13 January 2007

Some Remarks on the iPhone (1)

The company formerly known as Apple Computer is now selling egoistical cell phones and hence Apple. BusinessWeek is determined to spin this as a stunning shakeup of the diminishing choices available to cell phone customers.
Arik Hesseldahl:...The newly incarnated Apple stormed into new markets, turning the biggest names in cell phones—Nokia (NOK), Motorola (MOT), Research In Motion (RIMM), and Samsung—into overnight competitors.

The new name and device represent Apple's strategic shift away from its origins as a personal computing company that has at points struggled both to survive and to set the computing world's agenda. The shift was enabled by the five-year-old iPod line of digital media products, which have produced enormous sales and profit growth, propelled Apple into the forefront of the digital media age, and now leave it poised to set the wireless phone industry on its ear. "This is a day I've been looking forward to for two and a half years," Apple CEO Steve Jobs told the capacity crowd at the MacWorld Expo trade show in San Francisco. "Every once in a while a new product comes around that changes everything."
Urm, right. Look, I really do not want to be a curmudgeon, but first—Apple is essentially turning into a VAR, not "the forefront of the media age. " The iPhone is essentially a Blackberry-iPod combination, with some sensors attached:
"We've also got some stuff you can't see—3 advanced sensors. It's got a proximity sensor, bring the iPhone to your ear and your display shuts off and touchscreen shuts down. Ambient light sensor—adjusts brightness, saves power. Third thing is an accelerometer, it can tell whether you're in landscape and portrait."
It's true that combining an iPod with a Blackberry is not as easy as it might seem. Cramming even more features into a tiny object makes the interface crucial; as, for example, since there are not actual buttons, but a touch-sensitive LCD, it's important for the "keypad" to not interface with your ear. And since the phone and iPod combination is new, the music must not interfere with the ring tone (wouldn't it be awful if you were rocking out to the song that also supplies your ring tone?).

It's easy to make fun of the hype surrounding the iPhone, especially (?) from seasoned business journalists like the one who penned the hyperventillating BW article quoted above. For one thing, Hesseldahl is so obsessed with gizmos and justifying monopoly, he swoons over the Apple name and its kewl interface. Seriously, there are trade shows each year with spiffy new technology; saying that an elegant interface will "change everything" is just silly. Show me a transformer that remains efficient over very broad load ranges, and I'll be impressed. This is just a glowing yo-yo.

Readers are much better served by Jessie Scanlon and Helen Walters, also of BusinessWeek:
In truth, the handset makers aren't entirely to blame for the poor customer experience so typical of the mobile-phone industry. Not only do the carriers control the buying experience (something Nokia is trying to change, see BusinessWeek.com, 6/28/06, "Nokia's Ritzy Flagship in Chicago"), the services, the network that determines the speed and kind of services that can be delivered, and the customer service, they also flex their muscle when it comes to the handset. By the time the handset makers and the carriers have fought out the fine points of a design that will work with the network, and the services that will drive revenue, the user's needs have long been forgotten.

Now Apple must join with one of those very carriers, and its choice, Cingular, has already proven somewhat controversial with customers unimpressed with its existing service. And while Apple undoubtedly retains the upper hand, the partnership requires Apple Chief Executive Officer Steve Jobs to loosen his famously tight grip. Apple won't have the end-to-end control it has with the iPod, and when the iPhone goes on sale in June, consumers will still have to contend with the typical cell-phone experience: the unappealing store, the confusing plan options, the two-year contract, the less-than-stellar customer service.
Oh! Did anyone remember that a new technology allows a more satisfactory resolution of a problem? And what problem was this iPhone intended to solve:
"The clever, context-based navigational system cuts out irrelevant choices and provides the intelligent and gratifying user experience we have come to expect from Apple," agrees Jakob Trollbäck, creative director of New York-based design agency Trollbäck + Co. "By eliminating intermediary input devices such as keyboard or stylus, control has become tactile again. My Blackberry Pearl has 29 keys and you need to use complicated sequences involving modifier keys to do just about anything. Getting rid of them all in one swipe, the iPhone has an interface that is digital in every sense of the word."
Trollbäck could very well be Job's prospective son-in-law, for all I know—but he does make a compelling logical point about the problem that the iPhone, as a [bundle of] technolog[ies] is supposed to solve.
One of the biggest challenges the designers faced was how to provide a suitably sized usable keyboard—something every PDA or smartphone maker has struggled with. Apple bypassed the need for a button-based keyboard by providing virtual, on-screen QWERTY keys instead—and incorporated various tricks to enhance the typing experience, such as predictive spelling and what MIT Media Lab professor John Maeda describes as the "hover-expand" behavior of the keys.

"Each key can remain small and within an orderly grid at first glance; then, by hovering your finger, the on-screen key is made bigger so that you can see it better," he explains. "It's a fairly simple idea and probably not brand new, but definitely a step forward in the awkward task of typing on a tiny virtual keyboard."
In fact, I started this blog while helping a friend who wanted to patent a new keyboard design for PDA's; and yes, one of the designs I looked at was the variable-geometry keypad.
"Scratch" is the operative word here, and concerns have already been raised about the practicality and durability of the iPhone's large, unprotected screen (and how to keep it clean). Questions also remain unanswered about the compatibility of a phone (for which battery life is paramount) and a music player (which is often used for hours at a time). Putting the two together could significantly limit a device's lifetime.
That presents another technical challenge... Perhaps the supplemental power belt? Generators running off roller skates?
SOURCES: BusinessWeek: The Real Genius of Apple's iPhone (12 January 2007) & The Future of Apple (10 January 2007); Voxilla: Apple's Underwhelming Arm Candy (by Carolyn Shuk10 January 2007); CNET editors' take [iPhone] (9 January 2007); Scientific American Observations: iPhone—To Steve, You Had Me at Cingular... (9 January 2007); Apple's technical specifications

Labels: , ,


At 2:56 AM, April 16, 2011, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is interesting reading the IPhone comments. I note that the posting was in January 2007 and here we are some 4 years down the road and IPhone 4 is the latest mobile. When I first heard that Apple were venturing into the mobile phone arena I thought "this will be short lived" what with Nokia and Blackberry holding market dominance at the time.
Yet Mr Jobs proved me wrong as I am sure other people. I have recently aquired an IPhone 4 as a progression through owning an ITouch for the past two years. Fours years ago I wondered why any one over the age of 21 would want an Apple product anyway, then again I also would never have thought I would be the happy owners of a Korean car


Post a Comment

<< Home