iPhone 3G: Amazing screen ‘inertia’ a big plus, but way too many ‘small issues’

It won’t be a surprise to anyone that the virtual ‘inertia’ of the iPhone screen is a major breakthrough for mobile phone user interface design. Really, I believe this is the same magnitude as the invention of the mouse for PC UIs. The iPhone measures the speed of your finger when it leaves the screen, and if the speed is above a certain threshold the screen will continue to ‘roll’ in the last direction of your finger when it lost contact with the screen. In effect, this is emulating the interaction of your finger with a virtual ball (which has some inertia and some friction, so it rolls slower and slower until it stops).

This major innovation makes it much more acceptable to have long lists, and more generally large virtual screens much beyond the size of the physical screen. This explains the excellent feel of the Safari browser of the iPhone, where the size of the screen, once you get used to the second innovation of this screen (dual touch zoom), is much less of an obstacle compared to any other comparable phone.

This is the Apple genius touch… but that being said, if you really want to use the phone on a day to day basis, Apple’s lack of experience in this domain shows almost everywhere:

  • want to set meeting reminders or alarms ? Besides a small beep once or twice, your iPhone will not insist, or even leave some obvious notification that you have missed a meeting. By comparison a Nokia phone will insist to the point of getting unbearable (that is, when it wakes you up at 2 am because it has in memory some birthday that you got through sync…). For people like me who totally rely on their smart phone to compensate for a genetic inability to remember day to day stuff, this is a real pain.
  • want to see missed calls ? The iPhone screen saves power by turning totally black after 30s or so. By comparison most smart phones enter a special sleep mode where the screen driver is no longer backlit but still the LCD matrix is maintained, not by the power-hungry main CPU, but instead a smaller unit which still has some display capability (typically time, missed calls, notifications, etc…), so you can at a glance see if it is worth “unsleeping” your phone. On the iPhone, you have no choice but to 1/ press THE button and 2/ slide the screen unlock slider then 3/ go the the phone icon
  • visual voicemail… visual once you get to it.  My company Comverse had been trying to sell visual voicemail for many years without success, before the 5 mn pitch on VVM from Steve Jobs made it a ‘must’ for the industry. In retrospect we should have asked how many millions it was to hire Steve as a consultant for a day or two, and spend the money !  So… respect for mister Jobs.  But again your iPhone, 99% of the time, is just totally black. It has a great look, but nothing ‘visual’. In order to check your voicemail, you need again to ‘press THE button, slide the bar, touch the phone icon, go to VVM’. 4 actions to check your VM. Most phones not only give you a sleep mode screen indication of numbers of messages, but also some intermittent flash of a LED to catch your eye. Without it, you need to rely on the iPhone’s design attractiveness and your tendency to indulge into ‘touching it’ many times a day, or you will miss your voicemail.
  • no copy & paste…
  • minimal document viewing functions, and no edit at all
  • cannot use any advanced SMS feature, like getting a receive/delivery report (if you send SMSs frequently across countries, then you know you need this function), multiple send,…
  • no MMS

Of course I am still happy to be a owner of a iPhone, because it has Safari and lately I started to use my phone much more for browsing than calling… and somehow I got caught into Steve Jobs ‘reality distortion field’…

But I do hope that fixing some of these issues, mainly notifications issues and Cut&Paste, will not wait for the 4G iPhone.