting at my desk Wednesday, idly trying to fathom what had possessed Apple to put the headphone jack on the bottom of my new iPhone 5 rather than on top where it belongs, when I ran across an answer on an Apple forum that spun my world topsy-turvy. The explanation started innocently enough: “Internal space. There is not enough space in the top of the phone for the jack.” Right—an engineering decision, as I had suspected.

Will Oremus Will Oremus

Will Oremus is Slate's senior technology writer.

Still, it seemed unlike Apple to sacrifice design for performance. A bottom-mounted headphone jack means a cord poking out the bottom, an unwieldy hassle when you’re trying to listen to some tunes or a podcast while toting your phone in your pocket. Then came the spit-take: “Also, people usually put their phones upside-down in their pockets, so it works that way too.”

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They do?!? My mind lurched to recalibrate itself around the notion. Not once in my decade-plus of mobile phone ownership had it crossed my mind to store one in this perverse manner. Could it really be that there were normal, healthy individuals who had been quietly walking around all these years with their phones stuffed in their pockets the wrong way around, like sleeping bats?

Unready to accept the far-reaching implications of this revelation, I stood up and marched over to the adjoining cube. “You guys don’t really put your phones in your pockets upside-down, do you?” I demanded. One after another, my colleagues confessed that they did just that. Not only that, they insisted that their bizarre method was “natural,” allowing them to stow and retrieve the device single-handedly without shifting their grip. In fact, they thought I was the weird one.

Now I was entirely out of sorts. Was nothing in this world what it seemed? Just as I was on the precipice of Kierkegaardian despair, one colleague piped up that she too was a right-side-upper, and that she was as baffled by the upside-downers as I. Heartened, I took another look at the online forums and saw there were plenty of people there as well who were nonplused by the bottom-mounted jack. It became clear that the smartphone world is divided into two camps, neither of which realizes that the other exists.

Until now, Apple’s phones have always favored the right-side-uppers. But its iPods made the flip years ago, and with the iPhone 5, Cupertino has come down squarely on the side of the inverted, forcing our kind to confront the contingency of a habit we had always taken for granted. (Other phone companies have experimented with bottom jacks in recent years, but they weren't Apple, so the change didn't spark any existential debates.)

It's possible to mount arguments on both sides. They are all essentially feeble—who gives a damn, in the end?—but enlivened by the vehemence of irrationality. The upside-downers, I've learned, are mystified at how we right-side-uppers must contort our elbows and wrists in order to keep our phones in an upright position while conveying them from our hands to our pockets. (It’s not that hard, I promise. Ever cut and shuffle a deck of cards?) We right-side-uppers wonder how the other half avoid constantly turning their screens on and off in their pockets, what with the power/standby buttons always bumping their legs. (Apparently this doesn’t actually happen.)

In the absence of a compelling logical reason to prefer either method, I'm left to surmise that there must be some fundamental character trait that separates the uppers from the downers. But I have no idea what that might be. Neurotics vs. slackers? Introverts vs. extraverts? Chaos muppets vs. order muppets? We need more data points. Have at it in the comments, and maybe we can get to the bottom of this once and for all.

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.

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