I’ve seen passcodes from both sides now: On iPhones, iPads and the force of habit

January 19, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Jan. 19, 2015

More or less on the spur of the moment, I changed the password on my iPhone in the final hours of Friday or the beginning hours of Saturday.

I don’t even really remember why I changed my password, other than because I’d had the same one for a while. At any rate, I did it, and I’ve been dealing with the consequences ever since.

For years (probably since I got my first iPhone, in late 2008, if I remember correctly) I’ve had my device set to require a password after five minutes of inactivity. That means that I have to tap in the password — it’s numeric, and Apple calls it a passcode, but anyway — I have to tap in my password thousands of times in any given year. The latest number had become second nature of a sort, to the point that my fingers would execute the task almost automatically.

Unfortunately, ever after I’ve changed the number, my fingers have instinctively begun inputting the old code, starting at the top of the screen with “1.” This is now the wrong number, of course, and sometimes I catch myself before I’ve finished trying to unlock my phone. But at least as often, I don’t realize that I’m using the old number until I’ve finished putting it in and the phone buzzes.

I started doing just this thing this morning — putting in the wrong number — and I mentioned it to the person I’d been talking to. As it turns out, she’d recently changed the code on her own iDevice, and she was experiencing the same issue I was. She often types in the old code — the wrong one — and the device, in her words, “shakes its head at me.”*

Her terminology struck me. “Really?” I blurted. I said that my phone kind of shuddered. I said that I guessed that the phrases we used were just different ways of saying the same thing.

My interlocutor wanted to show me the effect, so she pulled out her iPad and tapped in the wrong code.

Beginning with iOS 7, Apple has represented the four digits of its standard pass codes with small circles. As a digit is entered, the corresponding circle — first, second, third and fourth — is filled in with a uniform gray shading. (To maintain secrecy, the actual numbers aren’t shown.)

If the correct code is entered, the lock screen dissolves and the phone displays whatever the page it had been showing when it was put to sleep. But if the wrong code is entered, once the fourth digit has been tapped, the four circles slide from side to side. In the process of doing so, they reset by shedding their gray fillings. The horizontal motion, as my interlocutor showed, does indeed resemble a person shaking her or his head.

The iPhone, however, does something in addition to this visual effect. As I noted in this morning’s conversation, the iPhone also vibrates in response to an incorrect password. The iPad can’t do this because it lacks a vibration motor.

(I couldn’t demonstrate this because I’d already entered the proper password, and I would have had to wait five minutes to show what how an erroneous passcode words.)

In the end, we kind of circled back to what I’d said earlier: Saying that the device shakes its head is pretty similar to saying that it shudders when you put in the wrong code. But it was interesting to see how two different people perceive the same quotidian phenomenon.

~~~

* Disclaimer: All dialogue in this blog post is guaranteed to be 100 percent accurate or your money back. (Sorry, kids, but such is the nature of this kind of anecdotal story-telling, at least when I’m doing the story-telling.)

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