Contentment by design

Early impressions of the Apple iPhone
Further reflections on the iPhone
The iPhone's camera (is awful)

Early impressions of the Apple iPhone

Very good. 5 out of 6 stars


When I was walking away from the Palo Alto Apple store Friday evening, my friend said, "Well, I hope you like it." I thought about that for a moment, then said, "I just hope I can finally stop hating my cell phone." A guy walking just ahead of us turned, laughed, and said, "Me, too!"

I hadn't actually intended to get an iPhone so soon. I was immediately impressed by the phone when I watched the video of Jobs introducing it—I found it simply delightful, that it appeared to work the way a device like this, well, should work—but I was very skeptical of AT&T. They were my existing carrier and, based on what I know about carriers, I expected them to screw their customers. I actually figured that they might screw their customers so badly on a phone that was obviously going to be a big hit that it would disqualify the phone for me.

The last few days before the launch I was surprised to read that the rate plans were reasonable (in fact, more reasonable with an unlimited data plan and a couple hundred prepaid SMS per month than my current plan for the Treo 680 with a limited data plan and no prepaid SMS). The morning of the launch I was again surprised when I read that they wouldn't be penalizing me for the switch, except for extending my contract to two years again, which is fine. So all the barriers I had anticipated were eliminated.

And then it dawned on me: I had been in Mountain View for the week, I was staying one more night because I had an afternoon training to attend, I had nothing planned for the evening, and the Palo Alto Apple store was only a few minutes away. So I figured, what the hell! I shared my plan with a guy I work with and he offered to drive me up. We decided to also have dinner and he would give me a tour of his alma mater, Stanford.

We got to the Apple Store about 7:00 PM. It felt pretty festive. There was still a fairly big crowd standing in front of the store, protected from the traffic by a line of police, as well as a longish line that snaked around the corner. Most of the crowd was just milling around watching the entrance and clapping whenever anyone walked out of the store with an iPhone. That has got to be one of the weirdest things I've ever seen, people clapping because someone bought an electronic device. Really crass. I wonder if it was staged.

Anyway, I'm not about to wait around in line for more than a few moments to buy something, so we headed off to have dinner. When we returned later, things had calmed down. The crowd was smaller and the weird clapping was finished. The line was short and moving fast, so I decided to go in. They had it really well organized inside with lots of employees who each had a handheld checkout system, and it only took a couple minutes to buy the phone.

I opened it in the car and was immediately struck that it is smaller than I thought it would be (yes!), hefty, and solid feeling. The glass surface is incredibly nice to touch and glide across. And the phone feels good in the hand because it is so rounded and smooth.

Then we took a tour around Stanford University, which I found astonishing. Such a huge campus! It's amazing that right in the middle of the bustle of Silicon Valley there is such a stately and spacious place as that.

When I returned to my hotel later that evening I activated the phone, which was easy and took only a couple minutes. Unfortunately, according to it seems that it was that smooth for only about 1/2 of the users responding to a survey, and an astonishing 38% reported being unable to activate their phone within 24 hours. It seems that AT&T has dropped the ball badly on this. I was unable to access my online account for a couple days after I activated, which is a hint that things were pretty messed up behind the scenes over there.

Anyway I was lucky enough to have a smooth activation, so I was able to to start playing with the phone right away (and consequently didn't get much sleep that night).

By the way, I use (and have used for many years) a PC at work and home, although for my home office I've been carefully buying peripherals lately that can make the switch, and I'll probably do so once the next generation of iMacs comes out, and after Leopard is released this fall.

The folks at engadget just posted an in-depth review:

Apple iPhone website


Further reflections on the iPhone

Very good. 5 out of 6 stars


I didn't expect to like the iPhone this much. As I said in my Early impressions post I had hoped I could finally stop hating my cell phone; in fact, I've ended up really liking it.

The first law in John Maeda's excellent The Laws of Simplicity is: "The simplest way to achieve simplicity is through thoughtful reduction." As I've been using the iPhone, my first Apple computer, for the past few weeks I've been pondering exactly why it is such a delightful device to use. There are a lot of contributing factors, but one of the main ones is that Apple has mastered thoughtful reduction.

As a long time PC user I'm used to having many different ways to do each thing. My experience from the little bit I've used a Mac in the past and now from my more extensive use of the iPhone has made me realize that one thoughtful reduction Apple has made is to simplify the number of ways to do each thing, sometimes to just one.

At first I was a bit skeptical of this approach, but I've been won over because of the huge gain this provides: the elimination of the at times overwhelming complexity that plagues Windows. (I remember reading an article by Joel Spolsky in which he bemoaned the 15 different and often confusingly unclear choices for turning off Vista on a laptop, and contrasted that with the iPod, which doesn't even have an on/off switch.)

Eliminating choices wouldn't be an advantage if the remaining choice was poorly designed. For the most part, the flow on the iPhone is brilliantly executed. Aside from some minor annoyances (I find the Edit and Favorites functions to be inconsistently implemented in the various apps), it's charmingly straightforward; it just does what it does. Imagine: this is a powerful device—cell phone, SMS, email, web browser, music player, movie player, camera, photo album, and more, and I'm actually using all of these things—but I haven't had to read a single word of instruction.

At lunch the other day an engineer I know said he'd heard I had a new toy and wondered what I thought. It sure was easy to come up with a substantial list of positives.


The iPhone's camera

Pretty bad. 1 out of 6 stars

Is awful. We went for a hike and drive up in Rocky Mountain National Park today and I took a couple dozen photos under various lighting conditions and at different ranges. Four turned out okay, but definitely not great. The rest were terrible. I didn't buy the phone for the camera, thank goodness, but this is really an embarrassment for a phone this expensive. I continue to be very happy with the phone, but won't use it as a camera again, except in an emergency.

Garima in Rocky Mountain National Park



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