Where iPhone went wrong

There’s this feeling in the Mac community that you should avoid the first iteration of any new Apple product. Yet back at the beginning of this decade I went out and foolishly put £350 down on a first generation iPod. Sure, it looks clunky now. It’s bigger and lower capacity than the current revisions, has a monochrome screen and the scroll-wheel actually rotates. But for a version one product it was remarkably well rounded.

The same is kind of true of the first generation iPhone. Most complaints have been about missing features like GPS or 3G data. This side of the Atlantic there have been complains about the lack of MMS (which is pretty lame for such an expensive phone). But, for me, the only significant missing feature is a to-do list. Yes, I know I can use the Notes application, but will that sync with iCal? (No in case you didn’t know.)

In fact, Where I Think iPhone Went Wrong is probably not something that will make any list of bullet points on a Jobs Keynote. It’s pretty much a single use-case: one handed operation.

One of the things that really bugged me about Windows Mobile ((The version with the stylus is, I think, these days known as Windows Mobile Professional. There’s also a version for actual phones rather than PDAs with built in phones that works only using a key-pad. Maybe I chose the wrong WM device.)) is that almost everything required the use of the stylus. Not only was the stylus small and easy to lose, it requires both hands to operate the phone. Not great when you’re trying to make a call while carrying a latte or juggling several items at the supermarket and calling your significant other for advice on which to purchase.

The iPhone is way better than Windows Mobile in this regard, but there are two areas where it doesn’t work quite so well:

  • Multi-touch. Clearly this is a key feature for Apple, and rightly so. The pinch gesture is unique as far as I know, intuitive and works well. But you need two hands! One to hold the phone, the second to swipe the screen. Let’s say you open a graphical email message. The sizing is all wrong of course and you need to zoom in. In addition to the pinch you can also double-tap. Except that’s quite tricky to do with your thumb and half the time you end up accidentally tapping a link and switching over to Safari. What I’d like to see is something like the Photos application. If you’re holding the machine vertically and a landscape image appears you simply rotate the handset. The same trick works with wide web-pages, but not mail messages. Pain.
  • Orientation awareness. This is kind of related. Why does Safari know which way you’re holding your phone but mail does not? Worse, except by experience, how can you know which applications support switching orientation and which do not? (You can’t.)

These probably sound like very small points but when everything else works so well they stand out. I don’t think this is really a fundamental problem. It’s just fit-and-finish, that final 10% of software development that takes 90% of the time.

I am hoping that Apple gets around to fixing it soon — I need this much more than the much-hyped and almost due “enterprise” functionality — but if not then the title of this post allows me two follow up posts entitled “Some More of iPhone’s Greatest Mistakes” and “Who is this iPhone Person Anyway?” ((This is a reference to Oolon Colluphid‘s god-busting trilogy.)) I am looking forward to not having to write them.