Friday Thoughts – iPhone – creating smartphones is hard!


Through the week I've been thinking about the iPhone. 

I was in the Windows Mobile team when we launched the first Windows Mobile Smartphone many years ago...

When I look at the iPhone I'm really intrigued - what they are doing is interesting from a design perspective but the capabilities in the device are nothing new... in fact Windows Mobile has been able to perform most of the functions for many years.

The interface might be a great demo but all the feedback I've seen is that users want more tactile feedback on their devices not touchscreens. You can now see the work we've been doing with ZenZui, Deepfish and also the Carousel view on the Samsung devices!

I've been reading a number of blogs today about some the challenges Apple is having with battery life... John C Dvorak is claiming someone in Cingular told him it currently stands at 40 minutes.... (and the battery isn't replaceable)

Now Apple has delayed the launched of "Leopard" as it's had to pull developers from that project onto iPhone to ensure that iPhone ships on time in June.

Before all the Apple fanboys jump on me.... I'm not gloating over the above points... I think Apple are discovering (just as we did) that bringing a complex mobile phone to market is incredibly hard.  We've learnt a hell of a lot over the past 6-7 years of developing Windows Mobile connected devices.

The announcement above does show that Apple is very serious about the iPhone as they have prioritised that over Leopard!


Comments (10)
  1. jz says:

    the key thing is that (1) touch screen should be an option so that developer can have more fun (2) WM is too open which may not be a good thing, at the same time,iPhone is too closed for apple’s benifit.

    Non the less, apple did a better job on UI. I think MS should learn

    from it, instead of trashing it.

  2. MSDNArchive says:

    jz – not trashing the UI – just recognising that all the feedback from users on touchscreen UI is that people want more tactile feedback particularly for messaging related activity on devices.  The UI looks cool – I’m just wondering how usable it will be.   One of the big criticisms we get about Pocket PC devices is that they are great multi function devices but the Phone experience isn’t as good with a touch screen.

    As for having more fun as a developer on the iPhone – I think Apple have made it pretty clear you won’t be able to ….. they are locking the thing down.

  3. Jason I totally agree, apple will have a lot to prove to Tech savvy users but saying that I do think apple will get a lot of sales from current IPod owners, primarily the tech savvy users who have never owned a PDA or Smart Phone before.  

  4. Jon says:

    Statements like "Windows Mobile has been able to perform most of the functions for many years." remind me of just how Microsoft doesn’t get it. It’s not always _what_ a device/program/computer can do, but _how_ it gets it done. Apple has always had an almost intuitive grasp of this, while Microsoft has been on the opposite pole–Think Microsoft Bob, or the paperclip, or worse–wizards. blech.

    And the fact that people haven’t liked–yet, touch screens for lack of tactile feedback is more a testament to the lack of a good interface on touch screens. You know, on my Newton, I never thought that I would need hard buttons to do things–never had them, and never missed them. However, on my Palm, I can’t get by without them–and then, I pick up my MP2100 again, and it feels comfortable without the buttons, and I don’t miss them again. The Newton works right without hard buttons, but the Palm doesn’t. That’s just the way it is.

    What I’m saying is that nobody has spent any time with the iPhone and for people like us to go out and pretend we know what we are talking about–simply because we have "five years of experience" designing mediocre hardware and software–just doesn’t cut it. Apple has yet to have a genuine failure–although the Newton was as close to one as you can get. The naysayers and doubters would do best to wait, otherwise, they may find themselves eating humble pie. I can bet that Apple will not repeat the same mistake with the iPhone that they did with the Newton–ship it before it’s ready. When it ships, it will work out of the box, and work right. They can’t afford to wait until the 3rd generation, and expect to get a "pass" like Microsoft seems to get with every one of its products. They will get eaten alive by people proclaiming how their predictions and prophecies were true–and in fact, I will prophecy right now, that even if the iPhone exceeds expectations, those same people will _still_ be proclaiming how their predictions have come true. That’s my prophecy.

    And, am I a fanboy? Maybe, but I would rather be a fan of something than a critic of everything.

    P.S. Apple’s target market for the iPhone is not the average Treo or Blackberry user. It’s not me, even. I will go with a Treo running the Palm OS long before I will buy an iPhone. Oh, and the iPhone won’t need to have even 1 or 3% market share to be a success. It’s already succeeding in performing its greatest miracle. It’s forcing change in a stagnant mobile industry (and trust me, it’s _stagnant_ in terms of genuine innovation, not just bells and whistles, and garbage).

    -Jon

  5. rj says:

    Jon, I agree.

    I have owned / used more "smartphones" then I care to recall.  Treo’s, Blackberrys, Palm, Windows Smartphones, etc. and I can say that they are all clumsy.  And for the ridiculous comment "Windows Mobile has been able to perform most of the functions for many years" you are completely missing the point.  I want a device that does it WELL and I’m willing to pay for it.

    No one is talking about the average smartphone’s poor sound quality, instable / crashing OS, inefficient menu structures, slow response times, etc.

    If I know anything Apple will get it right.  

  6. MSDNArchive says:

    jon – thanks for the comments – I’d agree with you 100% in that most of us haven’t spent any real time with an iPhone yet.  Let’s see how it operates when it is released.  I think the point I’m trying to make in reference to the blog I posted is that creating Smartphone devices is difficult – possibly more difficult than PC OS’s hence why Apple is having to transfer developers onto the iPhone project.  I don’t disagree the iPhone will sell as there are plenty of people who will buy it however the price point and limited developer story will limit it’s ability to be a massive consumer device.  

  7. Paul says:

    Jason,

    I use WM because of it lets me take my Outlook with me wherever I go. I could no longer survive without it. To me, it’s a no-brainer for any company running Exchange Server. Not only that; my business itself is totally dependent on Microsoft technologies – I provide services based on SharePoint and custom development in dot-Net, and my office IT infrastructure is all-Microsoft (and all-Dell).

    That said, I think your post here is a little surprising.

    First of all, with your comment about “tactile feedback”, you are clearly speaking from inside the corporate mobile e-mail box. Yes, for writing e-mails we all want a physical qwerty keyboard, no question. That is why the iPhone would never come into question for me, even if it could offer the same integration with Exchange as WM, which of course it won’t. But Apple isn’t going after the corporate blackberry-user market – they are going after the hip-and-affluent iPod-user market who decide for themselves (rather than get told by their employer) what mobile phone they will carry. And there are many, many, many such people. If my priorities for a mobile device weren’t having my e-mail, Contacts, and Calendar with me at all times and always up to date, and instead I was interested in listening to music, surfing the web, and perhaps watching short video clips, then I’d be drooling over the prospect of an iPhone.

    Secondly, not all touchscreens are created equal. From everything I’ve read about the iPhone, it’s touchscreen really is something new and different and better. I don’t find that difficult to believe – indeed, I would be surprised if Apple did something that _wasn’t_ new and different and better in its category — that’s the whole philosophy of the company, after all.

    Thirdly, I must agree with some other commenters here – although WM can do lots of things that are really useful, it is _not_ an elegant or ergonomic interface. If Symbian or Palm devices could offer me the integration with Exchange that WM 5.0 offers me, I would drop WM in a flash, because both those other platforms are _much_ more agreeable to handle (especially Symbian with Nokia’s UI layered over it). So you don’t need Apple fanboys to jump on you – the problem is that your post simply ignores many aspects of what makes up a good UI. I mean, you can drive from city A to city B in a Rolls; does the fact that you can also drive from Paris to Berlin in a Fiat Panda mean that it’s just as good as the Rolls?

    I think Microsoft has done great work with WM 5.0 and I’m very pleased that it exists (indeed I was consciously wishing for it for years before it came), and I’m pleased that you are continuing to develop it (I’m switching to WM 6.0 as soon as the device I want becomes available). But come on – this post about the iPhone is a little like John Deere getting smug about Ferrari’s sports cars because the latter can’t pull farming implements across fields. WM is great to have,  but there is tons of room for improvement in the ergonomics department. Don’t be too self-assured about iPhone – there is a challenge there that Microsoft could rise to, if it so desired. (Actually, the same has been true of Symbian all this time already…).

  8. MSDNArchive says:

    Paul – thanks for commenting – my note on tactile feedback is not just around email but IM and also making phone calls.  

    My post is more about recognising the fact that it’s difficult to create mobile phone software and it looks like Business Week have also picked up on that  http://www.businessweek.com/technology/content/apr2007/tc20070413_247721.htm?chan=top+news_top+news+index_businessweek+exclusives

  9. M2 says:

    Interesting comments here. Working for a mobile device manufacturer myself, we went from "as little buttons as possible" to quite a few to provide direct access to key functionality for devices both with and without touch screen. And the reason was simply "customer feedback". To me it also seems that Apple is going the other direction…

    On the other hand I do realize that Apples iPhone will not sell to Enterprise customers looking to do email on their mobile device, doing IM or even making a phone call.

    Apple’s design will be a big plus although I do think the device will be bulky compared to competitors launching with a similar spec by the end of the year. Its biggest threat is the "value for money" as by end of this year spec will be outdated in the high-end market.

  10. Rabbie Bearns says:

    Its an interesting debate here, in some cases emotionally charged.

    My take is a bit simplier.  

    Of the many objects I use, the most valuable is my desktop/laptop when it comes to tools that help me reach the goals of my performance contract.

    However, I reckon my parabolics in the winter and my dual-suspension Mtn Bike in the summer are more valuable to me than any phone or PDA when it comes to really enjoying life.  (I would probably throw my sailboard in there if we ever had wind in here in Chicago.)

    Back to the desktop – it turns out that in my job, digging out the laptop every time I want to check email or work on a document or check market data is darn inconvenient.  Thats where the handheld comes in.  Windows Mobile really helps me in cases where Im on the hoof.  Not just emails but a lot of other stuff as well.  Windows mobile is the closest thing you are going to get to a desktop there is in a small package.

    As for the IPhone, its all about entertainment and Apple continuing to generate profits off content (read ITunes).  And Im sure a million hipster dufuses will drink the coolaid.  Who knows, they may even wake up some day and venture to think one original idea for themselves for a change.

    As for me, the IPhone is all the pretty Emperors New Clothes, but I must say – I can never go back to GPRS.  Design superiority in Lord Jobs camp?  What?!  Without 3G?  I dont think so!

    So you all keep buying your ITunes at .99 a pop.  Me?  Give me mobile broadband and internet radio (thanks Roku and Live365).  You can go a long way on an unlimited 3G/HSDPA data connection.

    But in the end remember this…

    It is better to BE COOL than ACT COOL.  Using Apple products are not going to help your image unless you are amongst those equally shallow.

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