I took delivery of my iPhone at the start of September, the beginning of a trying month personally that saw me out of the office for very long periods and only in touch with the world via my phone. It was a baptism of fire for me and the device.
You should have seen the adverts, played with it in phone shops, looked over fellow commuters’ shoulders, borrowed your friend’s … great isn’t it? Or is it?
In this article I touch on some of the things about these devices that have really irked me. Just a little or quite a lot. And to maintain the celestial karmic balance I have a companion article on a few of the things about the iPhone that I absolutely love. There’s enough material for both articles, I assure you!
So here we go, in reverse order, the 10 issues that you should hate about the iPhone!
10. Grubby fingers and the onscreen keyboard
The iPhone’s onscreen keyboard is surprisingly effective and doesn’t take long to get used to.
Just remember to clean your hands before you do so, however! This isn’t just cosmetic: For some reason I manage to leave a sticky mark under my right thumb that attract dust, biscuit crumbs, or whatever, correct over the erase crucial. Usually the crumb lands there just as I finish the 2 page email and starts to rub out the whole message character by personality! This is not an exaggeration!! It is, however, not a daily occurrence!!
9. External memory
I went the complete hog and took the 16GB iPhone immediately. I don’t regret it! I haven’t been selective with my music collection and have more or less all my ripped CDs stored on the iPhone. That’s 14GB. Which leaves precious little room for genuine data.
On other devices this is rarely a problem and non-volatile storage is usually flash memory of some description, the size of which obeys Moore’s law and doubles in size and speed every 9 months or so and halves in physical size every 2 years roughly with a new “mini” or “micro” format. I’ve yet to run out of space on a cellular phone or smartphone, despite having an address book of over 500 names.
The problem on the iPhone is that there is no external memory slot and no way (short of wielding a soldering iron) of expanding the internal memory. A shame. The iPod Touch has recently spawned a 32GB version and I imagine that the 32GB iPhone is on its way. When that happens the legacy user base will be left wondering what to do next.
8. Battery and battery life
The iPhone is sleek – barely a centimetre thick and enticingly smooth with those rounded edges. There are few buttons, no little doors to come open and break off in your pocket no memory slots to fill up with fluff and dirt.
One of the reasons for the smooth design is that the iPhone does not have an user removeable battery. The battery can be changed by something centre, and over the two years I will keep this device I expect to have to change the battery at least once, but I cannot do it myself. Also the electric battery is surprisingly small – it has to be to fit into this neat little package.
The price you pay for that is battery life. My gadget is now 6 weeks outdated and also have been fully cycled about 5 times (I tend to keep the electric battery on charge but allow it to run flat at least one time a week). If I is not really using the device constantly, just checking these devices twice an hour and answering calls, using 3G and Push, I could rely on a complete working day of 10 to 12 hours between charges. If I turn on WiFi this drops to 6 or 7 hours. If I use the GPS without WiFi, autonomy drops to 4 or 5 hours. EASILY wished to be actually frugal and last a full 24 hours, I would need to turn off both Drive email and 3G, and reduce screen brightness to a minimum.
For some people this is a major issue. For me, since I usually either have a PC on and can trail an USB cable, or spend the day driving with the iPhone hooked up as an iPod and being charged by the car, it is less of a constraint. But it remains an annoyance. I haven’t however seen an iPhone equivalent of the Dell Latitude “Slice” – a battery “back pack” for the iPhone that could more than double autonomy with minimal extra thickness, but I assume that someone, somewhere, is working on an aftermarket device.
7. Document management
There is no exact carbon copy of the Windows Mobile File Manager or Mac Finder on the iPhone so there is no way of manipulating file objects on device.
Admittedly the iPhone does a credible job of shielding you from the need to do any file level manipulation: For example the Camera has a photo album that is also accessible in other applications that need to access images (for example, the iBlogger application I use to write short articles on this site). But you may still find occasions when you need to manipulate individual file objects.
One is during installation and set up when installing root certificates for SSL so that the device can talk to an Exchange server: Unless you use Apple’s enterprise deployment tool (which locks down these devices and prevents further configuration changes, so not always desirable), the only ways to set up the device for Exchange are to set up a temporary IMAP account and download an attachment that you open up, or to setup a website with the root certificate and define the appropriate MIME types on the web server (I could not get this to work, incidentally!). How much easier it will be to download the certificate onto these devices using Windows explorer (connecting to a Personal computer vian USB exposes the devices memory as an attached storage device) and to be able to open the certificate file from memory space on the iPhone.
The other key need for this functionality is when manipulating attachments on email messages. There is absolutely no method of saving attachments, or attaching documents selectively to a fresh or forwarded message.
6. Navigating through email folders
I have a tendency to keep a whole lot of emails in my mailbox. I archive one per year, and generally towards the finish of the following year. I’m also fairly busy and work on a dozen consulting and business development projects at a time. That means two things: a lot of emails, and the necessity to organise those email messages sensibly.
I organise my emails into trees – consulting projects in separate folders and these folders organised by client, all kept individual from companies I’m invested in and from my personal stuff. Probably 40 or 50 folders.
On Windows Mobile devices I can organise this quite cleanly, with the ability to expand or collapse sections of the folder tree. The iPhone recognises the tree, but gives me no means of collapsing the hierarchy. The Inbox is always at the top: Junk email is usually always at the bottom. Moving incorrectly junked email messages means traversing the whole tree, which really is a pain even using the classy flick scroll gesture. It’s clumbsy and unnecessary.
5. Filtering offline email content
The other side of this complexity is managing how much of my “online archive” to take with me.
There is no need (and no space) to take it all with me: I am quite used to placing sensible limits on the section of the mail folder to take with me. Windows Mobile phone allows me to consider 1, 2 or 3 months worth of email with me, to say whether I take attachments with me, all the email or simply the headers. I can actually select which folders to consider or keep behind. And I don’t need to worry if I go away and find I am missing a crucial folder – I could change the parameters and the device will download what’s missing.
The iPhone is slightly less flexible. It won’t let me download accessories pre-emptively: It will just load the message header and leave the attachment behind unless and until I select the email manually. I can define how many days of emails I download from 1 day to at least one 1 month, but beyond that I cannot specify a limit. I have a filter on the number of messages within a folder that I display from 25 to 200 messages but the conversation between this setting and the time limit is not entirely clear. If you are a light consumer this is much less of an issue: For a heavier email user with a complex folder hieracrchy you have less control and may run into memory management issues as a result.
4. Message management and Exchange
The worst problem with message management on the iPhone is in fact specific to Microsoft Exchange.
I am an expert user and really like Microsoft Exchange. It isn’t simply my mail server: It’s a complete collaboration engine, with group and resource scheduling, rich address book, “to do” lists, journaling, contact histories etc. I don’t use it for fax and voice mail yet, but that’s just a question of not having made enough time to buy the interface box to the PBX and switch that feature on. So I is up there with the additional 60% of business mailbox users that are hooked on Exchange.
When the iPhone first appeared the Exchange interaction story was weak. It could perform IMAP, but that’s only a fraction of the story. No problem, that wasn’t Apple’s intended major audience either, but the enterprise users obviously wanted the iPhone, so Apple got to work.
To be fair to them, Apple have done a lot with iPhone 3G to improve the Exchange story. Most of the security protocols are there, including crucial features like remote wipe and SSL, and it supports Push. Enterprise deployment is straightforward too with a dedicated enterprise setup tool that supports remote device construction. Unfortunately Apple seem to have stopped halfway through the API and a lot of Exchange functionality is overlooked. Some of this, like losing some data richness within calendar and get in touch with items, doesn’t influence all users equally. Other elements are more essential, however.
The simplest way to describe this is how you forward electronic mails with attachments. The Exchange API permits clients to forward the message without the message content being kept locally: You can ahead the header and the server will attach the attachments and other wealthy content material before forwarding. The iPhone doesn’t understand this: First it has to download all of the message and accessories from the server to the iPhone, then it must add the forwarding address and send the entire message back again to the server. Shifting a message between folders is the same and requires the same telecommunications overhead. A nuisance for me personally, but no more than that: If you aren’t on a data bundle and pay by the MB then you need to be wary of this.
[Another side effect of the issue is certainly that server-side disclaimers and signatures get placed at the end of the forwarded message, instead of under new message text.]
3. Reading HTML and rich text messages
I love HTML emails. I know that is considered a cardinal sin in some quarters, but as someone once said, if email had been invented after http would email have been completed any other way? HTML is definitely ubiquitous, it is clean and it works.
And of course being the best mobile web device out there, the iPhone should be a fantastic HTML email reader, shouldn’t it?
Well, it very almost is. It does some things effectively. It gets the layout, it renders inline graphics, it’ll also show some background. But what if the text is really wide? It’ll wrap won’t it? No, it won’t. It’ll shrink the text to match. It’ll make the written text really, really small. And you can’t cheat by rotating these devices, making the display “wider” and the font larger, because the mail customer doesn’t support landscape presentation (why?).
Of course you can zoom in, because it’s HTML, but you need to scan the complete line, whizzing across the page to the end of the line, then whizzing again to obtain the start of next line. Oh dear!
2. Task switching
The iPhone is a lovely, clean design. And part of the cool, clean look comes from the absence of nasty short cut action control keys.
The iPhone has only three buttons on the edges of the device: the on/off button on the top, the volume up/down toggle privately and the excellent single button mute button above the quantity toggle. That’s it. The only other button on these devices is the “home” switch on the front, below the display screen.
The home button stops whatever application you are engaged on and takes you to the house page of these devices – the pretty page full of icons that start up each application on the device. Good job it’s pretty, because you discover an awful lot of it.
There is no way to jump right to your calendar, or address book, or email. Apart from the one “dual click” action (consumer configurable to either select telephone favourites or iPod controls), the only way to start a task is to go back to the home page and up again into the application you want. Find an interesting URL in an email that you want to look at in Safari? Memorise it well, or write it down, because unless the text has been created as a link you’ll have to go back to the house page, start Safari, type the URL, realise you’ve got it wrong, press the home button again, start email, open up the email, find the URL … and start again.
Or you could just choose the URL and lower and paste it in to the browser address bar … except …
1. How on earth do you trim and paste?
Once Xerox had invented the mouse, the GUI and WYSIWYG editing, it was up to Apple to take that technology and make it affordable with the Lisa and the Mac. And Microsoft to make it ubiquitous, of program.
Among the joys of using the mouse, or any pointing gadget, is that it offers you a third dimension as you move around the page. You aren’t constrained by the series or the word or the paragraph – you can jump straight to any section of the document. And you will select parts of a document by dragging over a word, a line, a paragraph, and do something with it. Like slicing it out. Or copying it. Or dragging it. It’s normal. That’s just what you do. You don’t have 3 hour seminars and training courses on using a mouse (or a stylus) to point and select, click and drag. You demonstrate it once, the student understands and does it.
But the company that helped the mouse escape from the lab and get into the shops seems to have forgotten all about it. Get out your iPhone. Write a sentence. Write another one. Oops – that second sentence would make more sense BEFORE the first one. I’ll simply cut and paste the sentence. Oh no you won’t! Because there is no slice and paste on the iPhone. Hear that? No? Well, I’ll say it again! THERE IS NO Lower AND PASTE ON THE IPHONE.
Google around a bit and you’ll find dozens of articles on the subject. You’ll find surprise, indignation, horror. You’ll even discover brave Apple gurus explaining sagely that you don’t need lower and paste since the iPhone gives you more direct ways of using information, like linking URLS, or detecting phone numbers, or, er, something.
The most likely explanation is that once Apple has decided to do away with the stylus, the only UI gesture was to use two fingers and drag that over the page to select some text. But that gesture got already been taken with the wonderful pinch zoom movement used on large files and web pages.
There is a way out, however. Some very credible proof of concept demonstrations have already been put on the internet showing how a sustained stage and drag with single finger (like the stylus selection action in Windows Portable) would be workable and not conflict with any various other screen actions on the iPhone.
Let’s hope that the concept demos function and we see cut and paste implemented in an upcoming firmware release. In the meantime, at least twice every day I bet every iPhone user will silently curse, shrug and give up writing that urgent memo because they just can’t be bothered to type everything again.
So that’s it. Please don’t get me wrong, I believe the iPhone is a wonderful, iconic and transformational device. As with the Mac pc, it has transformed our perception of just what a mobile device ought to be. Cell phones and smartphones won’t become the same once again.
It’s just that for all it’s brilliance, it remains flawed. The iPhone may be the item of a prolific and brilliant yet highly introspective group of engineers. Left free to innovate, unrestrained by any notion of actuality or practicality or what the user currently thinks he or she wants, Apple have produced a concept device. I’m grateful they possess, but I fear that it will be up to other companies, with a clearer grasp of what an individual can use, in particular what ELSE an individual is doing, to take the iPhone to the next step.