The Sledgehammer – Version 2.0

July 1, 2007

Phoning it in – First Impressions of the iPhone

Filed under: Technology — Tags: — Brian Lutz @ 12:06 am

If you’ve been reading some of the tech blogs lately, you might have heard something about Apple getting into the phone business with their new iPhone, which was released yesterday afternoon. Assuming you can manage to find any coverage of the thing, it sounds like a fairly typical Apple product: cleverly packaged, with plenty of flash and style, some nice features, and a huge price tag to top it all off. On the other hand, if the coverage the iPhone has gotten over the past six months since it was announced is any indication, they should manage to sell roughly half a billion of the things by next Thursday. Being somewhat of a gadget junkie myself, I should be quite interested in something like this, but to be honest, I’m not so sure what to think of this.

For one thing, it’s just way too expensive.  Even if I did want one, it would be $600 up front, $150 to get out of my existing contract, and hundreds of dollars in additional bills over the next two years.  There’s also the fact that my current employment does to some extent tie me to Windows Mobile based devices (at least if I want to be able to get my work e-mail on one.)  There’s also the fact that over the years (for the three of you who have read any of my old stuff) I have been somewhat less than kind to Apple and its products.  It’s not that I have anything against their products on their technical merits, but I still find the inherent fanaticism of Apple’s userbase a bit difficult to deal with.  Of the Mac users I’ve known over the years, I can’t recall a single one who was less than fanaical in their devotion to Apple products, often to the point of varying degrees of antagonism toward non Mac users (I suspect there might be a couple of them out there who still burn incense to their old Mac SE every once in a while.)  Even Apple’s advertising reflects this attitude.  Of course, the fact that both the Mac and Windows now share the same hardware does serve to blur the line somewhat, but I still have difficulty detaching Apple’s platform from its userbase, which makes it hard for me to make a clear, objective evaluation of Apple products on their technical merits alone. 

 Nonetheless, it’s undeniable that Apple has been gaining steadily in the PC market, and has complely dominated the music player market with their iPods (I don’t pay much attention to audio players , since I’ve never been able to justify buying one.)  These factors have combined to create something of a “perfect storm” that resulted in astronomical hype for the iPhone, and culminated in a line of more 200 people in front of the Apple store at Bellevue Square on Friday afternoon for the official launch of the iPhone.  Although I clearly have no intention of buying one now or anytime soon, as a gadget junkie, something like this is impossible to ignore.  Shortly after the phone launched, I managed to find a demo unit in an AT&T store to mess with and get a few first impressions.  Keep in mind that I only had about five minutes to mess with this, and that I didn’t even touch most of the functions of the device.  Mostly I was interested in the underlying platform, and how well the device would function.  So with that in mind, here are a few thoughts I had from this:

The user interface looks very nice, and is very responsive. That said, it seems to have been designed with form over function, as functions have been complicated needlessly in a lot of ways by Apple’s “no buttons” design philosophy. It’s nice to see someone working on making a touchscreen device that doesn’t need a stylus, but quite frankly, I think I’d have a much easier time with this if I could use a stylus with it. I found that finger input was just not accurate enough to be reliable (on the soft keyboard in particular.) In my opinion, text input on an exclusively touchscreen device is something that nobody has ever really figured out (there’s a very good reason that virtually every PDA phone device comes with some form of built-in QWERTY keyboard on it now.) The device does correct on the fly to compensate (to some extent) for this though, which is nice when typing errors are inherent in the design (that’s not meant as a criticism, you just can’t expect the user input to be completely accurate in this scenario.) Incidentally, even if you wanted to use a stylus you can’t. I tried the one in my PPC-6700 on it, and it doesn’t register anything. The screen also smudges very easily (although this is nothing new to me, since my 6700 does the same thing.)

I’m sure that if I had bothered to watch some of the preview videos I probably would have been able to get a better feel for the device before I found one, but I spent a significant amount of the few minutes with no clue how to perform basic functions.such as zooming in on text in the web browser, or highlighting text in URLs or search boxes. In each of these cases, the first thing that comes to mind either didn’t work or does something unexpected. The power users will probably read the manual and figure out how to make this work and find it quite powerful, but a lot of the mass market consumers will probably mess with this stuff, get confused and ultimately end up leaving most of the functionality of the device untouched. It looks like there’s all sorts of cool functionality to be had, but how many people bother to figure it all out remains to be seen.

All in all, I need to spend a bit more time messing with one of these to really get a feel for it, but my initial impressions tell me to wait for version 2. It’s a rather impressive looking product in typical Apple fashion, but in my opinion they went too far out on a limb with it. There seems to be some design decisions that ended up trying to fix things that weren’t broken in the first place. If they had just included a D-pad like every other phone has, and allowed a stylus to be used for input, the device would be so much easier to use than it is. Of course, being an Apple product, they’ll probably manage to sell 40 million of the things.

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2 Comments »

  1. […] The Sledgehammer – Version 2.0 A hard-hitting look at the Information Age, now in handy Web 2.0 form « Phoning it in – First Impressions of the iPhone […]

    Pingback by A Commentary Lapse of Reason « The Sledgehammer - Version 2.0 — July 2, 2007 @ 4:06 pm

  2. […] stated in my previous post on the iPhone when it came out, I got the impression of a device that valued form over function, […]

    Pingback by Out of Touch? « The Sledgehammer - Version 2.0 — September 6, 2007 @ 1:38 pm


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