So, just before the iPhone had been out a full quarter, I finally got the chance to try one of the little bastards out. (I am not a hermit, I just live in Sweden. For some of you, that may seem like a contradiction.)
Yes, I kind of love it. The screen really is that good, and you really do have to try it for yourself.
I have had a number of holy shit experiences. One was getting my hands on Visual Basic (stop laughing and/or crying) many years ago and creating one’s own application. Two others were the moments Perl and regular expressions clicked for me, because neither did initially. A fourth was figuring out CSS (hey wait a minute, that Microsoft.com link is 11 pixels Arial and teal, not 10 or 12 pixels and blue and underlined). Nearly none have been about the UI (except for the task bar in Windows 95 and proxy icons in Mac OS X). But the iPhone UI is a perfectly qualified holy shit experience.
You touch the iPhone UI with your fingers. Your fingers. You don’t use a stylus, you just point. Google Maps on the iPhone may be unable of showing you a hybrid view or even focusing where you’re currently located, but all that just fades away when you can finally zoom in exactly how you’d like to. Google Maps and even Google Earth seem like half-witted substitutes on computers afterwards; commands like mere suggestions.
The iPhone UI is the first widely available UI of its kind, adapted precisely to the finger instead of the stylus. Instead of trying to fight off the downsides of not affording single-pixel precision, it embraces the constraints and creates a workable interface, and expands on it by offering precisely that which using ‘just a stylus’ can’t – multi-finger interaction. From hunting and pecking with your finger nail to check the 8 x 8 check box to controlling the zoom level on Google Maps or any photo or web page exactly. Think about that.
The iPhone is not perfect. A first for any phone this side of, oh, 2003?, it doesn’t have MMS at all, so you can’t send images or audio to other cell phones without being convinced the other cell phones have set up email clients. As we all have heard, 3G would really be better for data transfer speed. And about four to five of the bundled applications are crap – the specific group varies depending on who you ask, but it generally includes the Notes app. And what kind of PDA has a YouTube client but not copying and pasting, or the ability to view Excel Office Open XML documents but not an accessible file system?
I am telling you today to shut up for a few seconds and stay for the ride. It is pretty much impossible to make the kind of conclusions I make about the iPhone’s UI and its role in making this sort of thing available for the first time to ordinary people without also making the comparison to the original Macintosh. It was far from perfect when it came out, which led a lot of people to discredit it. Within three years almost all of the “but it doesn’t have/do X” concerns were gone, and within ten years it had swayed every other competitor. I believe something similar is going to happen. It’s not a coincidence that the iPhone owners are – AT&T handcuffs aside – generally satisfied.
Yesterday, Scott Stevenson and I had a discussion about the big deal about an iPhone SDK was. The big deal is this: almost every phone or PDA in existance that you’d want to develop for has an SDK. Most have two – J2ME MIDlets and the platform SDK. Regardless of what you think about the execution, the iPhone is extremely technically capable. Its screen is high resolution and it’s got all the communications support you might want, aside from maybe GPS.
What’s my point after all this? That there’s no doubt the iPhone’s gonna be huge. They will sell significantly more than 10 million next year. But also that, if Apple actually tries to reach out to developers, they can make the sucky parts suck less in no time and address the biggest software issues in one fell swoop.
Also, this touch-it-with-your-fingers thing? It has legs.