iPhone Dismantled: 1. An analisys of the introduction

Posted by in Hardware

Note: This is a really old post transferred from Laurii for historical and consolidation purposes.

It’s out! Oh, wait, it isn’t!

When I’ve almost quit waiting for a phone from Apple, there it pops up… When I’ve first watched S.J.’s the keynote,I thought: that’s quite cool. And then I’ve read more and more and it’s pretty disappointing to see everything wrapped in marketing and advertising babble…

In this first incarnation I’ll make a breakdown of the introduction and a few comments on the side.

Intro

As Mike Elgan just said, Steve’s keynotes are like magic acts. And they should be, because this is show-biz more than anything else. If you want to be flooded by tech details, then go to a IEEE conference :)

Keyboard

The phone presentation starts by making a strong point that plastic keyboard “is bad for you”. It’s obvious that one doesn’t really need a fully fledged keyboard all the time. Not all of us are texting and emailing more than talking, and, also it’s a phone we’re talking about at the end of the day. There is no really nice solution to the keyboard problem:

  • have a fully fledged keyboard a la Treos
  • have a phone-like keyboard (a la Pearl)
  • hide the keyboard (a la lots of other devices) either by sliding or doing the tablet-pc pivoting.

I guess the next best thing is to have the keyboard on screen. And the next best thing is to have the screen to change it’s surface somehow (i.e. to make some bumps where keys aught to be).

Personally I like to have a well defined area for input text. Maybe it’s the fact that I use a keyboard all the time, or it’s the “good design” book I’m reading now. I think there is a good reason for having a bumpy-clicky keyboard lying around, because one can confirm typing a key with a tactile response. But that’s me really.

The next point made against the keyboard is: “you have a fixed layout/number of buttons and this harms your creativity”… well, not really…

  • First, each smartphone out there has a different number of extra buttons besides the keyboard. Just have a look at Samsung’s Blackjack and at a Treo.
  • Having an open platform and a flexible layout would generate a silly number of UI layouts, each one with it’s own behaviour. In this case I think it’s good to have some constraints.
  • You’ll have problems with your brilliant idea? If you really have something mind-boggling, your company is going to build a new phone with your idea in it, generating lots of revenue (new hardware and new software) and waste. Also, smart phones and PDAs are around for years now, and there are still odd interfaces which don’t look like anything normal. just have a look at the media players out there…
  • It’s a phone!

Design-wise, I think it’s a good decision to have a touchscreen…

Child software

Hmm. I’d say he knows that’s quite stretching it… The fact that browsers render bad various pages, is no reason to say that. The 3rd party programs do what they’re intended to do. Some may have really limited functionality, some may look bad and some are really trimmed-down versions of the desktop app. My MDA (aka iMate JASJAR) has everything I would want and I’ve even written a couple of apps especially for it.

I do understand why this was the introduction: the new product is a phone, and that’s why is a revolutionary (read: different) product.

Converging the hardware

These days, most buzz is generated by convergent technologies:

  • xbox begins to do marketplace movies, play HDTV
  • smartphones bring phone and e-mail together (eventually with internet)
  • software gets aggregated (SOA Governance)

Unfortunately, it’s very hard to converge several pretty independent features (some people get PhDs for figuring things like that).

I must say that, behind all the marketing babble, the touchscreen does offer the ideal premises for doing these in a novel and unitary way.

However (well, there must be such a thing…), this is a problem. Have you seen a pda screen after it has been used by fingers? Have a look at min 33:22s in the iPhone introduction (or the second entry – not the full keynote from this page ). It’s exactly the problem all PSPs have: they look sooo nice, that it’s almost a sin to put your hands on them).

I have a bunch of questions which as yet remain unanswered:

  • which sort of OSX subset is running?
  • is there a SDK to develop custom apps? I think that’s a must since current smartphones have some sort of custom app capabilities!! (see visual studio for windows mobile) Also, the marketplace for such apps would be impressive…
  • Has Apple really “invented” multitouch? What about the new defunct Fingerworks?

Screenify

The screen is really amazing!!! In what sense?

Resolution? Definitely not. My MDA has 640×480 on approximately the same dimensions.

Brightness? Well, if it has the same quality as a PSP, then yes. Otherwise, not really.

Touchscreen? well, this is tricky.. All PDAs have touchscreens. However, iPhone is the pioneer in multitouch, although I’m not sure it’s something really useful (anything mind-blowing to be performed in multitouch besides zoom?)

Remember that we’re talking about a phone at the end of the day… and an ipod. As far as the phone is concerned, the screen is something looked for very short periods. in ipod mode… it’s an ipod. I remember reading a study that ipod video is not really taking off. IMO it’s the same phenomenon that put a stop to movies on PSPs and all other handhelds: why would anyone squint at a tiny screen, watching a lo-res/lo compression version of a movie when all the trends are towards big screens and HDTV?

It however has a nice touch with all the sensors.

Making a call

Feature-wise it’s impressive. just like my MDA. Lots of marketing things in the presentation:

  • “it syncs with your computer”. Even my SE 750k does that: contacts, themes, messages, mail… Why, oh why would anyone put mobile sync in iTunes?
  • “Visual voicemail”? That’s “push” voicemail. I can’t really understand what’s visual?
  • What if you’re someone very popular (which some of iPhone owners would be) and have a couple of thousand of contacts. Is there any way to type away to a contact? I think people will get really tired of scrolling the list down..

Besides these points, I think all decisions were “common sense”, even the SMS conversation.

Photos

Today’s phones have integrated cameras. Some better, some not, but photo management has entered brutally in the world of mobile phones. More convergence… My personal experience is not extraordinary with my phones, mainly because of the small screen and the lack of mobility/power (zoom and scroll).

Other than that, the photo management looks like covers the normal use cases like in my phone:

  • Basic management (zoom/scrolling)
  • Set wallpaper
  • Send photo somewhere

Internet

Internet is e-mail + web + more convergence (read: widgets)

E-mail

HTML e-mail… HTML e-mail.. HTML e-mail. It’s good for you and with KHTML (err safari) and image scaling on the fly is very nice. I guess it depends on what you usually receive.

I go through text + saving images and viewing them separately, just because people send me PDFs and .doc files attached. I think time will tell.

as for the push e-mail… I wonder how long it’s going to last “free push email from yahoo”. My problem would be that a company would not store it’s e-mails on a public server.

Internet

The safari based zooming is very interesting technologically and innovative. This is the most elegant way to date to view a page on a mobile device. Poor dotcoms making a living from designing sites for 320×240 (or 640×480…).

I bet those web pages were selected because they look good on the device. It is going to be quite interesting to see the more complex and heavy CSS/javascript. But since it can view google maps, I think it’s good enough.

Gadgets

Toys, toys, toys.. :) I bet that that’s the way apps are going to be integrated.

I think the google maps is of limited use. What can you do with it? browse in the hotel on wifi, or spend lots of money on EDGE/GPRS data transfer? It looks nice, but it’s never going to compare with GPS devices.

The weather is useful to the same extent as the maps. There is a tv in your home/hotel room, or a computer, in most cases, anyway.

Conclusion

In conclusion, this is a mighty pretty device. Quite useless IMO with the demo-ed features. However, all applications look very well integrated and with an unitary UI and behaviour.

It’s very well designed. It’s like he has made a purpose to make things “thinner and smaller” than the competition (like the miniaturization age in the ’70s). It’s a pleasant device and I’ll be very curious to see/play with and decide if it’s worth owning.

Initially, I think it’s not worth purchasing it, because there is not enough functionality to justify a 500usd tag, even though it would merge the phone, a media device and internet capabilities…

Oh, yea. it doesn’t have a radio! the same reason I’ve shelved my MDA and went back to the K750


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