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. I too have been compiling a list, which I’d be more than happy to send to you. Just send me an email letting me know if you want to see it.

  2. Ok, well I guess you can’t see my email address, so I’ll just post it the old fashioned way. 😀

    1. Can’t add SMTP servers in Mail

    2. CAN’T USE iCHAT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    3. Can’t edit contact groups

    4. Can’t switch mail accounts if one isn’t working

    5. Can’t edit weather locations order

    6. Synching my phone to my laptop using bluetooth does nothing

    7. Can’t ever find other devices using bluetooth

    8. Can’t check email in increments less than 15 minutes

    –All for now!

  3. This is a good list, although as some people pointed out, you either learn your way around them or Apple will (without a doubt) be releasing updates soon.

    I’m satisfied with the iphone but something does get on my nerves: SMS should be allowed to be rotated. Am I the only one who realizes the typing gets SO much easier in Safari when you’re entering text in landscape mode?? Plus, it feels so natural holding the phone that way while typing anyways..

  4. A2DP is supported by the bluetooth chipset in the iPhone, however, there is currently no drivers for A2DP devices in the iPhone software.

    You can change mail accounts if you press theback button in the upper left hand side of the sceen. You will have to press it up to two times to get to the accounts page.

    I would like a setting to send all mail from one out going account.

    Great list all of my main issues are covered in this list. Keep up the good work

  5. #1 missing is close to a dealbreaker for me. I have over a thousand contacts and constantly use search on my Palm as well as in Outlook to find people.

  6. @TimK #21: Yes the 160 char limit is part of the GSM standard, but that very standard also allows for what’s called multi-part messages that allows messages of more than 160 chars to be sent. At the network side it’s recognised as individual messages and is usually charged as such. However GSM mobiles, on receiving the message, can piece it back together. Most mobiles made after 2000 or so can receive multi-part messages and most made after 2004 or so can send/receive multi-part messages.

  7. Don’t forget that the headphone jack does not fit most head-phones without an adapter which they don’t provide…but I love it. It is the best phone, best handheld I have every used. Well worth the wait – I’ll never go back…

    Oh, and I second the need for chat – I loved how blackberry had gtalk and yahoo IM, and email push – when will that be available…remember, att also offers that on blackberrys so I think they could offer it here. I think apple is holding off so they have a way to create new buzz after the initial wears off. Great phone!!

  8. re. #55:

    Hardware support for A2DP without usable drivers is like having an air conditioning compressor in your car without a way to turn it on: it sucks power from the system without providing any satisfaction. Granted, the power consumption may be measured in tenths of a microwatt when bluetooth is enabled, but it *is* a power drain nonetheless.

    As an embedded systems programmer (Linux – 6 years at least, Palm OS, WinCE, and other proprietary systems) I wonder what was behind the decision to ship the hardware without support for it in the OS. The additional hardware design work, testing, chip cost… it seems to be a waste of time and money to *not* enable it in “first ship”.

    “We can turn it on later” is not a satisfactory answer, and seems to give credence to the argument that the iPhone was “shipped before complete”.

    I really wanted to like the iPhone. Really. I had the cash put aside, and was ready to dump my Blackberry Pearl (and TMO) for the iPhone. But, until I see the full feature set available and some of the stupid omissions fixed (no search???), I’ll wait.

  9. The biggest drawback IMO is the lack of a redial feature. If I want to redial a number I called recently assuming the phone is in sleep mode, I have to 1) press the button at the top 2) enter my password (ok, that’s optional) 3) click phone 4) hit Recents 5) Click on my number. On my Cingular 8125 I simply have to turn the phone on, enter password and click Yes twice. Redialing is a VERY BASIC function that all phones should have.

  10. C’mon Apple !

    Copy & Paste – Copy & Paste -Copy & Paste -Copy & Paste -Copy & Paste -Copy & Paste -Copy & Paste -Copy & Paste -Copy & Paste -Copy & Paste -!!!!!!!!!!!

    We don’t have it teathered to our bodies all the time… “….everyone quiet down, I think my phone is ringing !’…. jeesh”

  11. Regarding the contacts search problem #1, when you sync groups from the address book on a Mac (or subgroups from Outlook on a PC), do you have any access to those subsets on the iPhone?

    I’ve been preparing my data for the iPhone and so made several groups in the address book that I would want on the iPhone. i.e. iPhone (all phone contacts), and then smaller groups, Friends, Family, Freqs, Biz (for places I call to order food n stuff).

    Is there any way in contacts to view a particular sublist at a time as it was synced or do all the groups only flow into the one long list. I know that you can make a list of FAVs on the iPhone but that’s not what I’m talking about. It’s more like a playlist thing.

  12. @Justin #62

    You CAN redial the last contact or # you called by hitting the ‘Phone’ icon, hitting the ‘Keypad’ icon (if it’s not already selected), then pressing the ‘Call’ icon. The last call you made will have the contact name and # at the top of the screen. Press ‘Call’ again and… there you go. Very, very quick and easy once you do it a few times.

  13. I agree that there are, surprisingly, volume issues. This seems to be the most basic problem in need of improvement. The other two biggies for me are 1) that you cannot have multiple text message recipients and 2) the inability to type in landscape mode for all applications (it is much easier.)

  14. You should be guilt ridden. do you know how many people live on less than 1 dollar a day? you and your IPHONE. I think the number one thing wrong with the iphone is that IT EXISTS. You shouldnt be spending your dollars on an IPHONE, but on a subscription to ode magazine! BAH!

  15. Big deal. The biggest thing is the contacts search. Well just looks for god’s sake. Really if you’ve got an iPhone you shouldn’t be complaining about such minute details.

  16. Good to know Irv!!! Thanks!

    Most of the ten I agree with, though some seem petty,
    but here’s a HUGE one:
    ***iCal doesn’t do “second tuesday of every month” type repetition!!!***
    What the heck, Palm has had this right for years. I mean, who does the same numeric day of every month, except for “the first” and maybe “the 15th” as a rounded off middle…

  17. Oops, someone already pointed out the “second tuesday” issue.

    I for one HATE HATE HATE the predictive text feature. Its miss rate is too high and its hit rate too low for me to use it.

    I mean, sometimes I want to type “w/” for with.
    It gets auto-“corrected” to “a/”
    Screw that noise. Firefox-style spelling correction is much more clean.

  18. Do you type on iPhone with ten fingers? Is it necessary to simulate QWERTY keyboard layout on virtual keyboard? I suppose both answers are NO.

    The big space bar is just a waste of space.

    You don’t use your left and right thumbs to press the space bar. It can be just a small button, giving space a few frequently used characters like dot and comma etc. With such refinement, around 6 more buttons can be added, though more is not necessarily better. I am pretty there are enough statistic data to assist better virtual keyboard layout design, picking right candidates of characters for extra buttons good for speeding SMS and Email content, in different languages.

  19. How do you turn off predictive text? I write most email and text messages in Filipino and predictive text substitutes every other word with something else. It’s so annoying.

  20. Rakesh,

    Good constructive criticism. It’s a shame that it is not seen as such by some folks.

    -Rakesh (Yup, that’s my name too)

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