“Innovation has nothing to do with how many R&D dollars you have. When Apple came up with the Mac, IBM was spending at least 100 times more on R&D. It's not about money. It's about the people you have, how you're led, and how much you get it.” - Steve Jobs

Doesn’t everyone have to do an iPhone review


There have been a gazillion reviews of iPhone thus far, so why bother more than a week later. Well, first, I got mine just on Thursday, so I wanted to make sure I played with it for real before reviewing it. I even wanted to use some non-Apple “iPhone applications” to get a feel for it. Second, I had to find the time to write it. ;)

I do have a ton of complaints about the iPhone. Some of them in my mind are problems with partners. Others are problems specifically with AT&T (but kudos to AT&T for pushing the manufacture / operator model in much friendly waters), and then there are the problems that seem to stem from the product itself.

But before we jump into the critique, I think it important to acknowledge something there. There are revolutions in this phone on so many levels.

It is truly rich. Yup, in that Flash kinda rich way. Apple has taken the level of detail to their presentation and interaction design to whole new levels in the mobile market. There isn’t a phone maker out there today that has applied the same type of software interaction design to their phones (Yup! I work for a competitor). Talk about playing catch up.

But what value does this richness have? Well, for one MAN! does it generate hype. I mean never has there been so much on the blogsphere and in the traditional press about a mobile phone before. And all the attention is paid to the software. (Well, not all, but most).

Then there is the “play” factor. I was talking to my boss yesterday (he got one too) and asked him, “When will it stop being a toy?” Well, we thought to ourselves and he answered. It won’t. This will now be the new expectation for everything we use in our lives. This level of play is not just fun, but it strikes a part of our brain, and holds us. It keeps the experience fresh. It’s like the difference between a good Pixar film and a bad one. The bad one, you just want to watch 5 times, the good one you want to watch every weekend till you die. (Bad: Cars, Good: Monsters, Inc., Amazing: Nemo & Incredibles). It’s like what one recent reviewer of a Pixar film said about their latest, Ratatouille, “It just didn’t have heart.” And heart is what we are talking about here.

Here is a great example:
When you delete a photo from the “Camera Roll” (the pictures you’ve taken, as opposed to added via iTunes) you click a trash can. So far no big deal, right? Well, then the lid of the can opens, and the image Genie’s into the can tilting it back slightly until the lid closes again and you are presented with the next image.

Now while that sounds like it takes a lot time, it doesn’t. I don’t know how many iterations the designers at Apple go through to get the pacing of these complex animations right, but it must take a few 100 or so. They just nail it.

Another example related to the camera is the shutter. All digital cameras have shutter lag. Well, iPhone doesn’t ignore or try to hide it, but rather they embrace it and call it out. After you click the trigger button to a picture, an animation of a shutter closing and then opening. (Yes, it is the opposite of what is really happening.) The animation is whimsical but also incredibly useful, as it communicates to the user that they should still have their hand steady and on target until the animation disappears. The animation is further engaging due to the sound synced with it and how it is directly related to the type of action the user is performing, reducing the sense of abstraction between the finger touch on the screen and the miracle of taking the picture digitally, thus re-enforcing the action as being similar to the real world example of a camera.

There are just tons of features like these that abound throughout the phone and too many to review or catalog all of them.

The other major area that a lot of work was done, was in designing a touch screen keyboard. Now, it is by no means perfect, but it isn’t as bad as I had feared. I’m not sure I would want to compose “War and Peace” on it, but a short SMS or email will do just fine.

Since iPhone Safari is the main place where people can deploy 3rd party applications it seems a lot more effort went into making this keyboard work than in other places. But not just the keyboard, but also the interaction with forms. My favorite is that if you focus on a dropdown list (simple combo box), it auto-zooms the list of options (removing the keyboard actually) so that it is easier to focus your attention and require less finger fidelity in order to make a selection.

Oh! did I saw there were going to be critiques? Nah! I’m not going to bother.
What I’m better at doing is analyzing. And I think with the iPhone I finally get it. There is so much lacking in the iPhone it is almost surprising. it is surprising because (now this is the important part), what is there is so perfect, and designed with such a level of detail (and love), that we are fooled into thinking it is all a fantasy world that Apple has built where compromises don’t exist. As mentioned above there are the compromises that exist with the operator and other partners, but there are also the big compromises that every design studio has to deal with: price/cost, time, and resources.

It seems that Apple has taken a different approach to scrappy releases. The one I get from looking at the iPhone is this:

We can’t give you everything. But what we will give you will be (arguably) flawless (from a designer perspective).

This to me is the big lesson from iPhone for designers. Obviously, you can’t do everything, but if you are going to do it, “Wow them, baby!”

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