Charles Engelke's Blog

August 17, 2008

iPhone’s Great – and Grating – UI

Filed under: Gadgets — Charles Engelke @ 12:46 pm

I’ve been using my iPhone 3G for a bit over a week now, and I’m impressed with it.  But it can be pretty annoying, too.

The lousy cellular radios have been widely documented, and that’s certainly annoying.  But it’s the user interface that’s grating.  Don’t get me wrong: it’s amazing and very easy to pick up.  But it’s not always easy to use.

The biggest problem comes when trying to use it in the car.  Yes, I use a hands-free headset, but the “soft buttons” (instead of real ones) make dialing dangerous.  You have to look at the phone while dialing, and the form factor even makes doing that one-handed nearly impossible.  It’s not just dialing, even answering or hanging up is very difficult.  In fact, hanging up is particularly hard because there are about eight different soft buttons on the screen, and you’ve got to hit the right one or something undesired will happen.

At the very least, the iPhone needs voice dialing.  There’s a free add-on app for that, but getting it launched is harder than manually dialing, and then it doesn’t seem to work very well.  Good voice dialing and headset integration are vital.

The other UI issues are just annoyances.  The iPhone is optimized for brand new users, and it is very easy to just start using it.  But lots of operations should have alternate navigation options.  For example, if you’ve got multiple e-mail accounts on the iPhone it takes six clicks to go from reading a message in one inbox to another.

If the iPhone were truly an open platform I’m confident that fixes for these problems would come from somebody, even if not Apple.  But, though it’s more open than it used to be, the iPhone is still a closed platform.  I’ve got high hopes for the Android platform.  Maybe I’ll get an Android phone once Sprint or Verizon has one.


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