Top 10 mistakes in the Apple iPhone interface

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,, 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.

77 thoughts on “Top 10 mistakes in the Apple iPhone interface”

  1. #1 you can drag down the right hand list of letters for quickly jumping to a letter

    #5 if you have the keyboard up and you tap anywhere on the screen where it is dim, it closes the keyboard, then, if you tap the double arrows in the bottom left corner, it backs out.

    #8 emoticons suck, and they better not put them in until there is an option to turn them off.

    #9 you hold (for about 1 sec) just below the area you want magnified (i think it does it that way so you can read over top of your finger.)

  2. Well, I expected this to be another list of dumb complaints that have been rehashed over and over again but.. Just about every item on this list makes sense, well, actually all of them do. Im guessing that these things will be sorted out with software updates. I’m on my windows machine right now, but I believe the calendar thing you mentioned is how iCal works, at least with the respect that if you have an item you have to give it a start and end time, which always kinda bugged me about how it works. I guess it would be nice if I had a nice ordered list of what im doing during the day, complete with how long each item will take, but then again that sounds like a robot so maybe not.

    I haven’t really been able to use an iphone much, I sat in line for 3 hours and ended up being 26th in line, and my AT&T store only got 25. They said I could order one there, and id be “in line” when they ship more or whatever. They also said they wouldn’t charge my card until they ship it, and i see today that tomorrow they are going to charge my card, so hopefully that is good news.. Anyone have any more info as to when iphones will ship to those who ordered them in line on opening day? It sickens me to hear that they had some still in Apple stores on saturday, and the nearest one is 300 miles away..

    Anyway, good list!

  3. My phone is an old Nokia that can’t even recieve PXTs, I go online to see them 😀 Also it dosen’t have a camera or any bells ‘n whistles. It just TXTs and rings and stores numbers, the latter, inefficiently. In my shirt pocket, it has to lie length-up & you can see much of the top – ITS BIG…..but it works. I’m well overdue for an update, by all accounts, but am quite happy to lug this brick around if I have to go through the situations I’m reading about on the net with the iPhone. I can wait till Christmas.

  4. Rakesh,
    I have to ask, did you camp out waiting for the iPhone?
    Good list by the way. Looks like this will could be your most popular blog post of the year.

  5. Great list! And, thanks to all the early adopters. I don’t mind at all waiting until the better and cheaper version comes out in the future.

  6. iCal on the mac allows you to double click a spot and it creates a 1 hour entry at that spot.

  7. As noted elsewhere, clicking on the greyed out map returns from #5.

    On #9 (cursor) you can either briefly tap anywhere in the text to quickly place the cursor, or hold down to bring up the magnifier.

    Generally I would also say I almost never use SMS, I simply don’t see the point when I have email I can use (but then with other phones without email I never used SMS either).

  8. On #6: The vast majority of times I’ve entered a period, I want to enter a space next. And rather than doing “shift, period, shift, space”, you can just do “shift, period, space”, as that space will automatically return the keyboard to regular text input mode. Still annoying that you need to hit the first shift, but at least it’s only one.

  9. >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.

    oh, how about “TX” (pronounced “Tee Ten”)?

  10. I’d like to amend this list with a few issues:

    11. Mail application does not have a search feature. I deal with hundreds of messages a day and I would love to be able to search for “Matt” or “Alert Notification.”

    12. Mail application does not have the ability to create rules that will trigger different alarms. A simple high-priority and standard would suffice.

    13. Mail application can only check IMAP accounts as frequently at 15 minutes. Would love to see lower values, i.e. 5 minutes.

    14. Mail application should rotate when the iPhone is rotated.

    15. OTA sync to WebCal type calendars or LDAP based directories.

  11. Apple Insider had to make changes to its web configuration just to accommodate the length of its extensive and excellent review of the iPhone: Apple’s iPhone: an initial (but in-depth) review. It goes into each function of the handset, looks at Apple’s approach to the mobile PC lacking copy/paste or any analog to files, folders and disks, and lists out what’s missing relative to more expensive phones on the market.

  12. As for the SMS, the real solution would be to let you use iChat and not have to pay for messages. My guess, however, is that including iChat was a deal-breaker for AT&T, who makes a lot of money off of SMS…

    As for the rest, just remember that Apple can update the software and make it do more in the future.

  13. Neither Apple nor AT&T can do anything about the 160-character limit on SMS. That limit is part of the GSM standard. They can’t change it without violating the standard.

  14. The Maps UI is indeed very bad. I too got into this dead-end in my first day of use. Also, common tasks (like bookmarking, recalling previous searches) aren’t very intuitive. The buttons are strange (what does this button with an up and down arrow mean?)

    Zooming in and out in the Maps UI is clunky and dangerous. Try it. When zooming out with your fingers slipping off the map area it’s easy to get it to violently drag the map off in some direction which you didn’t intend.

    I also hate the playlist viewer when playing a playlist in iPod mode. Why can I not see the items of the playlist as I’m playing? Why does this huge screen give me LESS information about the song/podcast I am playing than I get on my Nano? Not only does it show me an extremely cut off display of the title, but I can’t see the description. Why, when playing a playlist in landscape do I get thrown into Cover Flow of my albums? Shouldn’t I get a Cover Flow of entries in my playlist? (Should I get into Cover Flow at all unless I’m looking at my Albums?)

    Also, why does it play only the audio when playing a video podcast from a playlist or from the podcast menu. The only way to play video podcasts as video is from the Videos menu.

    Fast forwarding/rewinding a video is a pain, and very difficult to rewind just a few seconds if you miss something. The resolution when holding and dragging is very low when the video is of any length. There should be some way to drag rewind/forward in a variable amount based on drag speed or something.

  15. These are all good points. I have a couple of issues too. Regarding issue #2 – I would rather be able to place arbitrary icons onto the bottom bar than have Apple pick which ones should go there. For example: you want SMS there and I never use SMS because I feel that Text Messaging is kind of a rip off because of how much it costs. I’d rather use email.

    Also, *everything* should rotate all the time. Even the YouTube videos should rotate. I hate having to guess when it will rotate and when it won’t.

    Finally, I have noticed that the performance when using the keyboard to type into an HTML form in Safari is inversely proportional to the amount of data on the page. For large pages such as the comments on a article, the typing performance is unacceptable.

    Good list. Some of the things you mention I hadn’t seen because I only have a small number of contacts and don’t really use iCal very much, but I agree with everything you said for the most part.

  16. I think you should also iclude input language although I speak English I would like to be able to type in other languages I could see this virtual keyboard being big in china if it can be modified.

  17. As a sysadmin at an ISP, I’m glad iPhone can’t check mail more often than is courteous to the mail system.

  18. First read the very first reply. It cuts your list of complaints in half!!!

    Second…and lets get this straight…improvements will be made….the software will get better…and thats the good news…eveything you complained about….is fixable quite easily by Apple in the software.

    So you got a v1.0 phone….Send this list to Apple (well remove the ones that you know have answers on how to do) and lets see. I suspect they will be updating the phones in the near future.

    I do like the .com button….:) that is sweet.

  19. Another UI gaffe: try entering a repeating monthly event that occurs on the second Wednesday of each month. Can’t be done.

  20. I agree that they should come up with a marketing name for the tying
    prediction software.

    I suggest DeForce.

    Not as in “tour de force”, but as in “trust de force”.

  21. Thanks for testing and ironing out the wrinkles with this device before it hits our shores America! 🙂

  22. For number 6, did you try hitting space bar twice? I don’t have an iPhone but my cell phone adds a period when I double space.

  23. Comment #1 is wide off the mark (for point 1 anyway). The complaints ask for a search feature, what #1 tells us about is a shrtcut feature to get quickly to a part of the alphabet. If you have comments in the name, or refer to different people by first, middle or last names, you want to be able to search for any of those (just like in Address Book). As the article states, if you list someone as John plumber johnson, I DON´T want to look him up by sliding down to “J” ´caus I can´t remember his name, I just list everyone I need to be able to contact and now I want to call the plumber. His name happens to be John.
    Makes sense (to me anyway) as this is exactly the point of electronic address books, being able to fill them with everyone you might need to contact, for whatever reason, and then have the machine sort it out!

  24. Have you filled bug reports for all of these? I hear the ESP implants in the iPhone team aren’t ready yet, so they probably haven’t yet read your mind and discovered the problems you’re having.

  25. Item #2 – I’m not sure how SMS could be more “main” than the upper-left corner of the icon set. What you’re calling the “main” apps have the same-size icons as the others; what does the position matter? Also, you can initiate a text message from the Phone app (bring up a contact’s details and “text message” is a great big button).

  26. Wade: I betcha the Apple team is already well aware of at least some of these items. And if not, hopefully since this was linked to from Slashdot it’ll get their attention.

  27. re #1 – Perhaps you can change his entry to Plumber John / Johnson instead of John Plumber / Johnson.

    Alternatively, you could create a group of contacts like these through your address book software and access it through iPhone’s groups features.

  28. I have been waiting to read something about iPhone. I am a mobile buff and I heard we won’t be receiving any of these in India before year end. Your list is great and I now I know what to look for when the phone is finally available in India. I use a Moto Ming as of now and comparing it with what I read about iPhone, I think I made an intelligent choice (except for the “i” value).
    Would still wait for the phone!

  29. @37
    No A2DP?! WHAT?! I thought that was one of the features!

    I for one will NOT be getting an iPhone ever unless it supports A2DP. How could they skip it?

    Can anyone confirm or deny the presence of A2DP functionality?

  30. You don’t have to go to two screens to click period, just slide your finger from the .?123 button to the period, and that’s it!

  31. Great list. Your observations are dead on. Safari is especially frustrating, and I’ve had trouble with the predictive text working in SMS too.

    The placement of the buttons on the dashboard is inconsistent. Media apps like YouTube are far away from iPod. SMS is no where near phone and email. And I really wish you could call up your contacts from the dashboard, without having to click Phone or Email first.

    One addition: The inconsistent placement of “Done” “Save” and “Back” functionality in different apps. I’m always searching for the correct button, resulting in no muscle memory and speed limits.

    PS: Many, many thanks to Daniel Jimenez for the .?123 slide tip — I didn’t know about that one.

  32. Oooooohh, I got an iPhone and it’s not exactly perfect… Ooooooohhh, I wish my iPhone keyboard had emoticons.

    Get a life, I mean seriously – you’ve got an iPhone. It’s not as if you are sitting in a mud hut somewhere in the desert wondering where your next meal is going to come from. Put your life into perspective, and devote your blogging time to improving the living conditions for the millions of poor and starving of the world.

    And yes, I live in a country that’s looking forward to another 6-12 month wait before the iPhone launches and I’m just extremely jealous.

    So stop your whinging, at least you got one.

  33. I don’t have an IPhone so I haven’t been able to play but based on the what i’ve seen of the keyboard I don’t think it’s going to be easy to enter strong passwords. This could cause a security issue when banks put out more mobile sites, or an inconvience when they require strong passwords.

  34. good post but, as it’s been said, you can get out of the driving directions mode of google maps pretty easily without quitting the app.

    also, i’ve found that if predictive text isnt working, bring up the magnifying glass (just touch and hold for a sec on the text) on what you’re typing and it usually causes predictive text to start working.

    i really wish the keyboard would rotate when it’s up. that is my main gripe with the phone (other than the few application crashes i’ve had)

  35. I am a SysAdmin as well, of email clusters no less. If your servers can not handle more frequent connections than 15 minutes then perhaps it’s time for an upgrade. =)

  36. One other small, niggling little issue that I’ve noticed – hopefully others will agree – there are NO lights on this thing AT ALL when it is asleep, a fact which I find particularly annoying. I got very used to my BlackBerry having a variable LED that was green if I had no messages or missed calls, but would vary to amber to alert me if I did. iPhone will not tell you anything if you have a message unless you wake it up…which means you have to find it in the dark (if you live with others and do not wish to wake them by turning on lights). That was the secondary function of the BlackBerry’s LED. If I forgot to put it on the charger, the LED acted as a beacon of sorts.

    Then again, I don’t suppose forgetting to feed the iPhone some power every night is really an option…

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