I took delivery of my iPhone at the start of September, the start of a trying month personally that saw me out of the office for very long periods and only in touch with the world via my phone. It was a baptism of fire for me and the device.
You will have seen the adverts, played with it in phone shops, looked over fellow commuters’ shoulders, borrowed your friend’s … great isn’t it? Or is it?
In this article I touch on some of the things about the device that have really irked me. Just a bit or quite a lot. And to maintain the celestial karmic balance I have a companion article on some of the things about the iPhone that I absolutely love. There’s enough material for both articles, I assure you!
So here we go, in reverse order, the 10 things that you should hate about the iPhone!
10. Grubby fingers and the onscreen keyboard
The iPhone’s onscreen keyboard is surprisingly effective and doesn’t take long to get used to.
Just remember to wash your hands before you do so, however! This isn’t just cosmetic: For some reason I manage to leave a sticky mark under my right thumb that attract dust, biscuit crumbs, or whatever, right over the erase key. Usually the crumb lands there just as I finish the 2 page email and starts to rub out the whole message character by character! This is not an exaggeration!! It is, however, not a daily occurrence!!
9. External memory
I went the whole hog and took the 16GB iPhone immediately. I don’t regret it! I haven’t been selective with my music collection and have more or less all my ripped CDs stored on the iPhone. That’s 14GB. Which leaves precious little room for real data.
On other devices this is rarely a problem and non-volatile storage is usually flash memory of some description, the size of which obeys Moore’s law and doubles in size and speed every 9 months or so and halves in physical size every 2 years or so with a new “mini” or “micro” format. I have yet to run out of space on a mobile phone or smartphone, even with an address book of over 500 names.
The problem on the iPhone is that there is no external memory slot and no way (short of wielding a soldering iron) of expanding the internal memory. A shame. The iPod Touch has recently spawned a 32GB version and I imagine that the 32GB iPhone is on its way. When that happens the legacy user base will be left wondering what to do next.
8. Battery and battery life
The iPhone is sleek – barely a centimetre thick and enticingly smooth with those rounded edges. There are few buttons, no little doors to come open and break off in your pocket and no memory slots to fill up with fluff and dirt.
One of the reasons for the smooth design is that the iPhone does not have a user removeable battery. The battery can be changed by a service centre, and over the two years I will keep this device I expect to have to change the battery at least once, but I cannot do it myself. Also the battery is surprisingly small – it has to be to fit into this neat little package.
The price you pay for this is battery life. My device is now 6 weeks old and have been fully cycled about 5 times (I tend to keep the battery on charge but allow it to run flat at least once a week). If I am not using the device constantly, just checking the device twice an hour and answering calls, using 3G and Push, I can rely on a full working day of 10 to 12 hours between charges. If I turn on WiFi this drops to 6 or 7 hours. If I use the GPS without WiFi, autonomy drops to 4 or 5 hours. If I wanted to be really frugal and last a full 24 hours, I would need to turn off both Push email and 3G, and reduce screen brightness to a minimum.
For some people this is a major issue. For me, since I usually either have a PC on and can trail a USB cable, or spend the day driving with the iPhone hooked up as an iPod and being charged by the car, it is less of a constraint. But it remains an annoyance. I haven’t yet seen an iPhone equivalent of the Dell Latitude “Slice” – a battery “back pack” for the iPhone that could more than double autonomy with minimal extra thickness, but I assume that someone, somewhere, is working on an aftermarket device.
7. Document management
There is no equivalent of the Windows Mobile File Manager or Mac Finder on the iPhone so there is no way of manipulating file objects on device.
Admittedly the iPhone does a credible job of shielding you from the need to do any file level manipulation: For example the Camera has a photo album that is also accessible in other applications that need to access images (for example, the iBlogger application I use to write short articles on this site). But there are still occasions when you need to manipulate individual file objects.
One is during installation and set up when installing root certificates for SSL so that the device can talk to an Exchange server: Unless you use Apple’s enterprise deployment tool (which locks down the device and prevents further configuration changes, so not always desirable), the only ways to set up the device for Exchange are to set up a temporary IMAP account and download an attachment that you open, or to set up a website with the root certificate and define the appropriate MIME types on the web server (I could not get this to work, incidentally!). How much easier it would be to download the certificate onto the device using Windows explorer (connecting to a PC via USB exposes the devices memory as an attached storage device) and to be able to open the certificate file from memory on the iPhone.
The other key need for this functionality is when manipulating attachments on email messages. There is no way of saving attachments, or attaching documents selectively to a new or forwarded message.
6. Navigating through email folders
I tend to keep a lot of emails in my mailbox. I archive once a year, and usually towards the end of the following year. I’m also fairly busy and work on a dozen consulting and business development projects at a time. That means two things: a lot of emails, and the need to organise those emails sensibly.
I organise my emails into trees – consulting projects in separate folders and these folders organised by client, all kept separate from companies I’m invested in and from my personal stuff. Probably 40 or 50 folders.
On Windows Mobile devices I can organise this quite cleanly, with the ability to expand or collapse sections of the folder tree. The iPhone recognises the tree, but gives me no means of collapsing the hierarchy. The Inbox is always at the top: Junk email is always at the bottom. Moving incorrectly junked emails means traversing the whole tree, which is a pain even using the classy flick scroll gesture. It’s clumbsy and unnecessary.
5. Filtering offline email content
The other side of this complexity is managing how much of my “online archive” to take with me.
There is no need (and no space) to take it all with me: I am quite used to placing sensible limits on the section of the mail folder to take with me. Windows Mobile allows me to take 1, 2 or 3 months worth of email with me, to say whether I take attachments with me, all the email or just the headers. I can even select which folders to take or leave behind. And I don’t need to worry if I go away and find I am missing a crucial folder – I can change the parameters and the device will download what’s missing.
The iPhone is slightly less flexible. It won’t let me download attachments pre-emptively: It will only load the message header and leave the attachment behind unless and until I select the email manually. I can define how many days of emails I download from 1 day to 1 month, but beyond that I cannot specify a limit. I have a filter on the number of messages within a folder that I display from 25 to 200 messages but the interaction between this setting and the time limit is not entirely clear. If you are a light user this is less of an issue: For a heavier email user with a complex folder hieracrchy you have less control and can run into memory management issues as a result.
4. Message management and Exchange
The worst problem with message management on the iPhone is actually specific to Microsoft Exchange.
I am an expert user and really love Microsoft Exchange. It isn’t just my mail server: It’s a full collaboration engine, with group and resource scheduling, rich address book, “to do” lists, journaling, contact histories etc. I don’t use it for fax and voice mail yet, but that is just a question of not having made the time to buy the interface box to the PBX and turn that feature on. So I am up there with the other 60% of enterprise mailbox users that are hooked on Exchange.
When the iPhone first appeared the Exchange interaction story was weak. It could do IMAP, but that’s just a fraction of the story. No problem, that wasn’t Apple’s intended primary audience either, but the enterprise users clearly wanted the iPhone, so Apple got to work.
To be fair to them, Apple have done a lot with iPhone 3G to improve the Exchange story. Most of the security protocols are there, including critical features like remote wipe and SSL, and it supports Push. Enterprise deployment is straightforward too with a dedicated enterprise setup tool that supports remote device configuration. Unfortunately Apple seem to have stopped halfway through the API and a lot of Exchange functionality is overlooked. Some of this, like losing some data richness within calendar and contact items, doesn’t affect all users equally. Other elements are more critical, however.
The best way to describe this is how you forward email messages with attachments. The Exchange API permits clients to forward the message without the message content being stored locally: You can forward the header and the server will attach the attachments and other rich content before forwarding. The iPhone doesn’t understand this: First it has to download all of the message and attachments from the server to the iPhone, then it has to add the forwarding address and send the entire message back to the server. Moving a message between folders is the same and involves the same telecommunications overhead. A nuisance for me, but no more than that: If you aren’t on a data bundle and pay by the MB then you need to be wary of this.
[Another side effect of this issue is that server-side disclaimers and signatures get placed at the end of the forwarded message, rather than under new message text.]
3. Reading HTML and rich text messages
I love HTML emails. I know that is considered a cardinal sin in some quarters, but as someone once said, if email had been invented after http would email have been done any other way? HTML is ubiquitous, it is clean and it works.
And of course being the best mobile web device on the market, the iPhone should be a fantastic HTML email reader, shouldn’t it?
Well, it very nearly is. It does some things really well. It gets the layout, it renders inline graphics, it’ll even show some background. But what if the text is really wide? It’ll wrap won’t it? No, it won’t. It’ll shrink the text to fit. It’ll make the text really, really small. And you can’t cheat by rotating the device, making the screen “wider” and the font larger, because the mail client doesn’t support landscape presentation (why???).
Of course you can zoom in, because it’s HTML, but then you have to scan the whole line, whizzing across the page to the end of the line, then whizzing back again to get the start of the next line. Oh dear!
2. Task switching
The iPhone is a lovely, clean design. And part of the cool, clean look comes from the absence of nasty short cut action buttons.
The iPhone has only three buttons on the edges of the device: the on/off button on the top, the volume up/down toggle on the side and the excellent single button mute button above the volume toggle. That’s it. The only other button on the device is the “home” button on the front, below the screen.
The home button stops whatever application you are engaged on and takes you to the home page of the device – the pretty page full of icons that start up each application on the device. Good job it’s pretty, because you see an awful lot of it.
There is no way to jump straight to your calendar, or address book, or email. Apart from the one “double click” action (user configurable to either select phone favourites or iPod controls), the only way to start a task is to go back to the home page and up again into the application you want. Find an interesting URL in an email that you want to look at in Safari? Memorise it well, or write it down, because unless the text has been created as a link you’ll have to go back to the home page, start Safari, type the URL, realise you’ve got it wrong, press the home button again, start email, open the email, find the URL … and start again.
Or you could just select the URL and cut and paste it into the browser address bar … except …
1. How on earth do you cut and paste?
Once Xerox had invented the mouse, the GUI and WYSIWYG editing, it was up to Apple to take that technology and make it affordable with the Lisa and the Mac. And Microsoft to make it ubiquitous, of course.
One of the joys of using the mouse, or any pointing device, is that it gives you a third dimension as you move around the page. You aren’t constrained by the line or the word or the paragraph – you can jump straight to any part of the document. And you can select parts of a document by dragging over a word, a line, a paragraph, and do something with it. Like cutting it out. Or copying it. Or dragging it. It’s normal. That’s just what you do. You don’t have 3 hour seminars and training courses on using a mouse (or a stylus) to point and select, click and drag. You demonstrate it once, the student understands and does it.
But the company that helped the mouse escape from the lab and get into the shops seems to have forgotten all about it. Get out your iPhone. Write a sentence. Write another one. Oops – that second sentence would make more sense BEFORE the first one. I’ll just cut and paste the sentence. Oh no you won’t!! Because there is no cut and paste on the iPhone. Hear that? No? Well, I’ll say it again! THERE IS NO CUT AND PASTE ON THE IPHONE.
Google around a bit and you’ll find dozens of articles on the subject. You’ll find surprise, indignation, horror. You’ll even find brave Apple gurus explaining sagely that you don’t need cut and paste because the iPhone gives you more direct ways of using information, like linking URLS, or detecting phone numbers, or, er, something.
The most likely explanation is that once Apple has decided to do away with the stylus, the only UI gesture was to use two fingers and drag that over the page to select some text. But that gesture had already been taken with the excellent pinch zoom movement used on large documents and web pages.
There is a way out, however. Some very credible proof of concept demonstrations have been put on the web showing how a sustained point and drag with single finger (like the stylus selection action in Windows Mobile) would be workable and not conflict with any other screen action on the iPhone.
Let’s hope that the concept demos work and we see cut and paste implemented in an upcoming firmware release. In the meantime, at least twice every day I bet every iPhone user will silently curse, shrug and give up writing that urgent memo because they just can’t be bothered to type it all again.
So that’s it. Please don’t get me wrong, I think the iPhone is a wonderful, iconic and transformational device. As with the Mac, it has changed our perception of what a mobile device should be. Mobile phones and smartphones will never be the same again.
It’s just that for all it’s brilliance, it remains flawed. The iPhone is the product of a prolific and brilliant yet highly introspective group of engineers. Left free to innovate, unrestrained by any notion of reality or practicality or what the user currently thinks he or she wants, Apple have created a concept device. I’m grateful they have, but I fear that it will be up to other companies, with a clearer grasp of what the user can use, in particular what ELSE the user is doing, to take the iPhone to the next step.
About the Author
Stephen Oliver is Director of Expraxis Limited (http://www.expraxis.com), a consulting company that works with academics, entrepreneurs and inventors who need help bringing new ideas to market. We help people set their priorities, plan for their business, build relationships with partners that can help them, and work with them to help turn those ideas into reality.
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