Three days ago, I finally succumbed to the inevitable and joined the iPhone users’ family. I did that despite four long years of resistance — ever since that first-generation iPhone hit the streets in 2007. Three days of use have left me with mixed feelings. The phone is cool but it does not fully resolve my user experience — as many Apple fanboys would expect me to say. In fact, in some regards it degraded my user experience. How? Read on, and you’ll find out…
As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I’m pretty balanced in my views of technology platforms. My first computer when I was a kid was an Apple II — that’s where I learned how to write BASIC programs. Then, my parents upgraded me to a Windows 3.11 PC. I was dazzled by the computing power of that machine! Then, we had Macs in the computer lab in high school. I spent some time working with old DEC terminals, connected to an archaic but still impressive VAX mainframe. A few years ago, I got a Mac Mini but that did not replace my Windows 7 laptop (rather, the two complemented each other in my daily use of computers). I have a Nokia N900 smartphone and am writing this post on my iPad. So, as you can see, I’m a pretty tech-savvy but platform-agnostic user.
I was resisting getting the iPhone primarily due to all the hype. I simply don’t like joining throngs of fanboys (notwithstanding whether they are of the Apple flavor, or of the Google flavor, or back in the day, of the Nokia, or UNIX flavor). To me, getting a phone that thousands of people carry more as a fashion statement than as a daily productivity device sounded counterintuitive… And it also sounded too comformist.
So why did I switch to iPhone, you may ask? Well, I did not switch completely. I’m still planning to keep my Nokia N900 for personal use. The iPhone is my new work phone. It replaced a BlackBerry. It was about time to replace the BB (especially, after the network outage fiasco a few weeks ago). And my curiosity to check out the iPhone finally overcame my resistance.
So, in the following paragraphs, I’ll share my honest and initial impressions. For those itching to ask the question, I got the iPhone 4, not the 4S. But, Apple fanboys, please don’t try to convince me that is the reason for my mixed feelings. The 4S is marginally better. Besides I’m comparing the iPhone 4 to my Nokia N900 — not one of the newest, snazziest Android phones — so I think it is a more-than-fair comparison.
The iPhone is cool. It looks cool and acts cool. One of the first things I looked at was the screen. So much had been written in the past about the superiority of capacitive touch technology over resistive (here is one example). People were dooming phones that have resistive screens as inferior, unresponsive things of the past. So I wanted to see if the iPhone’s venerable capacitive screen is so much better than my Nokia’s resistive screen. And I found… No difference to the naked eye. At least to my naked eye. Pictures looked equally well. Text was equally readable. And the iPhone seemed as unresponsive at some moments as my Nokia sometimes is. I know I’ll stir some controversy with that statement but this is my opinion and I dare express it publicly.
The next thing was setting up my email. It looked quite easy in the beginning. All I needed to do was choose the type of account, enter my email address and password, and there I was — ready to read and write all my email. But, wait a minute, that was the same experience I had with the Nokia N900. So I thought this was another wash between the two. Until… This morning, when I realized that iPhone did not support “push” for my Gmail accounts (one generic Gmail, and one personalized domain account). It only offered to “fetch” my email once every 15 minutes. Nokia, on the other hand, keeps “pushing” my Gmail messages almost immediately after they arrive in my mailbox. My work email on Microsoft Exchange seems to get “pushed” almost immediately on the iPhone, but almost all emails that I paid attention to arrived on my Nokia about a minute earlier than on my iPhone… Hmmmm… And I initially thought Nokia was somewhat weak on the email syncing front. Surprise, surprise…
Typing is a whole other can of worms. I knew typing on the screen would be a bit harder than typing on a keyboard. But I expected Apple to have pulled some “magic” to make the user experience great. Not so much! Three days of trying to learn how to best type and it still takes me quite some time to type even the shortest reply to an email. It may sound a bit ridiculous but last night I had the two phones lying on my coffee table at home. I received an email from a friend. I eagerly picked my new toy, the iPhone, to read it. But then I started replying and after misspelling the first few words of the sentence for some time, I put the iPhone carefully back on the table, reached out for my Nokia and banged my lengthy reply back to my friend in a manner of several minutes. The Nokia N900 may be twice as thick as the sleek iPhone 4 but that keyboard that adds so much to the thickness also adds so much value when you want to write a nice and detailed reply to an email, without spelling mistakes and without losing your train of thought because you have to go back and correct half of the words you type.
Then came a big surprise to me. A simple action that my Nokia allows me to do in one single step took some digging in the Settings app, and several layers of menus on the iPhone. Wait a minite? Wasn’t Apple all about simplicity and doing things intuitively and in few steps? I am talking about the ability to switch your internet connection, as in switching from WiFi to 3G cellular. I was at the airport and my iPhone automatically switched to the AT&T WiFi hotspot it discovered at the terminal. However, too many people were hooked to it and I could not get a simple web page open for several minutes. Normally, on my Nokia, I’d just double-click on the WiFi icon on top of my screen and a menu will pop up listing all connections I can choose from. I’d then click on my cellular connection and switch immediately to 3G. By habit, I tried to do the same on the iPhone. Alas, nothing happened. Then I went to Settings and found the Network (AT&T WiFi) and had to opt out of using WiFi. I switched to 3G but had to remember to go back to Settings and enable WiFi for next time I encountered a WiFi hotspot… A bit of a hassle.
So what am I trying to say with this post? Why am I brushing the dust off of the iPhone vs. N900 topic, which has long ago become a non-issue. iPhone is on the “edge of glory” and N900 is slowly dying in oblivion. But my intention with this post is not to prove whether one phone is better than another one. My real intention is just to remind everyone that while the iPhone is a great device, it is just that — a device. And like any other device, it has its flaws…
It’s nice to be on the iPhone bandwagon. Now I can finally unlock my booked Zipcar with a touch on the screen rather than pressing that membership card against the car’s windshield. And this afternoon I breezed throught airport security showing off my barcoded boarding pass via my American Airlines app rather than bringing the paper boarding pass with me.
But I feel nice and even more satisfied that I have managed to keep my feet firmly on the ground. Three days of use have showed me great tricks and apps but have also exposed me to some momentary screen freezes. I also had to show the printed boarding pass eventually (thank God I brought it just in case) because the AA app froze for a bit while AA was boarding and I couldn’t pull up the barcode for the flight crew to scan and let me on board. If I had to wait for the app to respond to my request, I would have missed my PriorityAccess seating (a privilege that comes very handy when you board a fully packed plane on the day before Thanksgiving).
In short, I finally got on the iPhone bandwagon… But I’m still not drinking the Kool Aid with the other Fanboys… At least for now. 🙂
If you share similar sentiments as mine, or — even better — think I’m completely wrong, please share your opinions. I would love to read your comments!