July 05, 2007

Notes on the iPhone


- I wasn't planning on buying this thing, really. But after a trio of raves from some of my favorite interface commentators, I quickly realized I pretty much had no choice. There is no question the game has changed with this device.

- There was a period of time where the iPhone sat in the cradle, iTunes with the AT&T sign up screen loaded and the Treo on speakerphone hold with Sprint. For a half hour or so I sat there essentially debating which corporate force I should commit my soul (or at least my personal data) too.

- Of those three corporate monstrosities Apple is by far the scariest to me as it functions as a dictatorship. Whatever control Sprint or AT&T have over me is at least modulated by their natural bureaucratic inefficiencies.

- The fact that Apple went with what is apparently the weakest/worst cellular company shouldn't be surprising as they are also naturally the company most likely to give in to Apple's demands.

- The fact that I am once again an AT&T customer has not really set in yet. Once it does I'm sure it will be depressing.

- Palm/Treo is just too sad of an entity to be counted as either a corporate monstrosity or a threat. If they had expanded upon the Treo 300 in any sort of semi reasonable rate of progress over the past 4 years they'd have a device at least as exciting and useful as the iPhone. Who knows what the story is over there, but it's got to be too pitiful for me to want to hear it.

- There are about 18 million things that my Treo 700p does better than the iPhone, yet I have no intentions of ever going back. The Treo is just too damn heavy compared to the iPhone. Not in weight really, but in thickness, in processor slowness, in interface sludge and a stubborn resistance to evolution.

- The iPhone is really a computer. It's explosive success in part comes from being the first mobile device designed as such and actually succeeding. Most phones are designed like overgrown pocket calculators. The Palm and Treo owe there success to working well with the limitations of late 90's chips and making a great intermediate device. The iPhone is the real thing.

- The iPhone fits in my pocket so well it convinced me to eliminate half the items in my pockets.

- The iPhone is too symmetrical, there are no great tactile clues on how to orient the phone when you take it out of your pocket. It is just as intuitive to hold it upside down as it is right side up.

- The multitouch interface is incredibly intuitive, you feel like an expert user from practically the first touch.

- An incredible effort has gone into making this thing feel smooth and seamless.

- All the organic sliding looks and feels great and also owes an incredible debt to the much maligned interface designs of Flash websites.

- The iPhone interface designers could learn a fuck load from the early Palm's insistence on eliminating as many unnecessary clicks as possible. There is a subtle tendency to hide poorly thought out interface ideas under animation effects. It's not to bad yet but I can easily see it becoming an issue in the future.

- There is some serious inconsistency in the interfaces. Notes gets a big WTF for one, did someone's grandkid code that one? Weather gets a whole icon on the home and then leads to an essentially flat app, no detail. The little one that annoys me is the edit button on the sms & email apps, it's in a different place on what are otherwise nearly identical interfaces. The lack of search in contacts is mystifying as there are contact search functions in other parts of the phone, it's a bit odd.

- What retard decided there was no need for any sort of multi-selection? Deleting email one at a time is a serious chore and copy and paste just doesn't exist. This better be a temporary glitch not some one button mouse obsessive disaster.

- As much as it pains me to say it, the flexibility of the multitouch interface seems to trump the tactile feedback of hard buttons. If anything there might actually be one hard button too many on the iPhone.

- Tactile buttons aren't going anywhere though, they just need to be built for specific uses and separated from the general device. The iPod aspect of the "phone" is in parts exceptional, but doing something as simple as skipping to the next song can be a laborious chore.

- Adding physical buttons back onto the iPhone is pretty much the kiss of death, the computer in your pocket effect only works as long this device stays as slim and seamless enough to be able to forget you are carrying it.

(update - I quickly realized I'm wrong on this, a standard phone like five way button where the home button is now would be great. A button or two on the left & right of that would really help too.)

- Externalizing the physical buttons into an external device (an iPod remote for instance) seems like the best solution, but it's still a compromise, the proliferation of devices does not end with the iPhone. It may be the most convergent of all mobile devices yet, but convergence is starting to look like a phenomena that occurs in tandem with, rather than in opposition to the seemingly exponential growth of devices.

- Is anyone working on a tactile touch screen? A screen capable of producing some sort on non audio-visual feedback? The future is begging for it.

- The iPhone needs 3G badly, the difference between using it on WiFi and on AT&Ts network is radical.

- The lack of 3G sucks for us early adaptors, but it might be great for WiFi. I'm almost certainly reopening my personal connection up to the public, after knee jerk adding a password to it. I wonder if Apple will start shipping Airport stations that default to open?

- Using the iPhone gives you a totally different understanding of WiFi, a real understanding of what a WiFi mesh might be, as opposed to an isolated set of access points that you laptop into the internet from.

- If this phone shipped with 3G wireless data, WiFi would be pretty much a mute point.

- The difference between using a WiFi mesh network and 3G network provided by a cellular company is intensely political. Yet the only difference the end user might will generally notice will probably be in their cell phone bill. And it's unclear whether that difference will be an increase or decrease.

- Playing with the iPhone really does feel like you are playing with the future. Yet function wise the only real difference is in the interface. Other than perhaps the very nice visual voicemail, there are no applications on the iPhone that aren't already bundled together in most of the smart phones that have been on the market for a while already. Is this device just a slick slight of media trick, or has Apple (and/or Steve Jobs) really singlehandedly pushed us into the next generation?

Posted by Abe at 10:38 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack