Last week, Steve Jobs finally gave us the iPhone. In the keynote address, he took 80 minutes to introduce the iPhone, talk about its features, and give a demo. I watched this closely. Not only am I in the market for a smartphone of some sort, but they’ve done some really interesting UX things. All of my thoughts are from watching the keynote demo. I’m not cool enough to have been able to actually touch the iPhone. (Le sigh.)
First of all, as I’ve already been anonymously quoted elsewhere, one of the major changes that I noticed in the iPhone is a change in scrolling behaviour. On the iPhone, to access the next page of content (for example, in your address book), you swipe up on the iPhone’s screen. I don’t disagree with this as a usage metaphor for the phone, but it’s definitely something where my gut feeling is to take it into the usability lab to see what happens when people use it. Not to say that Apple hasn’t; obviously, I have no idea what kind of research they’ve done.
An omission from the UI of the apps on the iPhone is scrollbars. This could be related to the swiping — if you put scrollbars in, would people expect to use them by grabbing them and pulling down? But the omission of scrollbars makes it impossible to judge how much information you have in the application that you’re viewing. In your address book, do you have 20 entries or 200? Is it faster for me to swipe a few times to jump to the names starting with D, or should I hit the D button to get there?
For iPhone apps which don’t have a desktop brother, this isn’t as much of a concern. But for apps which do have a desktop brother, will people expect them to operate the same as the desktop version? The iPhone version of Safari (iSafari?) is another application where you can’t tell how much information is ‘below the fold’, and it obviously has a desktop big brother. Will Safari users be confused by iSafari? Will users of other web browsers be confused?
Speaking of iSafari, the whole-page view of a standard website instead of a mobile one is interesting. During the keynote, Steve Jobs said that you saw the whole page, just like you would in Safari, and then you can zoom in. I think of it as a snapshot. What resolution are they assuming for that snapshot? There’s a big difference between 640 and 1280. Maybe for iSafari, they’re assuming 800, since many websites are optomised for that width. Or perhaps they’ve got something algorhythmically going on behind-the-scenes. It raises intersting questions if other apps make iPhone versions: what would the iPhone version of Word look like? (This isn’t to say that we’re doing an iPhone version of Word, or even that it’s possible. Remember, this is one week after the Stevenote and several months before the actual release of the iPhone, so we don’t have that kind of information yet, and certainly haven’t made product decisions of that magnitude.)
During the keynote, Steve made fun of people using their recent calls history to make phone calls. I admit, I’m one of the people who does that. But much of the reason that I do it is because I have a couple hundred entries in my phone book, and I haven’t bothered to set up my speed dial. (I know, I know.) But in his demo, I didn’t see why scrolling through the address book was any better. I still have to scroll through my whole address book to find the right person. I really hope that the iPhone team didn’t overlook speed dial!
I wonder if I am stuck with all of their apps and widgets. I really don’t need yet another stock ticker in my life. (Really, why does everyone give me a stock ticker? I don’t watch my stocks minute-by-minute.) I’d like to be able to remove apps like that so that my iPhone isn’t cluttered up with apps that I won’t ever use. I realise that Apple wants to control the behaviour of the phone, but I’ll be at least a little bit annoyed if I have to see that bloody stock ticker every time I hit the ‘home’ button.
Physically, I like the looks of the iPhone. It’s sleek. The lack of a hard keyboard makes that sleekness possible. But I have to admit that I’m not convined by the use of a soft (that is, on-screen only) keyboard. It takes you longer to key in something when you’re using a soft keyboard. Diehard BlackBerry users can get some amazing speeds on their devices, and SMS users can key in whole novels (punctuated by LOL and so on) in a few seconds on a standard 12-key phone keypad. Will these users accept the loss of productivity imposed upon them by a soft keyboard? Will new smartphone users be annoyed that it takes them a couple of minutes to finger-tap in a new email message? Will everyone be annoyed that this is a phone that’s largely impossible to use one-handedly?
Will I buy one? I haven’t decided yet. There are some things that I really like about it. Visual voicemail means that I don’t have to listen to that two-minute message from my mom and jump to the one from my manager instead. But some of the limitations of the device (EDGE only, for example) make me think that I should get another smartphone now (the Cingular 8525 is my current top choice), get a one-year contract for it, and wait to see what v2 of the iPhone is like. I’m undecided if that’s what I’ll do, so I’ll just continue to curse my existing flip phone.