I was really grateful that I could initialize and configure the iPhone using iTunes. It’s a complete break with the way we buy a cellphone. Plus, iTunes keeps insinuating itself into my life, helping me manage more and more of the content I care about. iTunes is becoming an important desktop application, growing up from managing content on a single iPod to sharing that content across a network of computers and then delivering it into the A/V world and on to your TV and now finally putting it all on a phone. iTunes has become a platform. I also talk about reading on the iPhone and why I’m trying to learn to use the iPhone with one hand. Finally, I’d like to use verbal commands to control the iPhone.Itunes is Apple’s New Platform
The smartest move Apple made with the iPhone was to use iTunes to initialize the iPhone. No standing around the AT&T store while a clerk with “crazy flipper fingers” punched in codes and set up my voicemail for me. Buying an iPhone required amazingly little paperwork. I simply paid for it. I could have been buying a printer. Then I went home and set it up myself.
Using iTunes is bold on Apple’s part. I can’t think of any other cellphone maker who would put itself in the position to trust its own software or its website – or bet the farm that everyone had a computer capable of running its software. Apple stepped right in the middle of the battle between cellphone users and their carriers, and I think it’s a big win for the customers and Apple.
AT&T and other carriers have not wanted customers to have a relationship with the makers of cellphones. Apple forced this issue and I have to think that they have managed to hack the relationship between the makers of cellphones and the cellphone carriers to create a more open system that could benefit us all. They made the purchase of a cellphone more like the purchase of any piece of computer equipment. (I concede that buying a computer doesn’t require me to sign a two-year contract with an ISP. I do hope that the deal with AT&T was the only way that Apple could get the leverage it needed to negotiate the rest of the deal in its favor.)
ITunes must be the most successful commercial desktop application in ten years. With all the development going into Web applications, iTunes stands out from the crowd. There’s the MS Office suite and Adobe’s creative suite but I can’t think of anything else that’s been introduced as a desktop application and had such widespread use since the beginning of the Web. Tim O’Reilly reminds me that the peer-to-peer applications and Skype in particular have been popular desktop apps. Perhaps what’s impressive about iTunes is the way that Apple keeps finding new things to do with iTunes. It started out as a way to manage music on a single device but then it was extended to manage my photos and videos, and then to share them, even to my TV with AppleTV, and now my ability to sync all that up with my phone.
With iPhoto and iMovie, Apple has been the chief innovator in desktop apps over the last ten years. Part of this was necessity – to create compelling new apps for Mac OS X. However, iTunes is now a multi-platform application that doesn’t need to favor the Mac platform. In reality, iTunes is becoming the Apple platform. Can we imagine a day when Apple doesn’t need Mac OS X? Or the Mac look-and-feel becomes a skin that can fit any computer or device?
The limits of iPhone also seem to be tied to the limits of iTunes. I don’t want my iPhone tied (or tethered) to a single computer. I’d like to move easily between computers. I don’t care a great deal where the data is stored but likely what I need is stored on servers in various locations. For instance, a laptop is not a great place to store many photos or songs. I might want to sync it with a home machine that has a bigger hard disk. Even then, I might want to select what I want to share with the iPhone. My iPhone doesn’t want to be an extension of a single computer. It should discover available content and connections where it can. So, while iTunes is a terrific desktop application, I’d like to access the content it organizes for my from any computer, just like a website.
I realize that the obstacle to this approach is not technology but licensing. Apple syncs calendar and contact information to other computers I own. It has been necessary for Apple to promote the fiction that digital content is licensed to an individual.
Weston’s blog talks about trying to sync up his iPhone with multiple computers.
However, what he’s trying to do is designate one machine for contacts/calendar and a separate machine for photos and music.
One friend bemoaned the fact that one iPhone could not “beam” another one. This early Palm feature indeed seems missing and that’s more to the point that with all this networking capabilityavailable to us, the iPhone needs to be able to interact with lots of other devices, not just the one it is tethered to.
I just downloaded Telekinesis from code.google.com, which should give me access to my desktop from the iPhone (while not tethered to it.)
Reading on the Run
The iPhone is a portable device that’s great for reading. While music and video will get a lot of the attention, most of the content you and I care about is in email or accessible via the Web. The iPhone reading experience is quite good. One reason is the display quality itself; its type is exceptionally crisp and legible. You are easily able to magnify text and increase its size for readability.
I was a fan of the Compaq iPaq when it came out, largely because of its display. The iPaq lacked easy network integration. One of the best uses I found for it was reading, especially during those times such as today while at a doctor’s office when I had a longer than expected wait. Having spent the better part of an hour reading the day’s news from a variety of sites on my iPhone, I have to say that I was impressed. I enjoyed the experience. Having used the Sony Reader recently, I don’t think it compares favorably with the iPhone.
One of the features that makes the iPhone a great reading experience is that you can move the text around, any which way you choose. You aren’t locked into a rigid horizontal or vertical scrolling – you can easily move diagonally and you can move in or out easily – to see the whole page and then focus on a particular part of the page. I found myself reading columns of text, focusing down to the width of a column, and then paging down. It felt not unlike reading a newspaper.
The iPhone takes some getting used to. This is mostly because it really is such a new device, one where the separate paths of computing and phones have finally crossed paths. I felt as thought I was experiencing a new way of thinking about computers and phones and I’m still trying to figure it out.
I use two hands on a computer. I want to be able to use one hand with a phone.
So, the key to using the iPhone effectively is learning to use it one-handed. My first day with it I was passing it from one hand to the next and pressing buttons unexpectedly, especially when I was using one hand to hold it and the other to point. The iPhone interface is very hierarchical. You are moving up and down levels. To move back up a level in most applications, you hit a button at the top of the screen. I found that when reading email, for instance, tapping this button was easy to do with the thumb of my left hand. My thumb could easily reach the top and the bottom of the screen but it’s also anchored in place. It takes a little practice to get your hand consistently in place to hit the main button at the bottom. For instance in email, the center bottom location for the Trash button in email is unfortunate, as I seemed to hit while scrolling through email messages. I don’t hit this button unnecessarily when I use one hand.
I still worry that it takes to many steps to make a phone call – and dare I try this while driving? I doubt anyone could win a speed dialing contest with another cellphone. One trouble is that after you unlock the phone, which requires two steps, you are at whatever interface you last used. So a third step is required to bring up the default menu from which you choose the Phone app as a fourth step. Now you can choose a keypad interface to dial or to bring up a contact, both of which are rather small buttons at the bottom. So you are at least six steps into the process before you can press Call. It could easily require ten steps. This is a phone that could use voice-activated commands such as the ability to say “Phone Home.”
While on the subject of voice, one thing I want to be able to do is respond verbally to an email. Why mess around typing when I could answer a message verbally and have it recorded and then attached as a voice message to the email. For that matter, I don’t see a way to make a recording. All the hardware is in place. Integration of voice capabilities with the iPhone is a big opportunity for future development.