I can’t help but comment on the new iPhone. We all knew it was coming, we all knew it was going to be sexy, but did any of us expect this magnitude? That’s what strikes me the hardest, the sheer wow factor of how sexy the hardware and software are. That is extremely key, both hardware and software are sexy. When I see a device like the Blackjack, both the hardware and software are slick, but there is no pop, there is no sly grin as when looking at an object of sheer lust. No commercially-available device has sexy software and only a few devices have ever hit the sexy hardware level (the RAZR, when first released, was a great example). The iPhone has both.
Let’s talk about the hardware first, for without the hardware innovations, the software could never achieve sexy. The innovation isn’t just the touch screen interface as Windows Mobile has had that for years. It’s the concept that the entire device is a touch interface and no stylus is needed. For the first rev, most of the interface is just touch, drag and tap, but there are two examples of touch gestures. A gesture is more than a simple press or a press and drag, but is a specific motion or series of motions that expands the abilities of a touch screen.
The first gesture is used to unlock the device. For those of us that have non-flip devices, a locking mechanism is essential, unless you enjoy making random phone calls and allowing unintended glimpses into your world, from the audio perspective of your purse or crotch. To make sure that the device isn’t accidentally unlocked, the unlock procedure is usually more complex than a simple button press. I love the simplicity of a hardware switch, but that doesn’t usually meld with the rest of the interface. Some products (Treo 650, iPod, Zune) use a visual cue on the screen to explain why it is no longer taking input, but I still expect a more integrated experience. When the iPhone is locked, it clearly explains it is locked, shows the time and then explains how to unlock it. Instead of a series of key presses or a hardware switch, you actually just run your finger across the bottom of the screen. This is a simple and deliberate motion which I highly doubt would be randomly replicated in a purse or pocket. So simple and intuitive, but we’ve come to take that for granted in Apple products.
The second gesture, while easy and fairly self-explanatory, is not quite as intuitive or discoverable. When viewing something that can be zoomed, placing two fingers on the screen at a distance and then moving the fingers together will zoom in. Zooming out is the reverse, pulling fingers apart. It’s pretty simple, but completely indiscoverable. I could see power users relying almost completely on gestures to navigate and interact with the device, but not in this version.
The software is sexy in a very static fashion, meaning Apple has applied a large amount of polish to the basic grid menu layout. They have also reinforced the concept that black is the new black as the grid layout looks more professional with a black background, white text, white halos around the icons and the icons with the usual Apple gloss. Isn’t white on black more readable than black on white, anyway? The navigation of the main OS is seriously lacking cohesion, though. If you take a look at some of the phone demos, the button to enable speakerphone is in the upper right corner while in the voicemail system but is in a new grid view when in a phone call. During a call, how do you back out to the contacts list? In some applications, you can move back with a button in the upper left corner. In some applications, the upper left corner button is just some action related to the app. I’ve come used to consistency and I believe Apple could have made a consistent interface, but they have chosen not to. I almost feel that the phone/SMS portions of the phone were developed separately from the photos/browsing portions of the phone. For a static, v1, this is visually appealing but I’m not convinced of the usability just yet.
One area that needs immediate attention is scrolling. Say you fill this with as much music as the 8 GB device can hold and now you want to play a song that starts with a letter near the middle of the alphabet. Do they actually expect you to press and drag all the way to the middle? I’ve gotten very spoiled by the concept of smartdial on Windows Mobile and even Zune has a better way to scroll through large lists. As you scroll through a list, the speed increases the longer you hold down the button. Of course this leads to overshooting your target as the time allowed for reaction is smaller, but the overall time to get to the desired song is shorter. Not that I want to give them more ideas, but maybe they could use a gesture to imitate pressing and holding a button for scrolling. Say you swipe your finger from top to bottom of a list and then hold your finger there. The screen detects this and continues to scroll down automatically, speeding up. It would stop when you released your finger, allowing you to scroll back up if you overshot your target. Crap, maybe I should patent that before Apple does.
As much as removing the keyboard has cleaned up the interface and allows for some pretty cool UI, I still think a PDA needs constant text input. If the music interface of the iPhone had the ability to pull up a keyboard, you could search for your music rather than scanning or finding it. The goals for searching and scanning/scrolling are different, so a method for doing both should be available. Apple could have a gesture that brings up a keyboard for searches… alright, I’m not going to give them any more ideas.
This is a killer product with a few shortcomings, but look at the success of the RAZR. The actual software was atrocious to the point where the only thing it was good for was making phone calls, but people pay for sexy. Apple just brought sexy to the mobile device space.