(paper iPhone from sneakmove)
I’ve owned the same mobile phone for almost five years. It’s one of the first Windows PocketPC Phone Edition devices, and at the time I bought it I was definitely an “early adopter”. But I have not purchased a new phone in all that time, mostly because of the old saw “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. It’s ugly and huge, but I’m stuck with it.
Besides, I’ve occasionally used it to test ideas for user interfaces for mobile devices, wondering when someone would actually come out with a really well-designed touch-screen-based mobile device.
Now, with the announcement of the iPhone, I’ve noticed a lot of people talking about their reservations about owning a mobile phone without any hardware buttons. As someone who’s been using just such an interface for almost five years, I might be able to shed a little light on what it’s been like.
Many have complained that a button with no tactile feedback is less satisfying than one with real hardware buttons, and that it’s even more error prone for users who rely on touch to guide their finger pressing (in particular when, say, operating the device in the dark or in a pocket).
I agree with this critique almost completely, but there are mitigating factors that make it not so bad. First of all, if the buttons are sufficiently large (which they ARE on the iPhone and which they are NOT on the PocketPC Phone), you grow accustomed not to the tactile feel of the buttons but to the angle of your thumb as you scoot it around the surface finding the positions to press. It’s not as good as tactile, but it’s pretty good.
It’s true that when you touch a screen to your face, you will press buttons on the screen. Hopefully Apple’s multi-touch technology will recognize the difference between an intentional keypress and a generalized face-mash.
John Hicks complains about the inevitable dirty screens. I have no sympathy for this. Yes, my screen has fingerprints on it. You’re gonna have to get used to this. If you want a pristine device, you’re going to have to leave it at home.
Anyway, if you let enough fingerprints and dust accumulate, it doesn’t look like an imperfection anymore.
When you have a device this big, with such a huge touch screen, you will be almost obliged to buy a leather case for it. You do not want to drop your phone into a bag full of stuff only to find out that your keys have put a crack in your LCD screen. I’ve kept my PocketPC phone in a leather case from day one, and it’s saved the day many times.
A leather case will also seem to double the overall volume of the device itself. So it won’t be as small as you think it is.
When I bought my PocketPC Phone, I thought I’d use it like a true PDA (it is, in fact, a PDA with a phone in it, not a phone with cool PDA features). But since I got it, I’ve used fewer and fewer of the PDA features, and pretty much just use it as a phone.
Steve Jobs said in his keynote “We define everything that is on the phone. You don’t want your phone to be like a PC. The last thing you want is to have loaded three apps on your phone and then you go to make a call and it doesn’t work anymore. These are more like iPods than they are like computers.”
That’s smart. I’m not a big fan of the “walled garden” model of mobile device software development, but I also don’t think a phone needs to open the floodgates to allow anything to be installed as if it were just another computer platform.
Related to the PDA issue, a lot of iPhone naysayers are complaining that the iPhone doesn’t allow for detailed text entry or the pixel-level manipulation of data a stylus permits. But I for one rarely use my stylus, and when I do use it, it’s only to press buttons that Microsoft idiotically made so small that only a stylus can hit it.
Apple looks like they’ve made the right choice and designed a UI that could work entirely without a stylus. In five years, I am astounded every single day by the idiots at Microsoft who didn’t realize, as I did years ago, that there’s almost no excuse to design a touch-screen interface element that cannot be manipulated with a finger.
My PocketPC phone lacks the memory, the resolution, and the multitouch display of the iPhone, but in many respects it is a close match on the hardware side. Software-wise, there’s nothing terribly revolutionary on the iPhone, either. The thing that makes the iPhone great is the fact that it cherry-picks the best technologies and design concepts, and throws away the dumb ones that Microsoft keeps putting in there version after version. Bruce Tognazzini put it well in his excellent initial analysis of the iPhone:
“What’s important is that, for the first time, so many great ideas and processes have been assembled in one device, iterated until they squeak, and made accessible to normal human beings. That’s the genius of Steve Jobs; that’s the genius of Apple.”
Man. Your phone is a dinosaur. Look at that thing! Hahahahahahahah.
Ribbing aside, the revolutionary thing about the iPhone is the multi-touch display. There’s a little bit of multi-touch in my Mackbook Pro (you can double-click if you keep two fingers on the touchpad or scroll if you keep one finger on the pad and scroll with the other).
A researcher at NYU, Jeff Han, did a demo almost a year ago showing off multi-touch input (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QKh1Rv0PlOQ) on a big display/input. It’s exactly like the iPhone and it rocks. Apple is the first to market a device with this capability.
Someone mentioned the Han to Jobs and he more or less denied that Apple borrowed anything. I don’t buy that.
Thank you, that’s a terrific piece refuting a lot of the criticism iPhone has gotten so far.
I know the UI is going to be solid, and I know I will love the thing. Tactile feedback be damned, I’ll just develop muscle memory.
My only concern is price.
$500 for an iPhone isn’t too bad, but how much will I have to shell out every month to use this thing? Unlimited data plan, cell service, Wi-fi… are we looking at $200/mo? Yikes!
Yeah, many people have shouted to the hills “My phone does more, and has for years!” However, what you point out, and they don’t get is that it’s not about the features. It’s how they *work*. With few exceptions, Apple has been in the forefront of user experience. They don’t make new products people haven’t seen before, they make those products *better* (with apologies to BASF).
CM, thanks for picking up that I am not among those who think that the iPhone is not an innovation. I’m afraid some people might take this post title a little too literally.
I do, however, think it’s sad that the “innovation” of the iPhone is that it combines ideas people have had for many many years with a level of design excellence that, while elegant, isn’t exactly uncommon either. It’s frustrating for me, as a UX designer, to see several generations of mobile platforms come out with such egregious design flaws when many of the correct design decisions were so obvious all along.
In other words, it’s not surprising to me how elegant and innovative Apple’s products are — it is surprising to me how *other* companies get it wrong so often and consistently.
As you well know, it’s one thing to *say* you’re “user centred”, it’s another to actually *be*.
For the most part, the UI design is done by engineers (my friend FJ used to work for Nokia, and can back this up). They will do focus group testing, but that’s totally missing the point. You don’t ask someone “which interface is the least bad?”, you design something that people don’t yet know they want (multitouch, or non-linear voicemail, for example), then test to make these a viable experience. Otherwise, there is no innovation, just a rehash of the same old thing, with the same old thinking. We all know the current thinking sucks.
In the end, it’s all about R&D. I was recently reading that Toyota spent some obscene amount on R&D last year (around 8 billion). GM spent about 20% less. It doesn’t seem like a lot, but over a decade, the difference in absolute dollars spent is gigantic. Also note Toyota’s R&D covers *far* fewer vehicles (less than half) than GM. Toyota knows how to make cars that people want by giving them something they don’t know they wanted (and making it work as a cohesive whole). GM fails spectacularly in this regard, as does Ford.
Re: the face mash… there’s a proximity sensor that automatically (OHtomatically?) shuts off the screen and all its controls when the device is brought up to the face.
[…] As a 5-year-long user of a full-screen PocketPC touch screen phone, I suspect the reviewer’s implication is incorrect: While I have plenty of problems with the usability of my touchscreen phone, I’ve never had the screen misread my touches and gestures (except in cases where I’ve used my fingertip to press a 4mm x 4mm button, but that’s another type of problem entirely). […]
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