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January 10, 2007

The Apple iPhone: Part II of III

Posted in: Carriers & Network Operators, OEMs, UE Critique, User Experience Design, User Interface

The web is blowing up today with content on the new iPhone. It seems everyone has a perspective, and I’m no different.

Revolutionary or not, Apple did a few things right with this iPhone debut, which I’m convinced will resonate with today’s mobile users.

Portrait-landscape orientation: As media enjoyment and management grows on the mobile platform, mobile users have had to accommodate that awkward moment when you have to physically pivot the handset in your hands in order to view an image or watch mobile TV. In those instances, there is often a sense of disorientation while the user remaps expectations for the D-Pad, and explores how to interact with softkeys, etc. By creating a device that orients itself and keeps tactile interactions consistent, they’ve created a device that feels native to both orientations.

Sense of depth: Mobile interfaces often fall rather flat, perhaps because the technology behind the scenes does not allow for much visual richness. The iPhone’s animations and transitions help to build a mental model of how the UI behaves, which I believe with resonate with a mass audience.

Contextual Options: Most people’s phones are chock full of features they never use because they don’t know they exist. By keeping iPhone’s contextual features front and center while in a call, user adoption of those features will clearly increase. These are often buried under an Options softkey menu, and missed.

Visual Voicemail: This has been on my wishlist for several years now, and represents a solid step forward for mobile in the United States. Now users can interact with their messaging in a consistent fashion, by selecting the individual message they wish to access, then consuming it. How many times have we all had to sit through old voicemails just to get to the one we’re really needing to access?

Multi-state icons: Bubbling data up the UI tree is the future. Seeing icons that physically change form, color, or include a numerical status helps provide context and drive use.

Widgets: We’ve seen a lot of activity in this space recently, as the mobile industry realizes that snack-size reference content is the perfect dosage for the mobile context. Apple has a very strong developer/content base with their Dashboard Widgets for OS X desktop, so I’m excited about the potential this may bring on the development front.

Threaded SMS: Handsets such as the Treo have understood the benefit this provides to users, as we communicate back and forth while on the go. This allows the mobile user to select the user first, then the communication vehicle second. Do you think “I need to send an SMS” or “I need to reach Nancy” when a need to communicate arises?

OS X: Running OS X on a mobile device is an exciting prospect. As an operating system, OS X will allow the iPhone to deliver on the UI as other phone technology cannot, namely:

1. Rendering: It appears that the OS may be able to take advantage of Apple’s Quartz rendering technology, with real-time motion, scaling, reflections and other effects.

2. Multitasking: This has been an area that has always separated phones from PCs; the ability to run multiple applications simutaneously and switch between them without losing data. This innovation alone on a mobile device increases its effectiveness tenfold and opens up new contexts of use.

3. PC Syncing: By controlling the hardware and the software solution on both the PC and mobile sides, Apple is able to create a phone that can truly integrate with the tools you already use on a daily basis. This has been something that other hardware manufacturers have struggled with, for lack of proper alliances.

4. Gaming: When you combine the iPhone’s accelerometer with OS X’s rendering power, is gaming coming to the iPhone? With the amount of casual gaming happening on mobile phones across the world, I’m still holding out hope that this will be better addressed when the device launches in June. It’s a revenue opportunity too juicy to pass up.

There are a few elements of the announcement that fell short in my mind. First, I was surprised that Steve did not mention third party development, especially while referencing OS X’s power to create a world-class application environment, and showing off Widgets. With over 2,500 Dashboard Widgets available on the OS X desktop, that’s a lot of eager developers to leave out in the cold.

Second, where was the integration with the Apple TV? Here was Apple’s chance to present two powerful products and then show how Apple, in its infinite wisdom, has found a way to bring the mobile device into practical use in the living room. Not a mention. With two video-related devices, I’m surprised that they don’t talk.

SO how does it weigh out in your mind? What did you see that resonated? What did you hope to see, and didn’t?

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