the iPhone user experience

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.

Comments (13)

  1. llahsram says:

    I assume that the iPhone’s method of determining the screen width is similar to how Nokia is doing it on their Series 60 v3 devices (which also use WebKit for rendering):  if an element specifies a width, that width is respected, but if the element is allowing the browser to determine the width ("liquid layout"), text is wrapped at the width of the device.  So, for example, the text of the posts in this blog would be wrapped at 480 pixels if the device were being held in landscape mode.  It works quite well in practice on the Nokia phones; you scroll to the part of the page you want to read, and then it’s all vertical scrolling for the text.

    As for pushing up to "scroll down", it seems the most natural thing to me.  It’s supposed to be direct manipulation: you’re pushing the contact list around, or pushing the photos around.  It would seem very unnatural to push the contact list down to move it up.  But, as you say, it would take testing.

    Regarding speed dialing: the first pane of the "phone" app is a Favorites list.  So you don’t have to scroll through everything for your commonly dialed numbers.

  2. One of the issues with going faster than EDGE is that the radio stack for it is pretty horrid to your battery. I imagine if they get that fixed, you would see that change on the iPhone. The real question is, can Apple also convince Cingular that allowing for easy software upgrades on the phone is a way to INCREASE customer loyalty?

    If they can pull that off, booyah.

  3. Brian G. says:

    nadyne said:

    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.

    brian says:

    You sounds like a classic user researcher. 🙂

    If you think about the physical metaphors that are being replicated on the computer, the iPhone scrolling actually gets it CORRECT. If you’re looking at a rolodex (not that anyone really has one anymore, but I digress) you flip cards UP to get to lower cards and flip DOWN to get to higher cards.

    Scrollbars are kinda strange when it gets down to it. You move the thumb down, but the page scrolls the opposite direction. For scrollbars, this actually works because the thumb is an approximation of the position within a long document.

    What I really love about the scrolling on the iPhone is the momentum. The physical artifact being replicated by the iPhone is more of a wheel rather than a page. So in fact you spin the wheel with a good push (say you’re on the M’s and you want to get to the A’s again) and the wheel keeps spinning. See someone in the D’s you actually want to call, put your finger on the wheel to stop and and fine tune as needed.

  4. Andy Klepack says:

    The whole "push up to scroll down" interaction isn’t actually that much of a paradigm shift. It’s a metaphore that most will be familier with; just fire up preview for example. When using the ‘grabber’ to move around in the document you click and drag up to move down. Physical experiences such as lifting a newspaper to read further down the page provide additional support to using the mode of interaction that they did. The more I think about it, the more I think scroll bars are the exception, not the rule.

  5. Chris Ridd says:

    I think Ilahsram has got it. A web page isn’t rendered into a bitmap at some resolution and then scaled. Instead Safari renders it at some "device" resolution, and then changes that resolution before re-rendering when you zoom.

    The WebKit team blogged about this last year at In case that link doesn’t work out, it is the posting on 23rd April 2006 on "CSS Units".

  6. Markus says:

    iPhone’s way of scrolling is basicly the same as Google Earth’s scrolling and it works there.

  7. Mike Lauder says:

    Although scroll bars aren’t present when a page barger than the screen is displayed, there are bars which represent your position on the page when you start moving it. These are there as the visual clues that scroll bars normally give you.

  8. Asam Bashir says:

    There is no such thing as a perfect user interface yet, it’s all a compromise, what matters and what is key is relative adaptability of user to the the Interface and how long it takes for that process.

    "The real question is, can Apple also convince Cingular that allowing for easy software upgrades on the phone is a way to INCREASE customer loyalty?

    John C. Welch

    Nah, the real question is who will be the UK phone provider and if we will we get 3G first, since we don’t have Edge. I’m hopeing its Orange.

  9. Chris (and everyone else who’s said this 🙂 – That makes the most sense for iSafari, but I’m not sure that the idea works for other apps if they get ported over, since most other apps and the documents that they’re viewing don’t have such a convenient attribute there to make the decision.

    Mike – Hmm, I didn’t notice that, now I’m going to have to go and re-watch the Stevenote.

  10. Chris Ridd says:

    Of course there will be apps without an inherent "scale" attribute that will be difficult to translate (I hesitate to say port as I think the UIs will be too different) to an iPhone.

    But even Word processors and Spreadsheet programs have zoom and scale functions nowadays 🙂

  11. dc says:


    If you look closely on the scrolling around demos on the Apple website or the keynote (e.g., Safari or the photo app), you can see that when dragging around zoomed-in content scroll thumbs appear at the edges of the screen to indicate your location in the page/photo as a whole.

    I don’t think you can see it in the videos, but some bloggers who have used the phone (Pogue I think?) noted that in the address book app, the alphabet along the side indicates your position and is touchable to jump directly to that specific letter.

    (It also has a speed-dial screen, where you can put your most-used contacts. From the demos it looks like the apps on the phone remember which screen they were at the last time you used them, so if everyone you call fits in that dozen screen–a dozen people?–dialing would be a two-touch affair after waking the phone.)

    I am very excited for this phone’s interface. As a UI person, have you read Tog’s comments? Here’s the URL: . He sounds generally very excited about the thing, though with some qualms about touchscreen typing. (Interestingly, he invented but did not patent the "pinch" gesture in paper-prototyping UIs for Sun.)

  12. Last week, after Steve Jobs announced that the current development path for the iPhone is to develop

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