Apple’s iPhone Promises Fun with Function

Well, I didn’t have to wait long for one of my new-year predictions to be realized. On Tuesday at the MacWorld Conference in San Francisco, Apple’s CEO Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone.

Basically a pocket-sized Mac computer, the iPhone pretty much matches all the specifications on my wish list. It’s even sexier than I expected.

In an television interview following his keynote, Jobs described Apple as a “product” company. He qualified that definition by explaining that Apple doesn’t sell technology so much as it sells “things” people want to have.

In view of the new iPhone, I would take that description one step further and describe Apple as a company that provides “experiences”.

Before I get into that, though, just in case you’ve been living in a hole for the past few days I’ll provide a quick sum-up of the iPhone. At first glance it’s a chrome-edged slab of plastic punctuated by a button at one (the telephone mouthpiece) end and a small hole at the other (the earpiece).

When turned on, the majority of the iPhone’s surface turns into a small screen and, depending on what you’re doing with the phone, the imagery on the display differs. This screen is how you control the phone, using your fingers.

When you want to make a call you can tap in a number as you would with any phone. Alternatively, you can browse your contacts and simply click on whom you want to ring up.

The iPhone can also handle free Yahoo “push” email, a la Blackberry, and offers the very best implementation of Google Maps ever. It does everything an iPod does including music and video playback and syncs with a Mac or PC. It provides full web browsing capabilities.

The iPhone offers a large, wide-format screen that senses how you’re holding the device and adjusts itself accordingly.

What’s particularly fascinating about the iPhone is how the various buttons and objects sort of drift about on the screen in response to your clicks. The phone touch-screen interface literally rebuilds itself after each action, providing a user with a sense of continuity from one activity to the next. I can imagine it would be fun just to click on things and watch them fly around.

I suppose that’s where my point of “experience” comes in: the new generation of Apple products are approaching how we use technology as something that’s actually enjoyable.

The iPhone is a great example of this. The iPhone interface is organic and transforms itself in a natural way, based on what the user is doing. The variety of screen layouts change with an intuitive grace that always leaves the user with a sense of “place.”

That you use your fingers to interact with the iPhone gives its interface a sense of tactility that hasn’t been present in technical devices before.

Without question, there isn’t a product on the market that offers a similarly high degree of positive user experience.

Jobs introduced the new iPhone as “revolutionary,” and I’m inclined to agree with him. Despite the fact that the mobile phone industry is cluttered with other über-functional “smart phones”, it’s starving for a handheld device that is also easy and fun to use.

I’m a long time user of the Palm Treo and, while I depend on the device, its instability and confusing interface constantly irritate me. I’ve had the opportunity to live with a Windows Mobile 5 smart phone, the Motorola Q, and I can sum up that experience in one word: pathetic. I’ve only been a casual observer of the Blackberry interface but I’ve found it to be unintuitive and somewhat confounding.

Apple’s entry into the mobile phone market will, without a doubt, stir things up. It’s going to wake up other mobile device makers to the fact that normal people want powerful devices that are not only capable but also easy and fun to use.

In fact, the effects of the iPhone were apparent even as it was being announced during Jobs’ keynote. Over that two-hour period, both RIM’s (the company that makes the Blackberry) and Palm’s stocks dropped by 8%; Apple’s value improved by the same amount. Clearly, as far as investors are concerned, Apple’s new iPhone is a winner.

I remember the MacWorld keynote back in 2001 when Jobs introduce the iPod. Since that time the iPod has become one of the most respected computing platforms in the world. I can only imagine where Apple is going with the iPhone; this truly is the start of a new era.

Originally published in the Yukon News on January 12, 2007.
©2007 Andrew Robulack