I’m now an official member of the iCult! I got an Apple iPhone on Friday evening and I activated it first thing after I got it (without any glitches at all, unlike some others). I think it’s one of the best products to come along from anyone in the technology industry in a long time. Maybe as long as I can remember. After using it all weekend, it’s obvious to me that it’s the product of very clear, focused thinking about mobile devices and lots of creativity and innovation. With the iPhone, Apple focused on making all the normal phone functions simple and, beyond that, I think time will show that they’ve significantly extended what most people can do with a cell phone. The thing is awesome!
So let there be no mistake: I love the iPhone. It’s here to stay as my primary phone. (and that’s saying a lot because I’m pretty demanding of the gadgets that I use, especially my cell phone.)
But being someone who spends some of his time thinking about and helping design user interfaces, I’ve come across a bunch of things that make me think Apple rushed at the end to get this thing out there. Here’s my list of the top 10 mistakes Apple made with the iPhone interface, as my first impressions from this weekend are fresh in my mind:
1. No contacts search. What was Apple thinking not including a contacts search feature on the iPhone? I have 700 contacts in Outlook and that’s only the start of the problem – some of my entries have last names and some don’t… plus I’ve got keywords stuffed into some of my contacts (for example, first name: Johnny plumber, last name: Appleseed). So when I’m looking for the plumber and I don’t remember his name because I call him once a year, I want to type in ‘plumber’. Come on Apple, gotta have contacts search!
Apple’s iPhone doesn’t let you search your contacts and then dial… it makes you browse through a long list by last name or first name first.
2. SMS should be one of the main apps. I don’t know about other people, but SMS is one of the main functions that I use one my phone. Having to click on an icon in the far upper left upper corner of the screen is a pain. And beyond that, it just feels to me like SMS should be a part of “Phone” and not a separate app. On the upside, Apple put the kind of search they should have put in Contacts in the SMS app! And the chat-like interface is, as Robert Scoble put it, addictive.
I use SMS a lot on my phone and I think it should be built-in to the phone function. The two icons remind me of a trite old Hindi movie plotline… two brothers, separated at birth, on opposite sides of the law, later reunited, their true identities revealed by their dieing mother. OK, that analog only worked up to a point.
3. Adding stuff to the calendar takes extra clicks. When adding an event to my iPhone calendar, I have to click on the plus sign and then add the event details… including the start/end times! Is it too much to ask to make it so I can double click on a particular time on a day’s schedule and start entering event details with the time already set? Extra taps suck!
Apple’s iPhone doesn’t let you just add an item to your calendar by clicking on a time… Instead you have to click on the ‘+’ and then add the time from scratch. One extra step that involves a bunch of extra clicks. It’s almost worth it because Apple’s interface to set the time is so damn cool.
4. Rotating the screen doesn’t always work. Yeah, you can’t watch YouTube videos in portrait mode (for good reason!)… but that’s not what I’m talking about here. If the keyboard is up on the screen in, say, Safari (where rotating the screen is something that I do a lot), and then you rotate the screen, nothing happens. More than once, after the keyboard has come up, I’ll decide it would be easier to rotate the screen and do my typing. I rotate, nothing happens, I have to clear the keyboard, and then rotate again.
Sometimes iPhone’s screen doesn’t rotate when you expect it to
5. The Maps interface has at least one dead-end: In the iPhone’s Maps applet, if I mistakenly tap to get directions to or from a particular address, there’s no way for me to back out of that screen without actually entering some address and then turning off “directions” mode. Dead ends are bad. I got out of it just fine, but someone else somewhere won’t be using the Maps application as often.
Now what do I do??
6. No period on the virtual keyboard (without hitting shift). In the first few days of using the iPhone, I constantly found myself wanting a period button on the main keyboard. Typing out email addresses, web addresses, ummm, ending sentences. Unlike the apostrophe, which the iPhone’s smart predictive text technology takes care of (ie enter “im” and it’ll automatically make it “I’m”, enter “cant” and it’ll make it “can’t”), tapping out periods is unavoidable. And hitting the shift button, pressing period and then hitting shift again… well it sucks. Am I a stickler for punctuation? Do I just use too many periods? On a side note, Apple really needs to give a snappy marketing name to their predictive text technology so people can easily tell their friends about it… it’s one of the coolest things about the iPhone and “Trust the keyboard” and predictive text just don’t do it justice.
I wish there was a period on the iPhone main virtual keyboard.
7. Entering a lot of text in Safari doesn’t work too well: Sometimes, when I’m typing in a TEXTAREA form element in Safari, the keyboard doesn’t appear to be in predictive text mode… and then other times it does. And there’s also this bug where if you type onto a new line and then backspace back to the previous line, the text that was there on the new line, that I just got finished erasing, just stays there (ie it doesn’t get cleaned up), at least until I erase it… I call this the phantom letters problem. Finally, TEXTAREA’s are fixed in size and there’s no way to scroll through them if you type more text than what fits into one of those fixed size boxes and want to scroll back to edit something that’s moved out of view. (for anyone interested, the specific place where you could reproduce this behavior is in the mobile version of Gmail, m.gmail.com, while composing a message.)
Here I am entering a message in a TEXTAREA in Safari while the “phantom letters” problem is occuring.
8. No emoticons on the virtual keyboard: Apple someone stole the emoticons from your virtual keyboard! Seriously, it just seems like an Apple thing to do to include a few emoticons on the virtual keyboard.
9. Cursor control is a pain: Apart from the Safari TEXTAREA problems mentioned above, the magnifying glass thing used to position the cursor doesn’t work very well for me. I’m not clear on how to activate it. And if I’m somehow able to turn it on, getting it to exactly where I want to go is a pain. Maybe this one’s just me… or maybe not.
10. No character count in SMS application. The iPhone’s SMS program doesn’t tell me how many characters into a message I am. What’s more, it doesn’t appear to break up long messages into multiple messages like every other GSM phone I’ve ever used. Look, Apple, I agree with you… it’s silly that an SMS can only be 160 characters. But until you make AT&T fix it, them’s the breaks and the iPhone has to deal with it. (On a side note, I love Robert Scoble’s idea of making text messaging between iPhone’s free… unfortunately, I’m guessing that AT&T makes too much money off of text messaging for them to consider it.)
Apple’s iPhone doesn’t tell you how long your message is and, in my cursory tests, it doesn’t appear to break up long texts into multiple messages
So there you have it. Apple, get to work! I expect to see all of this addressed in the next software update… or at least the ones that you agree with me on.
Seriously, I’m not at all worried about these shortcomings. There will be software updates to the iPhone, and there will be websites that get changed to work better with the iPhone (Gmail Mobile, I’m looking at you! But that’ll be the subject of another post). They’re just getting started with this thing.