I think there’s a lot we won’t know about the iPhone until June when they start showing up in stores and we can all try it for ourselves. Too much is too new for us to judge it from reality-distortion-field demos and well-lit photos from Apple’s legendary marketing department.
But I just couldn’t let this day in history go by without at least marking it with a blog post. Here’s what rolled through my mind today.
The user interface is beautiful. The animated state transitions look a lot more natural than anything I’ve seen on a phone or music player (including iPod). Sure, they are a little gratuitous, but sometimes it’s those gratuitous flourishes that make a device feel special–and Apple is great at finding them.
I’m not a big fan of the actual look of the device, maybe I will get used to it or just have to see it in person. It reminds me of the Wassily chair, which I rather like, but somehow it doesn’t work for me on a device.
There’s actually nothing that iPhone does that Windows-based smartphones haven’t done for a while. I’m not saying that Windows smartphones are better, just that MP3/video player + phone + Internet communicator is not at all a new category. Until today, devices like the Samsung Blackjack and LG enV have gotten great reviews, and from people who need such capabilities, I’ve heard the Windows Mobile based devices in particular do a fantastic job.
Apple never wins on feature set. They win on ease of use, sex appeal, and marketing. Isn’t that enough for them?
On Multi-Touch, and Soft Interfaces
There once was a company called FingerWorks that sold two kinds of devices: giant touchpads, and keyboards without any physical keys (the same surface served as both “soft” keyboard and touchpad). Both used a novel “gesture” interface, where you could make different gestures using one, two, or three fingers, and they would mean different things. Drag two fingers around to move the mouse pointer. Tap two fingers to simulate a mouse click. Drag four fingers up and down to scroll.
I bought one of their giant touchpads, and let me tell you, their multi-touch technology works shockingly well. You could rest your hand on it, and it didn’t treat it as a stray click; it was uncannily good at knowing how many and which fingers you were using. (There were dozens of gestures, but in the end I only ended up using maybe six of them–the six that corresponded to the buttons on my mouse. Keyboard shortcuts were more effective for everything else.)
FingerWorks suddenly shut down a couple of years back. It turned out they were acquired by another company, although the identity of the other party was kept a secret. There were rumors that it was Apple, and it’s pretty obvious today that those rumors were true.
So, it’s safe to say that iPhone’s multi-touch technology works a treat. But is it a good idea as a phone’s primary interface? FingerWorks’ giant touchpads were excellent replacements for the mouse. But it turned out that the keyless keyboards were not as popular, because people found it very hard to type without having tactile keys under their fingertips.
Earlier models of the Philips Pronto universal remote suffered from similar usability problems. While technologically and aesthetically head and shoulders above their contemporaries, they were impossible to use without looking at them. Current versions combine a set of dedicated hard keys with a touchscreen interface.
For a phone, I wouldn’t be surprised if the touchscreen is a hindrance while dialing (which Jobs played down during the keynote–use contacts instead) and especially while texting. I don’t know if you remember when BlackBerries first started being called CrackBerries, but as I recall, one of its main claims to fame was how shockingly quick one could pound out messages with one’s thumbs. Don’t plan on that being the case with the iPhone, which is why Apple wisely built in a predictive text algorithm which doesn’t even assume the letters you’ve hit are the correct ones. I’m curious to see if that’s enough.
For a music player, I really value the ability to change tracks and volume without looking, especially while driving or walking. The iPhone might still allow this if the gestures for these commands are gross enough, and aren’t affected by the orientation (what orientation is it when it’s lying flat?).
In any case, I’ll be fighting my way through the throng at the Apple store when these things finally hit. I can’t wait to try one out in person! I won’t be needing my credit card, though… see below.
$499 and $599, with two-year activation… I was shocked. I’m not buying an iPhone anytime soon–I have enough sense to not even ask my wife to let me spend $499 on a cell phone, I don’t care if it has a Cell processor and takes better pictures than a Leica and fits into the space between by two front teeth, it’s just not happening.
But you know, regardless of how much they charge for this, it still makes sense for Apple. As of 10:00 PST this morning they have already established their brand as the ne plus ultra in cell phones and they are not even shipping until June. The 2009 models will be $200 cheaper and modestly better, and will seem like a screaming bargain in comparison. In the meantime they just need to sell enough to let them credibly call it a success (and I bet “1% of the market would be great” line is just sandbagging).
So, there’s no iPhone in my foreseeable future. I am still thrilled that Apple has thrown the gauntlet down, because it means everyone else will get better. Just look at all of the super sweet portable media players at CES this year. Now imagine what a wasteland of beauty we’d have if there had never been an iPod.
I look forward to picking up a slick-looking, brilliantly simple $150 Samsung phone in early 2008 and using it with my existing Sprint account. Thanks, Apple! 🙂
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