After nearly six months of waiting, the day is finally here. All across the United States people are getting ready to put down at least five hundred Dollars in an Apple or AT&T store for the privilege of owning an Apple iPhone. Some of those people are so eager to get one that they’ve been waiting in lines since Monday. Are they mad? Quite probably. Are there more important things in the world than a new mobile phone, even if it is the first one Designed by Apple in California? Definitely. However, to dismiss the iPhone phenomenon as calculated and viral hyperbole is to miss the opportunity to revel in its glorious design and detailing. The iPhone is the finest expression yet of Steve Jobs’ great taste and Apple’s talented team of industrial designers led by Jonathan Ive.
People are excited by this phone. I’m excited by this phone dammit, even though mobile phones are one of the few gadgets that usually leave me cold, and even though I can’t even buy one in the continent where I live! The level of interest that’s been shown towards the iPhone just shows how inspired people get when someone finally goes to the trouble of doing things properly. The hardware and software fit together beautifully in a way that’s definitely not been seen before on a mobile phone.
Over the past few weeks, those of us who have been watching have learned more and more about the iPhone. Delicious little details have been revealed through adverts and informational videos posted on Apple’s website. Earlier this week, the first reviews came in and have more or less confirmed that the facts Apple have presented to us about the iPhone are all true. Undoubtedly AT&T’s EDGE network is hopeless for data transfer and everyone seems to be agreed that this is the most serious shortcoming of the iPhone. Hey, I never said it was perfect! It seems inconceivable that Apple won’t bring out a future version of the phone with 3G and that they won’t address the other shortcomings that have been widely mentioned, such as the lack of a proper SDK. Remember, this is version one of an entirely new product in an entirely new market for Apple, one that’s been years in development. They had to stop work and get it out of the door at some point.
I recently bought a Motorola RAZR which is a fine phone in many ways, deservedly popular and undoubtedly the best out of the three mobile phones that I’ve ever owned. I love the slimness of it and the one-piece keyboard that looks like it’s been machined out of metal. The battery goes on and on and on. The phone’s software is where it falls down though. It’s not terrible, I’ve found my way around it easily enough and can do everything I need to do. There are lots of little quirks though and features that I just don’t really understand. That means that I don’t feel entirely in control of it, which is not good for something I’ve paid money to own.
Let me give you an example of one of these quirks. When I’m sending a text message I press the soft key under Send To and get a list of my contacts. So far so good. Next, I scroll to the contact I want and press the same soft key which now represents Send. Only it doesn’t work because I first have to click the button in the centre of the cursor keys to select the contact before I can send them my message. In other words, the user interface for sending text messages is optimised for the send to multiple contacts use case. It works great for this, only that’s something I never do. In fact, I can’t think of a single occasion when I’ve sent a text message to more than one person at the same time.
There are some features on my RAZR whereby I haven’t a clue what they are, or if I do have an idea then I don’t know how to use them, and that means I’m afraid to find out in case I can’t undo whatever it is I just did. I’ve even looked in the instruction booklet, but that just gives you the steps needed to access the feature without telling you what it actually is. Here’s a brief list of bafflers:
- Show ID/Hide ID - whose ID?
- Add Digits - what digits am I adding and to what?
- Talk then Fax - how?
- Notepad - something to do with phone numbers
- Info Services
- Cleanup Messages - how does it choose which messages to clean up?
- DTMF: Long
—It’s enough to turn even the most ardent technophile into a technophobe! The difference with the iPhone is that if I were to somehow find one lying about then I know that I could pick it up and use all of its features straight away. Based on watching Apple’s videos, there’s not a single aspect to the phone that looks awkward or difficult to use. Everything seems obvious and natural and as it should be.
As I said before, there are no dark crevices. You get to this happy position by obsessing over the details again and again and again until they’re right and until they make sense. Sadly, only Apple seem to be doing that at the moment. They’ve even thought about the experience of buying the iPhone. You pick one up, pay for it, take it home and then activate it on your computer through iTunes. What you don’t have to do is spend twenty minutes sat with some dodgy acne-ridden youth who was the first to accost you as you stepped over the threshold and into the store. Sat bored whilst he takes you through the phone’s features and sets it up, all whilst smearing your new purchase with his sweaty fingerprints! Seriously, everyone has to earn a living but it’s great that Apple have eliminated another completely unnecessary part of the mobile phone experience along with crap usability.
Happy iPhone Day everyone. The Mobile Phone for the Rest of Us is here. Regardless of whether you’ve been queuing for days to be amongst the first to buy one, or if you’ve vowed never to go anywhere near one, its impact will be felt across the industry. Now we can all look forward to better mobile phones.