I watched it live on MacRumors, and when it was over I Twittered this:
That comment solicited quite a reaction from my Twitterverse. Two examples:
As a designer and gadget geek, I’m constantly asked why I don’t have an iPhone and instead choose to use a BlackBerry. Those are my two standard answers: AT&T and touchscreen keypad. But since I keep getting asked, allow me to explain myself in further detail here.
What’s wrong with AT&T?
I’ve been a Verizon Wireless subscriber since I got my first cell phone eight years ago. It’s by far the best network in New York City, and in my experience has the best coverage throughout the country. When roadtripping with friends — which I do fairly regularly, at least two trips a year — I am consistently the only one with cell reception. My friends use Sprint, T-Mobile and the service formally known as Cingular Wireless. But unless I’m in the basement of a concrete building or on top of a mountain, I always have service. After all, my device is a phone first and foremost — and it is important to me that I be reachable no matter where I am.
Take a look at the AT&T and Verizon coverage maps.
Now granted, both maps show diminished coverage in the Rocky Mountain range, but Verizon is considerably better in Colorado, Utah and Nevada (where I have driven several times) and Northern California (where I’ll be driving later this month).
To be fair, a few people (who I certainly trust) said that they haven’t experienced problems with AT&T:
Jared said it twice just to make sure I got it ;)
Still, there have been several times when I’ve been in Miami with my parents and my phone has full reception while my mom’s iPhone has none.
It’s a sexy phone. It’s got a beautiful form factor and some really neat features. I’m glad my mom has one so that I can play around with it. I have a lot of respect for it. And if Apple ever opens up the device to multiple carriers (just like BlackBerry does), I’d be halfway there. But not entirely.
What’s wrong with the touchscreen keypad?
Part of user experience design is interaction design, and that means that I am responsible for creating products and systems that are easy to interact with. They must be designed to meet the user’s goals and exceed their expectations. They must be responsive and efficient. They must prevent the user creating errors. And above all, they must not cause physical or emotional harm.
In my opinion, the touchscreen keypad on the iPhone is an example of very poor interaction design.
Notice the difference in hand positions. On the iPhone, the user must cradle the device in one hand and hit the keys with their index finger. On the BlackBerry, the holds the device in both hands and can type with their thumbs. Both hands are used equally on the BlackBerry, while on the iPhone one hand is always used for typing while the other is for holding — unless of course you switch back and forth, but that would surely slow you down and get rather annoying.
Then there’s tactile response. The keys on my BlackBerry have a ridge that allow me to touch type without having to stare down at them. I can feel where one key ends and the next begins. The ridges from Q to T curve in the opposite direction than the ridges from Y to P, which helps me to divide the keyboard into the left-side and right-side for each thumb. And furthermore, because I can press the buttons with my thumb, I can type an entire email with one hand. Try doing that on the iPhone.
There was a discussion about this on the IxDA mailing list when the iPhone was announced in January 2007, with people arguing on both sides. That’s even the case in my Twitterverse:
People often say that the iPhone’s intelligent word suggestion feature makes up for the poor ergonomics and frequent fat-fingering, but I know which of my friends has an iPhone, and I see their constant misspellings. My emails and texts and tweets — yeah, those are typo-free. And that’s important to me.
Why I say “might someday”
Perhaps next year Apple will announce that the device is open to all carriers, and Verizon Wireless will release their version of the iPhone. That would be a huge win. Same phone number, same great coverage, no hassle.
Additionally, there has been a significant advance in the research and development of haptic technology — the ability for virtual controls to have reflexes akin to tactile controls. Currently, the iPhone’s keys respond with a click sound and an enlarged key so that the user knows that their touch was recognized by the device. But these are only visual and audio cues, not tactile ones.
If you’ve ever played a drag racing game at an arcade, you’ve probably experienced a much higher level of haptic feedback; the steering wheel vibrates, gets tight as you round a corner or loose as you go straight — it responds to the road conditions that you see on the screen. Or how about a more current example: the Wii. If you’ve played Wii sports, you’ve felt the sensory feedback when you’ve hit the tennis ball or punched in the air. It feels real.
Students at the University of Glasgow are doing research on how to bring haptics to the iPhone. They are developing tactile responses to the “finger down” and “finger up” states of the keys to create the “natural snap ratio” of a physical button. It’s fascinating work and I encourage you to read more about it. Where there is considerable discussion on Gizmodo over the value of this particular approach, this is really only the first step. If there were a way to sense the iPhone’s virtual keys before pressing down, it might enable touch typing or the use of the thumbs.
So now you have it, my complains in full detail. The new iPhone comes out on July 11, which just happens to be my birthday. While the thought of you standing in line for 10 hours to buy me a birthday present amuses me greatly, don’t do it. I’m very happy with what I have. But if you don’t mind, I’ll play with yours…just for a little while.