There is a lot of talk these days about the iPhone. You can’t open TechMeme without seeing yet another rumor about the next generation, 3G, whatever version of the iPhone Apple is about to release. As soon as any other mobile initiative is released it has to go through an iPhone comparison. Google is working with developers around the world to create a new mobile platform called Android. As soon as the first demo’s appear the tech blog community measures them up against the iPhone.
Well, sorry to say this, but the iPhone is probably one of the worst mobile phones I have seen in quite a while. Now, before you get all excited about that and state that I have gone mental, let me try to explain what I mean by that.
The iPhone, in my opinion, isn’t really a mobile phone. The iPhone is probably the most innovative handheld computer in the world. It has a unique feel to it, a nice operating system, a touch screen (which is old news in Japan and Europe really) and great usability. It provides us with a browsing experience unlike any other mobile device. It has a great display, a mediocre camera, it lets you play music, video, browse the web, anything a gadget lover might need. It just sucks as a phone. You can tell the iPhone was build by a computer manufacturer. It is a handled where someone decided to also add phone capabilities to. And it’s phone capabilities are worse than I had thought.
What are the two most important functions of a mobile phone (and no, I’m not talking to all you smartphone lovers out there)? Calling and SMS. It is as simple as that. This is an estimated 1 Trillion dollar business world wide! While the USA lags behind in SMS, the rest of the world produces 5-10 SMSes on average per user per day. SMS is a $ 100BLN business. A business larger than ALL social media and advertisement business on the entire web! Probably less than 5% of that big pile of revenues goes to data services. It will be growing for sure the coming years. But $ 1000 BLN is a really big number.
When we get all excited about the iPhone I’m sure we aren’t getting excited over it’s phone capabilities. We are excited about it’s ability to browse the web, to act like a small yet powerful handheld computer. And that is great. Apple surely did set a new standard there.
But have you ever tried to make a phone call on it. With all due respect, I could navigate my “old-fashioned” Nokia N95 way better than the iPhone. I’m estimating that using the N95 menu structures I can find and call a contact approximately 50% faster, and more importantly without making any errors. While the contact list on the iPhone looks flashy, the touch screen controls create a lot of errors for me. I can’t search for a contact (Sorry if I can’t remember all 800 names in my contact list). Scrolling is great, but landing on the right name is difficult. How many times have you found the contact, clicked on it (expecting it to start making the call), clicked on it in the next screen (why for heavens sake), and then only found yourself to be in the “change details” screen instead of the calling screen.
How about SMS? I use that function as least as often as I call. I might type 30-40 SMSes on any given day. But with the touchscreen keyboard of the iPhone this has become a real pain. I touch the wrong letter too often. Not only was typing on my Nokia without an actual keyboard faster, what is more important, it was way less error-prone. And honestly, the pre-iPhone interfaces weren’t that good either, but a hell of a lot more workable than the iPhone now. I have written before about the need to rethink the mobile experience fundamentally. Apple did it, only they forgot the current main use of a phone. They were thinking handheld computer when they designed the iPhone.
I tried using the headset provided with the iPhone. Worked fine for calling. I took it out, left home without the headset. And I found out the hard way that the rest of the day I couldn’t make a phone call because the iPhone for some reason assumed I still had the headset installed. Probably a “bug” or mishap, but not being able to call without using the external speaker all day is a real pain. Never had that happen to me before.
I hope Google’s Android will lead to developments that do not always match the iPhone. It has set a standard in it’s own, we don’t need others cloning that. I hope Android developers will think about a better integrated experience. Not just the “new world” of web browsing and media consumption. But also including being able to call and send messages (sending e-mail has the same obvious problems on the iPhone).
Touch screens are great, but we either need bigger ones, or I need to sharpen my fingers to hit the right letter on the tiny little keyboard. One thing I do like about the iPhone’s SMS capabilities is the way it displays successive SMSes as conversations. Perfect, because that is what they are!
I’ll end this with a small wish I have written about before in a post called “We need a revolution in Mobile U thinking”:
I’ll give away one idea for making things better. Why not get rid of the whole inbox-outbox messaging paradigm. It sucks on a mobile phone. Instead convert the entire paradigm into a life stream, similar to the way Twitter and Jaiku work. It fits human behavior much better. We don’t always want to look into or respond to every message we receive. Showing these messages as a constant stream allows me to look at it whenever I want to. It doesn’t call for my attention whenever a message arrives, but I get to decide when I wish to give the message my attention. It allows me to pick up things that are important, and it also provides me easy ways to respond to on ore more people. And it lets me ramble my thoughts to whoever is willing to listen to them.
And we could easily integrate calling behavior in that same life stream too.
The iPone may be the best handheld mobile computer there is right now, but it’s probably one of the worst mobile phones I have ever used.