Why I Don’t Have an iPhone (but might someday)

As you probably know, Apple released iPhone 2.0 yesterday. Watch Steve Jobs’ WWDC Keynote Address if you haven’t already seen it.

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.

AT&T Coverage Map

Verizon Wireless Coverage Map

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.

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  1. says

    Honestly, I don’t think I’ve read anyone who’s done such a good job of breaking down the user experience of iPhone, and the pro/cons of the complete buy-in (cell service, UX, and true mobility). This is a must read for anyone considering an iPhone, especially iPhone 2.0.

  2. Maxine Appleby says

    Whitney – I have fat fingers; travel a bunch and walk & text all the time.

    I love my Iphone!

    Treat yourself to a birthday gift. I can guarantee that you will love it too.


  3. says

    I use my iPhone one-handed, typing with my thumb. And in regard to Northern California service, when it comes to the Peninsula you’re better off with ATT than Verizon. VZ doesn’t even work on the Stanford Campus.

    In Washington, DC however, ATT’s service is spotty and nonexistent in a lot of places, while VZ’s is fantastic.

  4. says

    The picture of the single finger touching iPhone’s keyboard is unrealistic. I can type quickly using both thumbs using the classic crackberry two-handed cradle position. I would love a real keyboard, but I would give it up in a second for this big beautiful video screen.

  5. says

    Matt, as always, you are way too nice to me. Thank you.

    To Maxine, Abi and James, do any of you write long emails on your iPhone, or are you mostly talking about text messaging? I’d love to see a video of you typing on your iPhone one-handed while walking down the street. How accurate would it be? Do you have to go back to fix typos?

    I’d also be curious to see two videos side-by-side of someone typing an email on an iPhone and typing the same on a BlackBerry. Which would get done first and be more accurate?

  6. says

    Hi Whitney, great post. The iPhone has never really appealed to me for some reason. I’ll admit it’s cool after playing with friends’ iPhones, but I just don’t need all that *stuff* on my phone.

    I never thought about your touchscreen keypad point before but I agree that it’s an important factor in how you use your device.

    Love posts that teach me new things/make me think differently! And that make tech stuff understandable for a non-techie like me :-).

  7. says

    I’m sure the Blackberry user would get done quicker and with more accuracy for a long typing task. And the wheel gives them an advantage in one-handed email commands like Reply, too. For pure economy of motion and ergonomics, the newer Blackberries are quite good. For me, I am more concerned with the ease of cross-application tasks (e.g. email>phone>map for dinner plans), which is where the iPhone really excels. Plus I like watching TV on it. It makes an outstanding iPod.

  8. says

    Great post! I will forward along to a few of my crackberry colleagues. You make a great point – it’s all about the application and how you use it. The question shouldn’t be “why aren’t you using an iPhone”, it should be “why do you like about the BlackBerry”. It shouldn’t be about me, it should be about you — we don’t all have the same set of requirements.

  9. says

    Great post. I pretty much echo everything you said except I think the touch screen would be less of a problem for me since I am not too big on text messaging. (Although with the right device and the right phone plan I guess I could be).

    One thing I want to add to the discussion is that your choice in mobile phone carrier is much more than just coverage. It is also their plans (pricing etc) and their customer service. I was with Sprint for many years before I switched to Verizon and the experience has been night and day different in these categories.

  10. says

    Well this is an interesting analysis. I recently had a BlackBerry Pearl foisted on me, and I can say that I’m unimpressed – I think my speed of typing was faster on a traditional phone SMS text keyboard with predictive text. It’s worse than that as the applications generally have appalling ease of use, too. From the little I’ve played with iPhones, I’d say their apps win out on ease-of-use, but I’m not sure about the keyboard… I think I’d actually agree with your view that sensory feedback is going to be missing.

    Interesting that the BlackBerry Thunder is all touchscreen. I wonder whether they are following the iPhone styling crowd just because they “have to”.

  11. says

    Great piece — really shows what separates power blackberry users from iPhone users. And you also touched on the exact reason why I still keep that “sent from iPhone” tag on my emails: you need a disclaimer JIC you fire one off the bow with some unintended auto-correcting.

    But I will say that iPhone is a game changer, really in the sense that people have tried mine, think it’s okay, then eventually buy one, and freak out with, “Why didn’t you tell me to buy one right away.” All for different reasons, email being one.

    Really, I think what your post made me think about most of all was that maybe the blackberry and the iPhone are like Coke and Pepsi. They seem like competitors, but are more complementary. There are Coke drinkers, and there are Pepsi drinkers, but very few people who don’t care whether they’re served Coke or Pepsi.

    Thanks again for a great thought-provoking post.

  12. David Malouf says

    As a designer of IxD for mobile devices (not just software) I can tell you that well, you are wrong. ;-)

    I do appreciate the detail of thought you put into it, but I am just as accurrate and fast on my iPhone as I was on my previous 3 smartphones (2 of which were BB’s and the other a treo). The touchscreen while maybe diminishes in SOME areas, it doesn’t diminish in any sort of experiential way what so ever. What’s more is that the touch screen provides a level of UI you will never get in the same form factor on a phone that has a reasonably good QWERTY (screen size/resolution quality), etc.

    I also think you are putting WAY too much on the importance of the keyboard. No one inputs more email and tweets than me from my iPhone. Heck, I’ve been known to write full IxDA posts from my iPhone that are several pages long. But the REAL advantages of the iPhone are the singularity. To ignore the convergence of the best in class mobile OS for phone, music, and internet and to put subjective keyboard and coverage on top of that is really missing the point of interaction design as a holistic experience.

    Look at the customer stats regarding web browsing. 75% + of all mobile web browsing is done by iPhone users, despite the fact that iphone doesn’t represent even 10% of all mobile browsing capable phones.

    Why? b/c the total experience (despite slower speed mind you on the WAN) leads people to WANT to use the browser.

    Ok, coverage. Maps are misleading and while yes, you drive around quite a bit (I have fun following your travels) where you communicate the most is in urban/suburban environments and I can attest from my own travels in cities big and small with my wife (Verizon customer) that there is NO, none, nada service differences in NYC, Long Island, Dallas, Chicago, Savannah, California, Seattle, London (oops!!! can’t roam on Verizon nearly as easily on AT&T … yea! GSM!!!) The differences in coverage and reliability between AT&T and Verizon and Sprint are marketing spillage and nothing more.

    Now of course you are free to your end decision and opinion, but I think the reasoning you outline here are not as real as you think they are.

    of course “taste” is an important consideration the reason we have options in capitalist worlds is that you can’t make everyone happy with one option. Thank G-d!!!!

  13. Maxine Appleby says

    Whitney – I use Halo from my Iphone and post to Twitter all the time.

    of course, there are some issues with AT&T connectivity, but only in remote areas. For the most part they have been pretty reliable.

    When the 3 G comes out I’ll be waiting in line.

    Thanks again for the post

  14. says

    From someone that has an opinion about everything and even when I don’t have an opinion about something I make one up (but you already knew that)..

    ..The iPhone creates an amazing experience, it’s pure delight.

    BUT – Until the software for 2.0 is released it will remain a “cool phone”, a Blackberry on the other hand is a BUSINESS phone.

    It’s really that simple. And even then – I NEED tactile feedback, I do way too much walking to have to stop or be looking up scared of hitting a tree (yes, I have done it thanks to my iPhone).

    To end it here – you have a point, but you’re missing out on saying “Look at my shiny phone!”

  15. says

    AT&T isn’t much of an issue for me. I’m peeved that their new pricing makes the purchase proposition more expensive even with the Apple price drop, but that just seemed inevitable.

    The keyboard is irritating, though. It’s the primary reason I didn’t rush out to buy the first gens when they came out. Now that Apple’s unveiled the 3Gs, the keyboard is even more irritating because I’d allowed myself to buy into rumors of some sort of haptic solution to providing tactile feedback. Based on those and other rumors, Sunday night my wife and I were concocting plans and contingency plans to ensure we’d have ours come Monday. Instead, we got the feature list plus a month to weigh the iPhone and other options that will no doubt crop up in the interim. I’m likely going to join the masses, but not blissfully. I’ll do it with the reluctance of a 5-year old eating Brussels sprouts. And over time, hopefully I’ll learn to enjoy the iPhone; I did learn to enjoy Brussels sprouts.

    (I’m not a BB fan either, btw. The only time I want a trackball control is when I’m playing Centipede.)

  16. says


    Just to clarify, you don’t have to hold the iPhone w/one hand and type w/your index finger. I regularly thumb type with my iPhone all the time. Additionally, the text correction means that the few times I mistype a word, or misspell it, the iPhone is quick to make up for my shortcomings. I’ve rarely sent out an SMS w/a mistyped/misspelled word thanks to that. In fact, I send a couple hundred SMS messages a month and have probably sent out a handful that had something like IN when I meant to type ON.

    To be fair, if you’re a BB user, then it will probably take you a couple of days of regular use to get used to the touchscreen vs. actual physical raised buttons. My wife uses both — BB for work, iPhone for pleasure. She’s not as fast as I am on the iPhone, but she’s much better than when she started.

  17. says

    I love the iPhone. I bought one the day it came out. Even made a video about it. (See my website.)

    What I find ironic here is that everything I love about the iPhone is mirrored in Whitney’s beautiful, intelligent, and so-well-designed blog post above.

    Both are incredibly easy to read and navigate.

    Both are very friendly.

    Both have garnered a large user community quickly, and (seemingly) effortlessly.

    Both have great UI.

    Both have clean, colorful, and spacious design.

    And both are incredibly successful.

    I take off my virtual hat to both the iPhone AND Whitney Hess.

    The synchronicity is, for me, the interesting part of this story.

  18. says

    Mostly, I don’t like having to look at the thing for everything. When I use my iPod touch for music and controlling tracks, it’s far more cumbersome than using my N95 for the same task. That’s because I can skip, pause, etc. while the device is still in my pocket. No accidental triggering either — if I didn’t push down on it, I didn’t want it.

    And from a system design perspective, physical buttons can be looped into lower-level polling for key features like, oh, answering a phone call. I’ve seen my wife miss a call on her iPhone once because the phone didn’t switch to the incoming call screen fast enough because of a system lag. Admittedly, I only saw this once. but it was very memorable because she was looking at the screen saying “let me answer the call damn it”.

    Anyway. The thing about coverage is it’s all personal. What matters is where you are and where you go and your observations of signal strength when you’re there. E.g., T-Mobile is crap in most of Park Slope (some spots with no signal at all) but now that I’m on AT&T I haven’t had any problems. And that’s NYC, a big solid splotch on both maps. Yeah, I wish it were simpler, too.

  19. says


    walking while texting/IMing/emailing on an iphone is dangerous, i won’t even get into the extra danger of biking or driving while operating an iphone (duh). when we get to hang out, you’ll see me dodge a trashcan or street sign at the last second if i’m trying to multitask.

    having a device that you HAVE to look at to operate is frustrating as hell.

    i’ve been concerned about tactile feedback on touchscreen devices since long before this time last year.

    In fact, way back in 2007 Nokia released a device with a tactile touchscreen and Immersion has been doing great work tactile feedback touchscreens for awhile.

    now the reason why i have an iphone is a long, long (and not expensive at all) story, and my complaints about at&t are worthy a blog post (or at least couple of paragraphs on Get Satisfaction) in itself.

  20. says

    Though I agree with you in principle, I’m less concerned about the tactile response because it isn’t a feature I would use that much. To allocate 50% of the device area to keys like the blackberry does (or increase the width by 50% if you fold the keyboard behind) for something I would use less than 10% of the time is just a waste.

    It’s a question of usage. I would rather have a larger screen that I can rotate as I wish than physical keys that must be held a certain way to use.

  21. says

    @CamBeck tactile touch screen displays have dynamic / virtual buttons that appear only over areas that are clickable. there is usually an API that lets a developer tell the screen exactly where the button areas are, and as the interface changes, the raised areas of the screen move and change with the UI.

  22. CTR says

    Whitney, nice post, but I think you’re very wrong about the ergonomics of typing on the iPhone.

    You write:

    “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.”

    But I don’t know anyone with an iPhone who types like that! I always
    hold my phone in one hand and type with the same hand–with my thumb,
    no less. It’s very convenient, and because of the width, easier than
    doing the same on a Blackberry.

    For someone in a creative profession you are not thinking about your
    iPhone experience very creatively!

    But thanks for the post. Keep up the great writing.

  23. says

    Great writeup, Whitney! I’d be interested to hear if the time investment you have spent on the Blackberry keyboard have anything to do with your preference for the tactile keyboard. I wonder if you spent the same amount of time on the iPhone touchscreen if you would be just as accurate and speedy.

    I also praise you for your brand loyalty to Verizon. It’s a rare thing to hear about today.

  24. says

    I’m late to the conversation, but I believe your hand-position analysis of the iPhone to be flawed. The iPhone keypad actually functions better (and the suggestions are easier to work with) if you use the two-handed approach. Also, the one-handed approach means that correcting a mistake takes the user completely out of their typing flow. The two-handed approach, on the other hand, allows the user to simply (and naturally) tap the backspace key to make a correction.

    This being said, I agree completely that the BlackBerry keypad is far better, and if typing a lot if important, the BlackBerry is still the way to go (and the way I go).

  25. says


    At first I as worried about ATT’s 3G coverage in Minneapolis but their coverage map (http://www.wireless.att.com/coverageviewer/popUp_3g.jsp) suggests I shouldn’t be worried. We’ll see.

    I’ll buy a new iPhone on 7/11. No doubt. Having owned BBs and Treos, I find the iPhone experience to be more intuitive and more functional. I agree with all the previous posts about your hand-position photos. I hold my iPhone like the photo of the BB. I type with both thumbs. It’s not perfect, but then, neither was the BB or Treo. I think it boils down to personal style, not user interface design. Touchscreen on iPhone or exposed buttons on BB–both are top notch designs at this point.

    Thanks for the insightful analysis, and inspiring such great comments.


  26. says

    This post definitely hit home Whitney, for I too have been hesitant to buy an iPhone for the exact same reasons.
    @DavidMalouf: If only your assertion were true: but in NYC, AT&T doesn’t work in many places that Verizon does. Much of Penn Station and the tunnels between NY and NJ, for instance. And since that’s the place I most often need to make a call (“Hi, it’s me. Trains are delayed again”) AT&T is simply not an option.

    What may be an option though, is something I posted about recently ( http://is.gd/T4a ) – people using two phones: a simple flip phone for calling and an iPhone or Blackberry for email/web. In addition to coverage issues, there are two other issues: flip phones feel more like phones, and separating the two lets you leave work at home while still being covered in emergencies.

    As for web browsing numbers on iPhone, I wonder how much of that is due to the type of person who uses an iPhone vs the actual superiority of doing so.

    Finally- as a long-winded Blackberry user, I’m also concerned about my speed and accuracy on an iPhone – I’ve played with them in the iTunes store, but that’s a concern. The Scottish experiment sounds fascinating, btw.

  27. says

    Hi Whitney and happy belated birthday. I enjoyed reading this post and share some of your sentiments. I am a frustrated AT&T user. I think their marketing as blatantly misleading and am seriously considering giving up the iPhone next year when my contract ends because I’m tired of not being able to get a connection at my house or many of the places I travel to. The coverage map may show coverage (three bars at my house), but they have dead zones everywhere; which coincidentally is why they had to drop the “fewer dropped calls” marketing campaign last year. Regarding the iPhone’s keyboard, I want to point out that you can hold the iPhone in portrait mode (all applications) and landscape mode when using Safari and type with your thumbs, just like on a Blackberry. You are not required to type one-handed with you index finger. I can appreciate the benefits of a true tactile keyboard and agree that, while the auto correct is pretty good, it’s not perfect. Nevertheless, I believe the other features of the touch panel outweigh the shortcomings of the keyboard. For instance, if I need to get back to a place in text I have already typed, I simply touch where I want to place the cursor. Try that on a Blackberry.

  28. says

    After many years of mousing and thumbing, my right thumb gets sore easily and I moved my mouse to the left side. So this aspect of the iPhone is actually attractive to me. :)

    “Only…audio cues”? There’s a ton of research there too! (I’m prejudiced, it’s what I did in grad school)… http://www.icad.org/

  29. says

    A little late to the convo, but I agree totally. I’m with Alltel (soon to be merged w/ Verizon anyway), and have been for 7 years. My 3yr old phone died recently & I debated the switch for an iphone because I grew up on Apple. But the touch screen, the pricing plans, and AT&T all deterred me, I went w/ a microsoft (gag) phone because I had a plan I liked for a price I was willing to pay to talk & text.

    When iphone is open to other networks, or has a better variety of phone options that do not require touch screen, then I’ll look at it.

  30. says

    No reason you can't have both a Blackberry and an iPhone. Especially if you're thinking about designing for the iPhone, you need to at least use it some of the time. It's like Windows vs Mac OS, you can have both; there's no need to slag either one.

  31. Brian Papa says

    I type with both of my thumbs on the keypad, typing with one index finger is for n00bs.

    Also I don't need tactile feedback. The reason is because as I'm mashing away on the touchscreen keypad I'm too busy already feeling something – how awesome I am for owning an iPhone.

  32. says

    Hey, love your blog and liked this post. (Even though I disagree with it.)

    You said:

    “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.”

    I always type with two hands on my iPhone, just like you picture of the BlackBerry.

  33. says

    Agree that the lack of haptic feedback is important (personally I was saddened when the iPod lost a physical click wheel – but not for long!) but usability isn't everything. Don't forget that the touchscreen interface is simply fun to use. Fun trumps usability anyday :)

  34. says

    I don't think AT$T is that much problematic and if still for some people than the company is offering repair services too..
    1- Find helpful guides to resolve issues immediately.
    2- Report a repair problem online.
    3- Update, cancel, or check the status of a repair request.
    4- Access self help troubleshooting tools to easily identify and fix problems.

  35. Sandhya Pillalamarri says

    Whitney, remember me? I was bored and looking through some blogs, and came upon yours. Happened to read this and one word comes to mind: Hallelujah! People have been asking me why I don't have an iPhone, especially being in the creative field, and I always mentioned the interaction design elements…however, never as well as you did in the blog. Thanks! Good read.

    • says

      Sandhya, wow it's been so long! How the heck did you make your way here?

      Really glad you enjoyed the post, and I hope you find value out of the other
      posts as well. Let's catch up soon!

  36. says

    Greetings I recently finished going through through your blog along with I’m very impressed. I do have a couple queries for you personally however. Do you consider you’re thinking about doing a follow-up submitting about this? Will you be likely to keep bringing up-to-date too?


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