July 6th, 2007

My iPhone Test Drive

by

Ok, so shame on me for writing so much about the iPhone without actually having used it, but I fixed that today by spending a couple of hours in an Apple store playing with the iPhone. Granted this is much more limited than the experience of long-term use, but it was enough for me to get a pretty good feel for it. (I tried to compensate for the limited trial by asking the friendly Apple Store guy if roadblocks I hit were just my ignorance of a feature, which in some cases they were, but in other notable cases they weren’t.)

iphone-email-keyboard.jpg

For those of you still wondering whether Publishing 2.0 has suddenly become a gadget blog, I can assure you there is method to this iPhone madness — there is not a publisher or media company who shouldn’t be tracking the iPhone closely. The iPhone is a window into the future of media. If you’re in media, and you haven’t at least played with an iPhone, it’s as mandatory as spending time with this interweb, series of pipes thing.

Ok, here are a few of my observations:

  1. The iPhone interface is truly like nothing you’ve ever seen.
    • Like using a Mac back in 1984 (which I did — my father bought the first one).
    • 100% touchscreen is the only true multimedia UI, i.e. the only UI that works well (although not always optimally) for text, images, video, web pages, etc.
    • Resizing the screen with the two finger pinch and scrolling with a finger “flick,” as if you were working with a physical object, fundamentally changes the way you interact with a computer screen.
    • Browsing album covers is a deeply nostalgic experience.
    • Visual voicemail just rocks (to skip this message, press…).
  2. The 100% touchscreen interface still needs work.
    • Placing your finger over the content you’re using in order to scroll it can be annoying because, for example, you can’t see what you’re doing, and on web pages, you can accidentally click a link.
    • It would be nice if you could easily activate a small dedicated scroll bar on the side to use if sticking your finger in the middle of what you’re doing doesn’t happen to be optimal.
    • Scrolling zoomed in web pages, especially those that have been sized to make the text fill the screen, often makes the page slip back and forth laterally — there should be a way (maybe there is) to lock the web page laterally and just scroll vertically.
  3. The keyboard still needs work.
    • I trust Walt Mossberg, who had a breakthrough with the keyboard after five days of frustration — I trust that once you get in a groove, it works well — but when you first try it, it’s a train wreck. Everything I tried to type came out has gibberish.
    • You also have to point your thumbs directly down rather than rest them comfortably against a mechanical keyboard.
    • Rotating the iPhone when using the keyboard for email or notes doesn’t switch to landscape and the bigger keyboard — you’ve got to be kidding!
  4. The iPhone isn’t optimized for text-centric use.
    • This may be heresy, but if you just want to read text articles, it isn’t necessarily an advantage to load the “real” version of a web page rather than the mobile version.
    • If I just want to read the NYT headlines and the text of the articles, why do I need to deal with the layout? Why reproduce the experience of a 15 inch screen — or, heaven help us, a print newspaper — on a 3.5 inch screen (which, sorry, is still pretty darn small)? Why not optimize for the device dimensions? (Maybe Steve Jobs spent too much time hanging out with the NYT front page print editor, given the cameos in all the commercials.)
    • When you load a web page with a dense, wide-screen layout, the text is SMALL, and it can be hard to get your bearings.
    • You constantly have to double tap to get the main text to fit to the screen without running annoyingly off the edge.
    • Removing the physical keyboard to provide full-screen viewing was a brilliant move, but it’s also a declaration that text input is less important than image viewing — that doesn’t mean text input doesn’t work once you get the hang of it, but in a mobile device with finite space, everything is a trade-off.
    • Given that 95% of my mobile device use is phone, email, and text viewing on the web, I’m not sorry I went with the Blackberry on Verizon — it’s optimized for text — and you can flick your thumb across the new Blackberry trackball same as your can on the iPhone screen; if I used my mobile device mostly for images, multimedia, and rich web-browsing, I’d be aching for an iPhone.

Oh, yeah, AT&T (at least in Tysons Corner, VA) is SLLLLOOOOWWW….zzzz….oh is that the web page I was loading? Still, once the page is loaded, it’s darn cool. (Ride ‘em hobby horse!)

That all said, there is more innovation in this one device than most companies can muster in a lifetime — I’m sure I won’t be able to resist buying a future generation that works out the kinks and is finally on an optimized network.

Comments (21 Responses so far)

  1. [IMG] My iPhone Test Drive — Ok, so shame on me for writing so much about the iPhone without actually having used it, but I fixed that today by spending a couple of hours in an Apple store playing with the iPhone.

  2. My iPhone Test Drive — Ok, so shame on me for writing so much about the iPhone without actually having used it, but I fixed that today by spending a couple of hours in an Apple store playing with the iPhone. Granted this is much more limited than the experience of

  3. Thanks for the fair insight. I am still on fence though would not have thought of trying it out a week ago

  4. [...] Publishing 2.0: My iPhone Test Drive Scott Karp: “[T]here is not a publisher or media company who shouldn’t be tracking the iPhone closely. The iPhone is a window into the future of media.” (tags: iphone) [...]

  5. Great review, Scott. This is just the kind of hands-on feedback we all need to make an informed decision about whether to iPhone or not iPhone.

    Thanks,

    Ian

  6. Re #2: If you move you finger along the edge of the display, a scroll bar appears (either on the sides or bottom) that scroll in locked up/down or left right fashion.

    Re #4: In LA, edge is around 20KB/sec, about 25% or my DSL service. Yeah, ou might not want to browse flicker with it, but the major of website load in a reasonable time frame. Also, the iPhone is a true multitasking device. Once, I thought web had slowed with in Safari, but realized I was downloading a large PDF in mail at the same time (in the background).

  7. Totally agree — for most business users who need to optimize around voice and text the iPhone will simply not work for these types of users. You may be the coolest person in the room, but you won’t be a very productive cool person.

  8. “This is just the kind of hands-on feedback we all need ”

    What? There are reviews out on the net from people who have USED the iPhone for weeks now (WSJ, NYT, Newsweek) and for at least a week (everyone who bought on at launch)
    And you think a “standing in the Apple Store playing with the demo unit” writeup is “what we all need to make an informed decision”?

  9. Blogwatcher,

    This isn’t a gadget blog, nor is this intended as a “review” to inform purchase decisions. It’s a reflection on iPhone innovations and limitations from the perspective of media.

    George,

    I couldn’t find anything in the iPhone manual about a scroll bar — do you have a link to a reference or a picture?

    As to AT&T, your mileage may of course vary. Here’s what Kent German at CNET had to say about it:

    “When not using Wi-Fi, you’re stuck with AT&T’s EDGE network, which is just too slow to render the lovely Safari interface enjoyably. With speeds in the 50-to-90Kbps range, it reminded us of a dial-up browser. In other words, it’s pretty intolerable.”

  10. This has to be the worst review from a non-owner. If you want simple/non-graphical web sites — such as the headlines of the times, then use their RSS feed — which the iPhone supports out the box.

    Any blackberry user who’s OWNED both will hands down pick the iPhone.

  11. Joker,

    NYtimes.com doesn’t publish full text feeds, so you still have to click through to the site to read the articles, and thus deal with all the images and layout.

    “Any blackberry user who’s OWNED both will hands down pick the iPhone.”

    Really? Can you show me your scientific poll results, or is that just your uninformed opinion, as with your RSS comment?

  12. Scott — I’m happy to have influenced your journalistic process. ;-)

    Still, as another commenter pointed out, poking at it in the store is one thing. Bringing it home, synching all your stuff, and they carrying it out into the world for a while is another.

    The iPhone is by no means a perfect device (or on the perfect network). But it is the closest, bestest, most exciting innovation in handheld computing in years. I’m personally thrilled to be riding the wave.

    Cowabunga,

    — Derek

  13. Derek,

    I completely agree big picture: “there is more innovation in this one device than most companies can muster in a lifetime”

    But as to the specifics, are there of my observations that you disagree with based on your use over the last week? I acknowledged, based on Zen Master Mossberg’s experience, that it’s impossible to judge the keyboard until you’ve had a chance for your brain to adjust. Is there anything else like that?

  14. So are you implying that because you ‘played’ with the phone for a couple of hours that your opinions are informed?

    As a owner of both, I think my opinion on that is more informed than your scientific “review”/opinion on the iphone.

    The rss feed comment was provided as an alternative to having the entire front page of the times load. Yes, the article still requires you to go to the times site (your feed is the same btw)…but I suppose that’s a ‘limitation’ to you. Developers/providers of content should still have to maintain two variations of a site — for users like you (e.g., http://wap.crackberry.com)

    re #2, as George stated that’s how it works. Go back to the store and try it again.

  15. Joker,

    First of all, given that you seem to have the courage of your conviction, why don’t you have the courage to supply your real name? It’s easy to criticize hiding behind anonymity.

    You’ve owned the iPhone for, what, a week? How long have you had a Blackberry for?

    Your opinion is bigger than my opinion — whatever, it’s still just opinion.

    To suggest that EVERYONE will be better served by one device than another is absurd on the face of it.

    Good content management systems, like WordPress, make it effortless to provide multiple versions of a site, including WAP and RSS — load Publishing 2.0 on your Blackberry and you’ll see. There’s no issue there.

    You use the phrase “users like you” as if my preferences are heretical or wrong — that attitude why there are so many crappy applications.

    As to my RSS, I publish a full content feed — if it’s not showing up in your reader, there’s a technical problem on your end or mine. What reader do you use?

    I wasn’t suggesting George was wrong about the scroll — I’m curious to learn about it.

  16. Just to make a small point: AT&T’s EDGE network is slow in Tysons Corner, VA. as it is everywhere. AT&T’s voice coverage in that same location is as good as any other carrier. I switched from VZW and actually have better coverage in and around that same general area. 2 locations that ALWAYS drop VZW calls do not drop my AT&T calls just a few short miles from Tysons Corner, VA.

  17. stickybit,

    Even the vaunted Verizon is far from perfect, but I’ve gone all over Northern Virginia with it and have yet to experience even a bad signal, much less an interruption in service.

  18. Since you asked, here are some specific tweaks:

    “Placing your finger over the content you’re using in order to scroll it can be annoying” – Agreed. In some menus (iTunes, Contacts), there is a dedicated a-z scroll bar on the right. But not on web pages.

    “Rotating the iPhone when using the keyboard for email or notes doesn’t switch to landscape and the bigger keyboard.” – Correct. But It does in Safari, so it’s obviously possible. I expect a software fix for this soon.

    “The iPhone isn’t optimized for text-centric use.” – Sorry, but that’s just crazy talk. It’s the biggest, highest resolution screen on the market. Reading is a joy on it, especially compared to the crap screens and jaggy fonts on a Sidekick or Blackberry.

    “Removing the physical keyboard to provide full-screen viewing was a … declaration that text input is less important than image viewing.” I disagree. It was a declaration that taking up half a device for keys that aren’t used half the time was bad design.

    “SLLLLOOOOWWW” – I don’t doubt your experience with Edge on other phones in your area, but this is another case where in-store experience just doesn’t count. I’m getting 177 Kbps on my iPhone sitting in my living room (wifi off). As with all things network, YMMV.

    Like I said before, the iPhone is not perfect. I just posted my Top 10 iPhone Wishes. But there’s never been a more exciting time to be an early adopter.

  19. Derek,

    Thanks for the specifics, great stuff — I do so much more enjoy debating specifics than sweeping generalizations.

    “taking up half a device for keys that aren’t used half the time was bad design.’

    I don’t know if I use my Blackberry keys half the time, but I use them A LOT — much more than surfing the web. For me, the real estate is worth it.

    What iPhone did was break out of the erroneous assumption that the real estate is worth it for everybody.

    “highest resolution screen on the market”

    If I’m not mistaken, the iPhone and my Blackberry 8830 both have a horizontal resolution of 320 pixels. Yes, nothing comes close to the iPhone screen — full stop. But my Blackberry is bright and crisp and blows away older Blackberries in terms of resolution and readability.

  20. Thanks Scott for your review and for all of the other feedback people are providing.

    I’ve been off the PDA/Super Phone experience for years now. I jumped off because I felt I was spending more time with the technology than focusing on the people it was helping me connect with.

    The iPhone, from all that I am reading, may be my jumping back on point — as soon as the network issue gets resolved.

    The reason I’m jumping back on? The same reason I’m ditching my PC as soon as it wears out — with Apple, it’s not technology for technology sake but products that help people.

    The iPhone seems to live up to that design mantra by all early accounts.

  21. FormerLoyalAppleCustomer

    I have always been a loyal Apple customer, but will never purchase another Apple product again….it’s a decision based on principle. I just got back from the last apple store in my state to have iphones. The website indicated that the store had phones left last night, so I went at open and they only allowed about five people to purchase phones, because they only had a few left. In sum, I had to make three tripes to Apple stores over the past five days and, because I didn’t have time to wait four hours at a time, was never able to get an iphone.

    I believe this is all because Apple has decided to ONLY sell the phone at Apple stores and not stock enough of them in order to increase hype and publicity around the product. They are using their customers as pawns in a chess game, in which they win a few extra billion dollars.

    I’ve decided, based on principle, to refrain from buying an iphone or any other Apple products in the future. They should think about their customers first and worry about marketing tactics second.

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