Thursday, July 26, 2007

iPhone impressions

Hype and hysteria are settling down to practical realities.

There has been so much said on the device in the media since its launch it's difficult to filter the signal from the noise (whatever your viewpoint, you'll certainly be able to find someone that corroborates it).

And so it is in my case. My views of the iPhone concur with some of the points mentioned in the below articles :

Steve Litchfield AllAboutSymbian Review
Christian Lindholm blog

Two important factors of the iPphone for me, were whether I could use it single handedly and the touch-screen user interface. Starting with the second point, first.

The user interface is glorious and carries through to the native applications. Be it the cover flow of the album art,the landscape to portrait intuitive flipping in browsing and photo modes, the inertia scrolling in lists, the double-tap / pinch and zoom combos.

The animations and transitions when accessing and navigating around the applications and within them are not superfluous. They add to the playful/fun/delightful user experience. The reason this works is because of the speed of the interface.

It is very, very fast -it's the fastest interface I've seen on a high-end phone. I'm not talking about connected apps via WiFi (although they too are fast at updating) - I mean just accessing the native applications...

If you tap on something you get instant visual feedback. No waiting , no 1-2 second delay whilst the application talks to the OS thinks about it or loads into memory. I've discussed this in prior posts in relation to the big 5 handset manufacturers. Speed in the user experience is vital and Apple's choice of hardware running a version OSX admirably achieves this.

A user interface that is slow, whether because of the underlying hardware/OS or application software on top of it (there are always tradeoffs ) - degrades the whole overall user experience and this has been avoided by the Apple engineers on Generation1: iPhone.

It's not perfect though. There are some inconsistencies that bring me on to my second point of being able to use the phone in one hand only.

Previously I mentioned the "invisible hand" in the prelaunch Apple ads, where the iPhone is being held and the pecking finger is used for the phone. You can use the phone in one hand for some of the applications eg. weather, stocks, ipod and photos. For those apps that use the keyboard though it's quite a lot harder, though not impossible.

It's too early to say, yet, but my first attempts at trying to ** type ** with a single right handed thumb with the device in one hand using the keyboard were very, very slow, frustrating and not really feasible (as opposed to on S60/T9 for example).

I'll certainly keep practicing and maybe will improve, but I would expect Apple to release in future, a right thumb / left thumb version of the keyboard for single-handed use across their applications - this may help improve speed of typing.

There are also some inconsistencies between the applications. For example, to unlock the phone from sleep mode single handedly with a thumb you drag the slider from left to right. This is simple enough and feels comfortable. However in the photos application to flip through your photos you have to drag your thumb in the opposite direction (right to left = pushing). This was not as comfortable to me as "dragging" It's a small point but it would have been nice to be able to configure this in the settings for the application. Again small improvements that I'd bet Apple will address in future releases.

I won't do a review of the other native iPhone Apps (Google maps, youTube etc..) - as there are loads of detailed proper reviews on the web already ... Anyway I cannot access the full phone/calling functions at the moment. I am interested in the phonebook/contacts and how quick it is to dial favourites though, so may post an update at a later time.

Overall, I'm impressed with Apple's effort and wasn't expecting to be.
This is a bold first attempt by Apple (if you discount their iTunes/Motorola ROKR effort). Generation 1 of the iPhone has flaws and I don't think it's a smartphone without the extensibility, but Apple have set a new benchmark in user experience and interface design for phones/mobile devices.

A fantastic user experience can go a long way to help make the mass market start adopting services beyond voice and text from their mobile (amongst other factors such as flat data of course). The email configuration for example is simplicity itself, name of email account/description, username and password!

Surely too, the iPhone user experience will impact postively the other handset manufacturers ? For example sticking a touch-interface on top of S60 or Windows Mobile (eg.HTC Touch) will not be enough in my opinion. This type of interface needs to flow throughout the whole phone, the applications running on it and integrate across services running on the device. Furthermore the firmware and hardware need to be optimised for this.

From phones with touch interfaces like the LG Prada and successor (KU990) to recent smartphones like the N95, Sony Ericsson P1i, Moto Z8 and internet tablets like the N800/N900 I think the iPhone and touch screen smartphones will follow an interesting converegence path over the next 12 months.