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Thursday, January 18, 2007

Will iPhone create a new dominant design in mobile user interfaces?

351973903_6603453fcf_b Last week Apple launched the iPhone, their first entry into a new industry. They promise to revolutionize the phone. I looked at the demos and the keynote and followed the press, without a doubt a stellar technology introduction with amazing PR. Steve Jobs played the world media perfectly, coverstuff everywhere. I liked the UI, its direct manipulation, bigscreen and simple appearance and clean graphics. It will without a doubt energize the imcumbents to massively step up and innovate new things mobile. That alone is a huge favour for everyone.

What I am struggling with: Is it really a good phone?

In my view a phone is a one hand operated device which can be used while moving. While moving users seldom have both hands free. They drive, carry bags, open doors, push prams. Most mobile phones have been designed around this premise for a couple of decades. Due to human ergonomics phones have thumb operated UI’s. Now Steve Jobs proposes to revolutionize the phone with an index finger operated UI. This is a two hand operated device, worst case an inferior phone. In his keynote he said Apple’s goal is to claim 1% of the 1B phone market. But of that market probably 85% or 90% of phones are one hand operated voice devices. The rest are smartphones either by their sophistication in spec or by difference in concept. When Jobs made references to the Smartphones he used the Berries (Blackberry, Treo, Nokia E61 etc.) as examples.  Claiming that these are difficulty to use as phones is fair, I completely agree, and so do most users of them, who carry a separate phone for voice. The Berries are mail machines. Claiming to sell 10million in 2008 in Smartphone segment is a very very tall order. But this is the segment he is competing in. 5 or 10 years ago we would have called it a PDA or a Communicator. Naming it iPhone will help positioning pave way for a good evolution, but in my opinion that is a defensive move like some analysts (e.g. Ben Wood) have pointed out. What I read between the lines is that Jobs admits the iPod as a separate device will loose to the phone having the music player as a feature.

In the quest for the perfect convergence device I still think the right route to success comes from physical device transformation. These transformers are still immature and no one has yet cracked the perfect concept. Combining Voice, Imaging, E-Mail and Music, the big four apps that needs to converge.

Another negative surprise with the launch was that Steve Jobs had to turn to the operator, I am asking myself: What added value can they provide except subsidies? Apple does not need, marketing, PR, or distribution help. What they desperately need is cash to bridge the gap of the bill of material and what the street value of such a device is. This smells more like a 700USD device on the street...The deal with AT&T will impact the spec. of the device and this could for example cause delays in the introduction. Not the greatest of moves in my humble opinion. The world operator community must be doing somersaults, the deal of the century, to get Apple to take subsidy drug.

I cannot wait to get my hands on a device and take it on a spin on town. The only way to assess the iPhone is to use it as a phone, it is the killer app, as Steve correctly points out. Even without having seen it, I would select the Nokia N95 for me Camera drives convergence for me and 2MP is two years old stuff. So for the moment my judgment is that it will not revolutionize, but it will energize the industry in a profound way. And that alone could be interpreted as a revolution. Do I think Apple will be successful in the mobile industry, absolutely if they have the persistence.

Image by Niall Kennedy, thanks for sharing it!                   

02:33 PM in Technology | Permalink


> Now Steve Jobs proposes to revolutionize the phone with
> an index finger operated UI. This is a two hand
> operated device

Oh. Really good point. I wonder why nobody has realized this before?

Posted by: Tommi Vilkamo at Jan 18, 2007 4:48:06 PM

A big dissappoinment for me was iPhone's late availability. Usually when Steve Jobs has revealed something, it's been available (almost) immediately from Apple Store. Not this: June in the U.S., end of this year in Europe.

I doubt if all the hype will last till iPhone is really available.

Of course, I understand Steve Jobs wanted to announce iPhone himself, instead of FCC.

Posted by: Tero Lehto at Jan 19, 2007 12:27:56 AM

Also interesting to note the lack of IM -- another consession to those pesky operators. Agree with you wrt the two-handed operation. Also, today I was dialing a number while reading it off the screen (not looking at the device) and thinking to myself "I wouldn't be able to do this with the iPhone." No tactile feedback. No "eyes busy" operation.

Posted by: Dan Appelquist at Jan 19, 2007 4:03:22 PM

I disagree on several points :

- one handed device : we'll really have to wait to see the real device before making the final call. If you read the specs of the patents used for the iPhone you can see it probably can be operated by one hand quite well. I don't know how "eyes busy" feedback is handled, but it can be done too.

- limited to Cingular : well that was puzzling to me too, why company such as Apple needs to join forces with such traditional company as AT&T until someone pointed me to the fact that Jobs talked about "Visual Voicemail" in his speech. No details provided, and for us Europeans it is hard to imagine, but in the U.S. the voicemail is still big and Apple probably count on it heavily and tight cooperation with operator is only way to spin off decent service. This is one of the most painfull problems of vendors such as Nokia - there are several services on the device, that need "setup" from the operator, but operator have no clue about the device and send you back to the device vendor.

"I would select the Nokia N95" - well this is of course a matter of personal preference, but I can't see many people to choose N95 because of 5 MPx camera. I still prefer to have specialised camera for any serious photo work as lenses are still quite awful and 2MPx is fine if I have to use it. Besides integrated GPS, which is no "breaktrough invention" I see no reason to choose N95. In fact it is very difficult to distinguish among last 20 or so Nokia models : there is evident lack of innovation and this is where I see iPhone's biggest plus for all of us : it will force other manufacturers to innovate, or they will quickly lose ground.

Posted by: Pavel at Jan 29, 2007 10:21:01 PM

Thank you very much for the insightful comment you left. I appriciate it.

One hand use, I need to have the device in my hand, but I still thing this is the biggest risk with the experience. I suspect it can be genetic flaw with it. The more I think about it the more I think this is make or break point for the experience.

Very good point and I can also see the world like you do. It would be great if one could figure out how to do a good shared end2end service. I have dreamt of that for many years, but they tend to get bogged down for example in IPR ownership issues.

I also can see your point with the N95. The camera is simply so much better, than anything I used on a mobile before, I now have an N95 and that alone makes the device amazing. I will elaborate more on the N95 in a separate post.

Posted by: Christian at Feb 1, 2007 3:50:52 PM

CL: "...that Steve Jobs had to turn to the operator, I am asking myself: What added value can they provide except subsidies? "

If you can't kill them - join them...Apple needs to partner tightly with operators to secure an acceptable end-user experience. There are too many moving parts in putting applications on mobiles without the support of the operator.

Another option would be a MVNO strategy but Jobs being close to Disney and its recent experiments (ESPN mobile) may have been discouraged from taking that path.


Posted by: Vaiski at Feb 3, 2007 11:56:53 PM

Christian, thanks for your answer. As I said, the one hand experience can be done on such device. It probably would be possible to apply pressure by the fingers that hold the device at the perimeter (one of Apple's patents) and you can do many things that way. Virtual keyboard has no tactile feedback, but at least it is big, but it probably won't be coolest device to type while you drive. But for other purposes (video iPod, web browser) the interface is really innovative and plain useful. We'll probably see other devices, it is well possible that there will be model with real keyboard for one-hand typing if there is market for it. I haven't used N95 but I am afraid I won't bite on its camera-bait. Lenses seems to be too small for quality pictures (distortion) and there are many things that concern me : won't the lenses get scratched as any other previous lens in any previous phone (I wear without cover in my pocket - unlike my camera) ? What I'll use to receive that important phone call when my typical 200 photos/10 min of video session I do with my *real* camera drains the N95 battery ? No, I stick to extra device there except of occasional use, and I think 2 MPx of iPhone is decent for casual pictures (and they will change it to 5Mpx soon, if N95 is really a huge hit) On the other hand, N95 won't change to iPhone interface that easy...
Regarding the end2end (or whatever) service - this is what I see as the most logical explanation of the Cingular deal. If I have really great service, it needs to be smoothly supported by the operator. It is matter of specifying of external interface and setting up the service automaticaly (remotely OTA) for the new customer when he orders it. I know it is hard but it can be done, Nokia probably haven't tried hard enough.

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