iPhone Hands On

July 23, 2007

I had the opportunity to play with an iPhone for half a day last week. It was interesting mainly because of how few suprises I found. In my last post about the iPhone I made the claim that it represents a new mobile form factor, although a highly compromised one. I have not changed my mind after playing with one.

I was surprised by several things. The screen is much brighter than anything I have used, including the screen on my laptop. How Apple accomplished that without negatively impacting battery life is a mystery to me. Are LED back lights that bright? The other thing i noticed was that the touch screen seems to have issues registering single clicks. Swipes work well but I have noticed this on different videos as well, having a button click register is hit and miss.

The interface is inconsistent and downright odd at times when it comes to text entry. Typing is generally hard but it is easier in landscape mode but many screens do not switch modes when you flip the device sideways. As well, the pop-up keyboard does not have a way to close so once you start filling out a field you are stuck with the keyboard. Other usability issues could easily have been addressed if Apple simply looked at competetive products. For example, when typing on a Blackberry typing space twice adds a period providing a quick way to complete a sentence. The iPhone, on the other hand, requires that you switch back and forth between the alpha and symbol keyboards to add a period which gets old real fast.

The browser can be frustrating. Multi-touch works well to zoom in and out but working with something like a web based e-mail application with links used for menu actions and folder navigation is maddening. The browser is ultimately let down by the network limitations. Complex web pages are just usable with a WiFi connection but useless with EDGE. You can access POP or IMAP e-mail but the address book on the device is used.

So enough nit-picking, the interface is a huge breakthrough that works well in a narrow set of scenarios. Some people will love this device but I see it as a great conversation piece and mobile entertainment toy but it fails as a productivity tool.