Happy Happy Joy Joy – My Ruminations On A Week of iPhoning

Well folks, I’ve owned the Precious, my iPhone for a week now & given how much I’ve been obsessing about it (since before it came out) & how many people have been asking me about it, I thought I’d write down my ramblings (that’s why I have a blog isn’t it)… so if you’re not sick of all things iPhone read on…. and even if you are – you should at least watch Pogue’s musical….

Before I get into my thoughts though here are some video links that are MUST see for those iPhonically inclined:

Also, before I go further there are a few important caveats to know. As an Apple employee, writing a blog entry about Apple products is a dicey proposition & one that I won’t do often – but I’ve been so obsessed about the iPhone that this will be a rare exception. So to that end – if you are reading this, keep in mind the following:

  • all opinions here are MINE MINE MINE and have NO RELATION TO APPLE’s POLICIES OR PLANS
  • There is NOTHING in this post that is not already public knowledge. It is not like I have many iPhone secrets to spill anyway – I’m just a happy little cog in the Apple machine & in very little position to know anything major about the iPhone. And if I did, I wouldn’t be talking anyway.
  • Unlike most posts of mine, I’m not going to be completely transparent with my criticisms: sure there are things about the iPhone I wish were different, but as an employee, this is not the forum for them.

So on with the ramblings:

Short Answers:

  • Yes, I nub nub nub it.
  • Yes, it has flaws, but they are overwhelmed by its upsides.
  • Yes, it is as cool as all that.
  • No, the AT&T network won’t give you rabies. (a.k.a. It’s not that bad)

Long Answers

How Do I Like It?:

Now that I’ve been truly using it for a week, I’m even more amazed and captivated than I was when I first started playing with it at work. It is simply a stunning combination of power, ease, elegance, and beauty. Using it is really filled with tiny moments of “wow that is so cool” delight. Contrast this with the fact that using my Verizon-crippled RAZR* was punctuated with moments of “damn that is lame” frustration. Making matters worse was that, in the weeks before we launched, I had access to an iPhone at work but still had to use my RAZR for real life. Typing every TXT message became like torture, because I knew things could be so much better.

That is also why I got one on Friday (I biked to every store selling them in SF) rather than waiting for the free one Apple is giving all U.S. employees at the end of the month. After using one for a while it is impossible to go back. I’ll sell the free one when I get it (for list price if’n you’re interested).

The thing I’m most into these days is actually what I was most skeptical of: text entry. Typing on the iPhone has becoming one of my favorite features. I’m shocked. Don’t get me wrong – for writing a book, I’d still rather have a full sized keyboard. But text entry on the iPhone is really good, much better than any other small keyboard & really kinda fun.When I first played with the text entry a few weeks ago, it was a little disappointing and I felt it was qualitatively about the same as using a tiny Treo keyboard in that it was not enjoyable but useable. Typing on a iPhone didn’t feel as cramped as the Treo, but the Treo had the advantage of tactile feedback. Thus it felt like it came out about even. But then I watched the video on the Apple site about text entry and realized that I had been fighting against the “smarts” of the iPhone.

There are two smart things that Apple does for text entry & the combination is magic:

  1. It calculates what word you probably intend based on all the characters near the ones you have typed – so for example if you are just a tiny bit off on the keyboard you may type “ouzza” instead of “pizza.” In that case, the phone guesses you mean “pizza” since “ouzza” isn’t in its dictionary & the characters in “pizza” are physically very close to the ones in “ouzza.” It offers “pizza” as the corrected word onscreen.
  2. That is fairly standard, but here comes the cool part: The way you select the corrected word (like “pizza” from the above example) is by hitting the space bar OR a punctuation key – WHICH IS EXACTLY WHAT YOU ARE PROBABLY STARTING TO DO WHEN YOU REALIZE YOU HAVE MISTYPED. This is the crazy-clever thing, because it means that if you just type along without stopping to fix typos, the iPhone will mostly likely get the word you want even though you technically mistyped it. To choose what you actually typed (if you really meant “ouzza”) you move your finger to the word you typed on the screen to cancel the corrected word. Since you will be doing this less often, it is a more disruptive action than the accepting the “corrected” replacement. That is just smart UI design.

Another general thing about the iPhone user interface, is that it is often easier than people expect it to be & it takes them a while to understand that. Folks are used to things being more complicated. Again: so cool!

For example, in one of the many (many!) demos I’ve given in the past week, a friend started typing an email on my iPhone & after typing in the recipient, she pointed towards the “Subject” field and asked how to enter text there. She was looking for a mouse or key to move the insertion point to the “Subject” line. If she had just moved her finger a little closer & actually touched the screen, she would have done it. But instead she stopped just short of touching the screen because she expected something harder. She just didn’t imagine it could be as simple as touching the screen with her finger.

That all being said there are definitely flaws and things that do annoy me when I use the phone. For example, the lack of cut and paste bugs me, Safari crashes too often, and numerous apps could use a few more features to feel mature (“BCC” in email, “Open in Tab” in Safari), but who knows what the next software rev will bring?Apple has said it will “surprise and delight” users with software updates for the iPhone.

That is another significant thing about iPhones that people don’t necessarily get. Apple will be updating and improving the software and UI on the iPhone you buy today via free software updates! Normally when you buy a phone, you are locked to the software that the carrier puts on there & updates are incredibly infrequent. And if they happen at all, they are usually a confusing (“Did I get the right version”) & worrisome (“Am I doing it right? Will I brick my phone?”) process. This is largely because the phone manufacturers & carriers aren’t great with software. Apple IS great with software, and already has in place all the mechanisms for updating and improving iPhones that are out in the field.

So we’ll see. The phone is clearly a “1.0” version – but a “1.0” that feels 10x better than any other phone/internet access device I’ve ever seen. Someone said that as much as they liked it, “this is the worst iPhone you will ever own” & its true – this thing is amazing and only going to get better. And even as a “1.0” I love it.

More Does NOT Equal Better (a.k.a MISSING THE POINT):

There were numerous of reviews (mostly before the phone came out) that said things like “other-phone-x already does music-playing, internet-browsing, email, and phone calls and also has features X, Y, & Z – why would anyone pay for an iPhone”. Why indeed. I keep hearing this line of thinking & again amazed at how many people miss a fundamental point: there is a huge value differential between having a lot of features and having those features work WELL and EASILY. I’m sure that the iPhone does not have the most features of any smartphone. But there is a big difference between having the most features and the most features that work WELL. And beyond that, most of the features the iPhone does, it does delightfully.

This reminds me of the first post on Slashdot when the iPod first came out:[For the non-geeks amongst you, Slashdot is computer-geek info-central and the Nomad he is referring to is the Creative Nomad: one of the first hard drive based MP3 players. It was released a while before the first iPod.]

The BrownFury writes“At an invitation only event Apple has released their new MP3 player called the iPod. iPod is the size of a deck of cards. 2.4″ wide by 4″ tall by .78″ thick 6.5 ounces. 5 GB HDD, 10 hr battery life, charged via FireWire. Works as a firewire drive as well. Works in conjunctions with iTunes 2. Here are Live updates”.No wireless. Less space than a nomad. Lame.

The comment was VERY Slashdot, and in this case was technically correct but missing the above point entirely and thus incredibly stupid. Sure, the Creative Nomad had larger capacity and removable batteries & if you bought an MP3 player based on the most obvious feature bullet points you would have gone with the Nomad. But if you even looked at both side by side, or better still played with them you’d begin to realize why the iPod eventually became a phenomenon and the Nomad is long deceased: the iPod was physically much smaller and much more elegant and beautiful. The iPod worked much much better: it had a much nicer interface and much better computer integration (iTunes!). Meanwhile the Nomad sucked batteries and took forever to load songs over its weak USB 1.0 interface, while the iPod had super-fast Firewire downloading and much better battery life. The sum total of these “non-bullet” features made for a MUCH MUCH better device and the market bore that out in short order.This same kind of myopia rears its silly head in various reviews I’ve read about the iPhone, but most people are starting to hit the nail on the head. Maybe this will be the product that makes people start to get the fundamental difference between more & better.

A Golden Apple:

A final neat thing about the iPhone is that it reflects something really cool about working at Apple these days. I’m tremendously lucky in that I’m working at Apple in what is probably its second Golden Age (the first was probably 77-mid eighties at its birth). It is quite a ride to be working at a company that is at the top of its game and hitting on all cylinders and to be at the company as it has been getting there. The iPhone reflects so many parts of Apple working well.

The iPhone uses Apple’s OS X thus it is based on all of Apple’s decade of work of OS X on the Mac. It is clear that we are leveraging a lot of our years of OS & application development for the iPhone – what a huge boost & a leveraging of effort.

Similarly, 6 years of making and refining iPods gives us the expertise needed to make “our best iPod yet” and all of our work with durability and power management are on display in the tiny, beautiful, little machine. We could never have made such a device without all of that experience making iPods.

Nearer and dearer to my heart is the iTunes integration, from syncing to activation, that adds so much of the value to the iPhone experience (like the iPods before it). A lot of people don’t get that a big part of what makes the iPod experience so great is iTunes. And now we leverage that expertise for the iPhone.

And finally, in addition to the fact that the Apple retail stores are the perfect place to go try out an iPhone, the retail experience of buying an iPhone on the first week was stellar – the Apple retail stores did just a phenomenal job managing such a huge crush of shoppers.

We are a company hitting on all cylinders and it is really cool. I wish everyone at Apple would notice the coincidence of this Golden Age with the hiring of one Amandeep S. Jawa – but so far they haven’t. 🙂

5 thoughts on “Happy Happy Joy Joy – My Ruminations On A Week of iPhoning

  1. The praise for the UI seems somewhat uncritical to me. It is very hard to do common things. I just got back from a weekend in the mountains, where I didn’t bother looking at my email. Now I have hundreds of emails. How do I mark them all as read? How do I delete them all? In the current iPhone UI I have to swipe my finger on every one of those hundreds of emails. On my BlackBerry there’s a menu item to delete or mark read all mail, or all mail prior to a certain date. It’s the kind of feature that comes from real-world use of the device.

    The iPhone is clearly a nice piece of kit but I don’t know if I’m convinced of its iPod-ness yet. The original iPod, which I bought immediately when it was released, was flawless and at that time there was no other music player with its capacity and features.

  2. Deep,

    It’s good to see a well tought out review of the iPhone from someone I know. However, I wonder if we’re all swept up in the must have one / cult of Apple hysteria that reminds me of the Tickle Me Elmo release many moons ago.

    My friend made a good point: If the CEO of Nokia came out with a $500 smart phone that didn’t work with AT&T’s fastest network (iPhone uses the slower Edge network) and lacked cut and paste, these flaws would dominate reviews. Jobs gets a standing ovation.

    I haven’t played with an iPhone myself yet, so maybe I’ll be won over when I actually try one. For now, I’m wondering why the free LG phone I got from AT&T runs on a faster network than the iPhone and if those parents still boast about how many people they had to deck to get their red plush toy.

  3. Greetings,

    I enjoyed your candid review – as far as an employee can be – and look forward to other speculatons and affirmations you lay out. I have an errand that kees me from rambling as I might, but I’ll lurk again.

    Over at RoughlyDrafted Daniel Dilger has the most concise explaination I’ve seen on the various permutaion of cell technology between the various carriers and device makers worldwide.
    He’s also got some of the best analysis of the market and I regularly anticipate and read his work. I especially liked his review of the demise of WinCE {O – what an acronym}.
    Highly recommended from this complete stranger {although I feel like I have met Deep once or twice}.

    Blog-on Wayne: be good to one another.

    Ta-ta, dah-links,

  4. Deep, great comments. I loved the part about the “wow, how cool” reaction as oppsed to the “oh, that’s lame” reaction — I feel the same way.

    On the typing– I agree that once you stop fighting its smartness, input is really fast. I did a comparison test of me speed on a manual typewriter and on the iPhone and was surprised to see that the phone was somewhat faster and with fewer errors. I’m thinking of starring an iPhone blog — or “iPhlog” — composed entirely on the iPhone.

    In reply to Jeffrey, above: if you and I have different opinions about the UI, I don’t think that makes my enthusiam “uncritical” — it may simply be that, as a user, I place higher value on certain features than you do, and lower value on others. It may depend on personal preferences, on profession or workflow, or simply on prior experiences.

    Lastly, a word about a criticism I heard ont the radio — a point similar to the one you mentioned, Deep — the reviewer said that the greatest flaw of the iPhone is that it doesn’t have a real keyboard. This is like criticizing the early automobile because it didn’t have a horse. If a horse is what you want, stick with the horse, by all means. But that doesn’t mean that there are no advantages to the horseless carriage (this extended metaphor not intended as an endorsement of car culture).

  5. Deep One,

    A-ha, a minor mystery solved…

    I knew there was _something_ about your word choices and picture and nom-de-plume that was tickling some portion of my hind-brain and I finally realized where we met & I have only one question to ask as I pack survival gear and play-thangs for the annual upcoming bonfire of the humanities…
    Will you be there with the Glam Clam again?

    We met hosting Mehndi Body Art a few years back and you were playing mobile karaoke – my wife Judi, her sister, and my brother in-law, sang to the Kermit version of Rainbow Connection. We greatly enjoyed your idea and implimentation and hope you do something as enjoyable again sometime.

    We are in Center Camp {by some loose definition – at least nearby} again this year sponsoring camp Hot Monkey Sox. If you are attending, please swinng by and beat the heat, make a green sock monkey and make new friends.

    – Jonathan, Judi and lil’ Dexter –
    aka “Team Gibson”

    BTW – you can see our recent handiwork @ http://www.cindergardendesigns.com/ where we paid for our trip this year … a first!

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