3. Slick Interface
I said this in my original iPhone impressions and I’ll repeat this again. The iPhone is a fashion phone with smartphone capabilities. “Fashion phone” often has negative connotations. Think of the D&G RAZR or a Juicy Couture Sidekick 2 and you think of a nouveau-riche socialite while little regard for taste. The iPhone is different, and like truly inspired fashion, it’s actually practical. Think about Oakley sunglasses; you’re paying a premium for the style – but they do have superior optics and contrast to generic knock-offs.
Apple’s design team is second to none. While the minimalist and clean aesthetic may not be the look for everyone, there’s no question that you can recognize the Apple design language from a mile away. The attention to detail is superb. When you enter “Airplane Mode”, Apple doesn’t simply show an airplane in the signal strength bar. It shows it flying in from the left. When you return to the regular mode, the plane flies away as it fades. It’s the attention to detail like this that not only provides the user with a pleasurable experience, but it is also good HCI design, allowing instant feedback on the interaction.
Multi-touch initially feels like a gimmick. Would the phone be “that much worse” if zooming in and zooming out was done with a point-and-click interface instead of a pinch and spreading motion? Probably not. However, is pinching and squeezing faster than the point-and-click interface involving the selection of a magnifying glass? Yes.
The iPhone lacks traditional one-touch speed dialing or even voice dialing, but even though you may have to go multiple menus to switch between the phone or iPod features, navigation is fast enough where it hasn’t been a problem. The time I lose from not having a one-touch dial is made up from intelligent design features such as a dedicated button for switching between silent and audible mode, and the one-touch screen lock button. The dedicated button for switching between silent and audible mode is pure genius, and the one-touch lock button gives users the ease of use of a flip-phone or slider phone without the added thickness.
I’ve grown to love the iPhone keyboard. You have to remember that I’m a keyboard nut, especially the tactile feel. I’m someone who can hit 140 wpm on a high-end keyboard, someone who, after winning the lottery, would buy a Shigeru Kawai grand piano just for the control that it offers. My first PDA was the HP 95LX, an x86-based PDA that ran DOS 3.22 and had an awesome *touchtypeable* keyboard.
With the iPhone, I can compose emails quickly and efficiently. Even without dedicated buttons, Apple’s automated spell check works wonders and it is uncannily accurate. Apple has boasted of numerous patent applications for the key technologies in the iPhone, and there is no doubt that the software keyboard is one of them. The iPhone’s keyboard is truly one of the best handheld input schemes I have ever used, even better and faster than Graffiti. At the moment, the main weakness is that the “period” is located on a sub-menu rather than being part of the main keyboard; worse, the two-button combo to achieve the period requires two sequential taps with the left thumb – it would be better to have the period located on the right so that two-handed typing could be used. Also, it’s possible to type faster than the iPhone can process and spell check. The iPhone is still buffering the input and while the iPhone will pause for a split second, the message you are typing will display correctly moments later. This only happens on rare occasion, and only happens when I’m typing a very long email message; the fact that I can type long email messages on my iPhone at all is a testament of how good the keyboard really is.
Still, other than a few nitpicks, the iPhone interface is so far ahead of the competition that this is worth the $600 admission price alone. Everything you saw in the TV commercials is real.