Tuesday, September 11, 2007

iPhone Review

About 2 weeks ago, I bought a refurbed iPhone from Apple for $100 off the original price. Lest you think I'm about to go on a tirade about the $200 discount that followed the next week, let me make perfectly clear that other people have covered that well enough. No, this will be a review of a few things I've noticed as a casual user of the iPhone.

To start off, it's amazing! As an interface geek and an Apple fanboy, I can't get enough of it. It is the best cellphone I've ever seen. I went into a U.S. Cellular store a couple of days ago only to be reminded yet again how much of a bubble I live in. All other cellphones looked like tired pieces of electronics from 1990, save the RAZR which (at least from an industrial design standpoint) looks like it came out of this century. The iPhone's design and software are leagues beyond anything out there. There's no doubt Apple's going to make a ton of money with these.

Having given my general assessment, here are a few things that I've found while using it that I find really useful.

It's amazing how important being able to have instant-on is with a device. I'm addicted to the little button. Not only that but ever since I saw the slide gesture back in January, I fell in love. Getting into the phone is one of the most pleasant experiences using it (and that's a good thing).

The photo app is the best way to introduce people new to the iPhone to the wonders of the interface. It's gorgeous. They've even paid such attention to details that if you grow a photo by spreading your fingers apart and then you drag your finger across to see the next photo, it looks and works exactly as you'd expect it to. The large photo maintains its size and you can see the other photo in-line right next to it. If you don't pull the current photo over enough, it "rubberbands" back into place. Fantastic feedback!

My old phone is a bona-fide POS, so I haven't had the luxury that many other people have been enjoying over the past few years by having a camera always on-hand. Then again, those people who have used camera phones in the past probably feel as though it has been a hinderance more than a luxury given the lack of good synching support, but I digress.

Having the camera around is awesome. I've taken more pictures with it than I have in a long time -- I've fallen in love with photos all over again! Regardless of quality, it's nice to capture events that would have formerly been relegated to the deepest corners of my horrible memory.

With all those out of the way, here are a few things that could use some help.

Mail for Gmail.
Hands-down, Mail for Gmail is the biggest disappointment (outside AT&T reception in Maine) that I've found. I've had my Gmail account for a long time and have used the extremely convenient "Archive" function to my benefit storing away thousands of messages for later retrieval if necessary. Why on earth would I POP those messages on my mobile device? Honestly, whoever made it so that this happens should think about a new job. That is awful! Sure, there are supposed to be ways around it (none of which I've actually gotten to work), but why in the world would this be the default?! It's so frustrating! Gmail either needs iMAP support or to fix whatever the hell is wrong with this, and they need to do it soon. This is ridiculous!

No RSS? Seriously?
I must admit that I'm quite surprised that they didn't include an RSS reader. I would think the kind of people who need to get e-mail at every second of the day would be strung out if they didn't have similar access to their news without visiting each website individually a la circa 1990s. I really hope they fix this or open an API so that someone else can -- Brent Simmons, I'm looking at you.

Headphones controller.
The headphones that ship with the iPhone are pretty cool. They have a built-in microphone so that if you're listening to music, you can take a call seamlessly. Very nice! Another interesting touch was to include a controller in the same place. So, if you want to pause your music, you just pinch together the button on the cord and it happens. Double-pinching advances to the next track. Very, very cool -- at least in theory. What I find unfortunate is that the microphone/controller is located directly in a blind spot. When I'm listening to music, I can't see it at all, so I'm groping around trying to find it along my cord. Not only is this awkward to do, but quite frustrating since usually this is meant to provide quick-access on the spur of the moment. I can see why they put the microphone there, but my question is, why not put the controller in the earbud itself? It's much easier to get to. In fact, it reminds me of Fitts's Law which talks about the speed at which certain actions can be triggered based on where the controls are located. A great example of this law in use is the corners of a Mac OS X screen being used to trigger Expose, etc. They are extremely easy to target at a moment's notice.

I'm surprised how context-insensitive Coverflow is on the iPhone. For example, if I am looking at all the albums for a particular artist on my iPhone, and I turn the iPhone into landscape mode, I'm surprised that it doesn't only show me album cover art for those albums in the list I was just on. It only makes sense. Another small issue I had with Coverflow involved Shuffling all my songs. While listening to a particular song, if I double-pinched the headphone controller to advance to the next track, if I was in Coverflow, the display wouldn't flip down the album art line to the new album that I was playing. Instead, it just sat on the same album. Doesn't make much sense to me.

I could go on and on about the iPhone (just ask my wife). And, as I said before, there's little reason not to own one, unless you can't really justify the cost of it and live in Bangor, ME where the AT&T reception is horrible. But, even then, it's quite tempting! :)