By Greg Kumparak
The iPhone is like the bacon-wrapped scallop of the mobile world. Both are quite visually pleasing relative to their peers, easy to use, and generally liked by the masses. Spend a little too much time with either, however, and you start to see the flaws. With the scallops, the grease and animal fat that was oh-so delicious on the way down begins to clog your arteries and slow your saunter. With the iPhone, the interface that seemed oh-so-polished when it first met your fingertips begins to show signs of oversight and imperfection.
We’ve been using the iPhone for just a few months shy of two years now, and a few things that once seemed trivial have come to drive us up the wall. You’ll find no mention of the glaring faults (The lack of MMS, Copy and Paste, etc) in this list - we’re talking about the stuff that we just can’t believe made it through Apple’s (NASDAQ:AAPL) user experience team.
1. Long text messages are auto-split without any indication or character counter
Not too long ago, I sent someone the following text message:
I think you’re already on 802.11n, which is what provides the range they’re claiming. Can you wait till 14th? I’ll fix your network up in As a thanks for taking me to the airport
king me - wtf?
See, text messages (all phones, not just the iPhone) only support up to 160 characters. In the message I sent above, everything before the “king” in “taking” got sent as one message, with everything after being sent separately. Unfortunately, the seperate parts of these messages often arrive out of order - and occasionally, they just don’t make it at all. The only message my recipient got was “king me to the airport”, which didn’t make a whole lot of sense. Maybe if we were playing some sort of odd location-based game of checkers?
Most phones only allow you to input 160 characters, while others will let you type more than 160 characters but indicate in some way that the message will be split - and nearly all phones have a character countdown of some sort, letting you know when you’re close to the limit. The iPhone doesn’t do any of this. It just lets you type away until your fingers get sore, with no acknowledgement of the limit whatsoever. Not only does this lead to all sorts of confusion when the messages only make it over partially or out of order, but it’s bad for your wallet, too: each block of 160 characters counts as a separate text. If you’re not on an unlimited texting plan, that’s a quick way to gobble up your allotment unknowingly.
2. UI Inconsistencies: The Jumping “New” button
In the Calendar application, the button you press to add a new event is in the upper right. In the SMS application, you press the button in the upper right to start a new text message. In the email app? Bottom right.
Sure, it seems trivial - and it is! But it’s also ultra sloppy on Apple’s part. A consistent UI is a strong UI, and this subtle inconsistency keeps the user from being able to train their thumb to know that new item = upper right. When you have to glance around the screen with each use because you can’t remember where the button is in this particular app, something is wrong.
3. No search in email
On a slow day, my work inbox usually gets nailed every 7 or 8 minutes. On a crazy day, such as during a trade show, this shoots up to once every 3-4 minutes. I don’t mind so much about the rate - it’s easy enough to tell if an email is important or not from the subject line and the first few sentences - but the noise makes it almost impossible to find something I need if its been more than a few hours since it hit my inbox.
Things would be a whole lot easier if the iPhone email client had even the simplest search functionality - but it doesn’t. Want to find that email your boss sent you a few days ago? Nope. Know a keyword or two that’ll filter your mountain of mail down to 2-3 important ones? Thats nice. Have fun hitting the “Load more messages” button and reading every subject line until you find what you want.
4. No attaching pictures from within an email
Wow! You managed to nab a cute, candid picture of your kid in which they don’t have spaghetti sauce, mud, or any other junk on their face. That’s unheard of! You better send this one to Grandma to prove your kids aren’t horribly dirty all of the time. So, you type up the email - just a paragraph or two telling her what’s going on, how things are. You know, the standard stuff. You go to attach the image, just as you’re used to doing on any other email client.
Yeah, you can’t. You can only attach images to emails by hitting the “Email Photo” button within the Photo app. Once you’ve started the email the traditional way and done your typing, you’re out of luck. You either get to retype the whole thing, or send a separate email just for the image. Pft.
5. Inconsistent gestures: Where’s the swipe?
Apple likes to make a big deal about their gestures. They’re simple to use, and simple to explain - it’s a killer thing to pitch in a commercial.
Thing is, Apple doesn’t really use them very often - at least, not as often as they could. If you want to swipe between photos, sure - you can do that, which they’re happy to show you in every iPhone advertisement ever. Want to swipe between days on the Calendar? No. Notes or emails? Nope and nope. The latter are all things that are often viewed back-to-back - why make me click out and then back in if you’re trying to prove to me that swiping works?
6. No way to add home screen shortcuts for Airplane mode, WiFi, Blueooth, or 3G toggling.
Battery life isn’t exactly the iPhone’s strong point - and this is especially true with the iPhone 3G. It improves significantly if you flip the WiFi, Bluetooth and 3G radios off if you’re not using them - but this gets real old, real fast. Toggling WiFi takes 3 clicks, and toggling 3G takes 4.
I know what you’re saying. “What the hell? Is he really complaining about 3 or 4 clicks?”. Yes, yes I am. The 100th time you’ve flipped the switch on 3G to make sure you’re still juiced up and the end of a long day, that 400th click feels like the millionth.
We’re not saying everyone needs (or wants) quick toggles on their home screen - but for the sake of us road/airplane warriors, it’d be a nice option. Apple made it possible to add shortcuts to websites to the home screen - why not do the same for the more commonly accessed local settings?
7. Arranging applications sucks something terrible
As long as we’re only moving one or two applications around the homescreen, we’ve got no qualms with the way Apple’s set up App management. Hold an icon, wait a second, and drag it wherever you want. If you want to organize a bunch of apps by their functionality (or worse yet, alphabetically), that system is a pile of hot garbage. Ten click-hold-drags later, you’ve probably moved on to something more interesting, such as ironing all of your underwear or counting the specks of dust on the nearest TV screen.
While we can’t think of a better solution while staying within the device, YouTube user svdomer09 conjured up the above concept video showing an absolutely awesome alternative within iTunes. It’s the best solution we’ve seen yet, and we’d sing a song from the top of the tallest mountain if it were made real.
8. No custom themes without jailbreaking
Since the App Store launched, the number of reasons to jailbreak your iPhone has dwindled. What’s left:
- Passive-aggressively sticking it to the man
- Running apps that Apple inexplicably won’t allow, such as video recording/streaming stuff.
- Illegal stuff we won’t talk about here
- Customizing your theme.
Apple can’t help you with the sticking it to the man part, their App Store acceptance polices are a whole different (and long winded) topic, and they probably don’t want to help you with the illegal stuff - but the lack of theming support and basic customization is just silly.
But I’m tired of staring into the void. Apple provides a means of setting a “Wallpaper” - but it’s only shown for the half second between waking up and unlocking the handset. Then it’s back to the void.
The enthusiast community has already proven that there are a huge number of people who want to customize. Hundreds upon hundreds of themes (of varying quality) exist - why not allow the user to put a bit of fun in their device whenever they grow tired of the same old look? Even if, unlike the jailbreak-only themes, application icons were locked from modification for the sake of a consistent user experience, the user should be able to change the dock and the background. Hell, they could even add themes to the App Store and sell’em for 99 cents a pop.
The iPhone is still one of a handful of devices we’d call favorites - but it’s not perfect. Got any iPhone nitpicks of your own? Voice’em in the comments. Go ahead - it feels good.