Saturday, August 4, 2007

A few days with an iPhone

Yes, I don't own this, so I might have a different opinion after a month. I have used the device a dozen times, so was pretty familiar with it, and just spent the whole weekend using it. I used it as much as I could for all my weekend tasks, legitimately taking notes, mapping stuff to get to it, timing things, browsing when I would otherwise have to haul out a laptop, etc.

Except that no one had the number so I received no calls on it, I feel I worked it out pretty well. The iPhone is one of those products that has a visceral, emotional response. Its so pretty that using it tends to make you happy. There are quite enough glowing reviews from fanboys of all stripes, that I won't proceed further. Oh, its better shaped than I thought. Maybe mostly the thin-ness, but it was a snap to carry, even with a wallet, knife, flashlight, KRZR and so on already in my pockets. Miles better than the Treo 650 I previously borrowed from work for a few weeks.

 Its got at least its share of flaws. Now, I'm gonna disregard all those I've already read, and focus on things I alone think are lame, or which I was surprised to find to be true all these weeks later. You are, as always, free to disagree.
  • No LBS - I went out and googled this one; with maps on the home deck I was sure I had just missed some setting, but indeed, there is absolutely no location service at all. Even sector would have been enough to make me happy. This changed my opinion of the whole thing as a network device. It felt like a big iPod after this.
  • Browser crashing - Safari likes to crash, sometimes 5 times in an hour. And when it crashes, it takes you back to the home deck. Maybe, it saves your window list, maybe not, but in all cases they are all empty. So I've waited forever to load up info into 5 tabs, and they are all blank. Even if the device is gonna crash, better state preservation would be nice. Also, note there are no error messages. It took a while to make sure it wasn't me hitting something wrong.
  • Safari zoom in weird - Its a pure zoom. By the time I have zoomed enough to comfortably read most text that needs a zoom, line lengths are too long to fit on screen. Either I pan constantly (difficult to track) or have to carefully scale and peer at the slightly-too-small text.
  • Many not finger-based selectors - My favorite of this is the "odometer-style" rolling number selector for changing time on the alarms. Changing the number involves putting your finger on the number directly. This might work fine for a pen or mouse, but I can't see anything past my finger. Many other functions are like this.
  • Many dumbed-down, phone-like interfaces - Again, lets talk about alarms. You get an alarm. And you can dismiss it. That's it. Large, empty screen without extra functions, or even a way into extras. 5 clicks and some dragging can get you into the appointment itself, and set a different alarm time, but why can't I snooze, or reset the reminder time directly? The wife's cheap LG phone has more, perfectly easy to use, features than this for its alarm modes. I expect more than a button or two from a device like this.
  • Inconsistent interface - A few interface elements are beautifully designed. The pulldown or combo-box (or whatever you want to call it) in Safari is clearly designed to be worked on a tiny screen and is a snap to use. Many other places have the same basic selector need, and use something else, or, essentially nothing and rely on desktop metaphors. Sometimes, within the same process. Some elements (e.g. settings) have a clickable breadcrumb, others do not, and none give you a way back to the home deck. I know there's a big home-deck button, but I feel (and felt when clicking the device) this broke the breadcrumb paradigm for no great reason.
  • Network connection unreliable - I don't mean the "EDGE sucks" part, which is true, but that all my network sockets kept... expiring. Even at home, with full EDGE and full WiFi, it would loose connection. The only way around this seemed to be to cycle the WiFi. Whether using WiFi or not, this action caused the network to wake up and I could continue. I can live with slowness if I have to, just not no connection at all.
  • Very poor map searchbase - And, most of all, senselessly so. After a while I started actually doing searches on both the iPhone and the desktop, thru googlemaps directly. Simple searches, like houses in Lenexa could not be found on the iPhone, at all, when using precisely the same search string.
  • General lack of affordance - Many items, like the zoom by doubleclick or zoom by multi-touch, are reasonably learnable, but there is no way to discover them except by reading the manual (or deciphering a commercial, or googling "how to..."). I was disappointed in the lack of backup modes and how stripped-down GUI won the day every time.

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