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Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The iPhone is the new benchmark in mobile experience

The i Phone meets its ancestors the claypads from Sumeria.
The iPhone meets its ancestor, the claypad from Sumeria.
In cool company
In cool company..

The mobile phone business has proven to be a hit business, the one who can excite the consumer and deliver volume, can with a single product shift the market several points. The last phone that did it was the Motorola Razr, it delivered thin and stunning design. The Blackberry delivered mobile e-mail. The Nokia 8210 delivered small, the Nokia 6110 delivered talktime, great design and great UI. The iPhone will be a hit, it is that good, what makes it special is that it appeals to women. It will be remembered as the device delivering consumption convergence. It is a great device for media consumption, its fluid natural UI is just right for this.

What is central to Apple’s product making is high level of attention to detail. Product quality is all about the attention to detail. Those details require extraordinary efforts from the people making the products. The iPhone has so many of the details right that one forgives its drawbacks (Only 2G, Only 2MP camera, non changeable battery).

The natural feel to the UI, the bouncing, panning, pinching, once learned feel organic, like using analogue media. This makes it an icon, it is the natural mobile UI. It has the best keyhole browser and ofcourse the biggest keyhole. I would not call the mobile web dead. I still think that you might need to provide a more focused experience for mobile users, most screens will be smaller than that of the iPhone.

I see only two chronic problems with it and other touch screen solutions:

1. Lack of tactile feedback.
When using the device, which in a subtle way makes you double check that it registered. Any type of eyes-free use is out of the question. Even a simple little task like unlocking the keyboard cannot be made without double checking. Some of that can be fixed with sound and vibration. I am not prepared discount hard keys, but in the battle of front real-estate screen wins over keys. There is hence room for further innovation.

2. The ergonomics of a touch screen only device and the interaction style is in conflict. Most user interfaces will need generic commands, like: Forward, Back, Exit, Next, Previous. These command can typically only be placed either at the top or the bottom. On a one-hand operated touch UI neither place is good. Apple has solved this in an amusing way. They have a Exit/home hard key in the centre and bottom of the device and then a Back key all the way top left in the screen. These keys are closely related and should have been closer. Ergonomically it is not good to be at the bottom of the screen either, as one then needs to hold the device quite far down and hence compromising on the grip quality. I would not have designed the top using words, I would have done a Word (App title) left aligned, and then had Back and Forward touch button as icons on the right side as most people are right handed. One would have improved aesthetics, made it easier to localize and ergonomically much better for right handed people. (Sorry lefties, I am one as well.). Ideally these commands should be somewhere 25% from the bottom of the screen for best ergonomics, but that is in the middle of the content area. There is hence room for further innovation.

The iPhone has been a central part of any conversation about mobile the past few months. The question is iPhone a good or a bad thing for the industry comes up frequently. My view is that it is a good thing. It will require everyone to innovate more,  take risk, unlock conventions, which all benefit the users. What is good for the user is good for the industry. The iPhone is in my mind really good news for Microsoft, Nokia and SonyEricsson as they all have good SW assets, which with solid effort can be dramatically improved. It is bad news for Samsung and Motorola, and LG their SW assets are too weak and it is too expensive to create something from scratch.

The iPhone is the first truly seamless mobile, one that was designed boldly for flatfee. The device will go on-line automatically if you open for example Weather. Its roll-out will force the operators to create a flatfee package and a data roaming package, or force Apple to build in some queries. I hope for the first, that is what will drive data usage, and revenues eventually. My advice to operators, embrace it, let it be a catalyst for change.

I am quite surprised how inconsistent the different apps are in the device, I think this is a symptom of siloed app creation and no time to design a holistic scalable UE architecture. If they really worked on it for 3 years, there would not have been time to create it. Does it matter, I don’t know, I like consistent user experiences.

When I claimed in February at 3GSM that touch is the new thin, the usage of the iPhone just puts that statement in bold. The only problem is when I compare the feel of the touch between the iPhone and the Prada phone it is like day and night. I am sure the guys at Synaptics are in panic, as Apple is using its own (acquired) technology from Fingerworks, which frankly seems more sensitive. If Synaptics is the best out there Apple will have a massive lead.

01:21 PM in Technology | Permalink | Comments (8)