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InterviewBITS: Love/Hate with the iPhone

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Now that more than one million iPhones have been sold, it's time to go beyond first impressions and find out what iPhone users love and hate about their new companions. I assembled a panel of iPhone users and asked them which feature of the iPhone they found themselves using the most, or at least significantly more than they anticipated before joining the iPhone revolution. On the other side, I also asked them what one thing they found most annoying about using the iPhone day-to-day.

Join the discussion on TidBITS Talk by sharing your most-liked iPhone features and gripes about the iPhone!


Ted Landau -- [Ted is Senior Contributor for Macworld, creator of the MacFixIt Web site, author of the in-progress "Take Control of Troubleshooting Your iPhone," and much more.]

There's no doubt about which feature I most appreciate: it is Maps. Don't get me wrong. Safari is great too. But I anticipated that before I bought the iPhone. What took me more by surprise is Maps. I don't have a GPS device in my car. If I did, perhaps I would be less enthusiastic about Maps. But I find I use it almost any time I go anywhere. I have used it to find the closest Starbucks to my motel (amazingly, there is not one on every corner in some places). I have used it to get directions to restaurants (saving me the trouble of having to look it up on MapQuest before I leave - and printing out a map). And I have used it to check traffic conditions. Maps is simply the most valuable of any of iPhone's widgets.

The winner of the most annoying aspect of the iPhone is how frustrating it is to use as an iPod in a car. In fact, it is so annoying that I have stopped trying and have reverted to using my iPod nano instead. Here's why:

Suppose you want to skip to the next song in a playlist. First, you have the annoyance of the screen constantly going to sleep. You need to click to rewake and then slide Unlock just to access the iPhone. (A solution here is to turn Auto-Lock off. However, this leads to excessive battery drain, unless you are using a device that charges your iPhone while you drive.) Then, you have to find the Skip "button" on the screen. All of this is especially difficult to do while driving, because there is no tactile feedback to guide you. And that assumes that the Skip button is even on the screen. If you shifted the iPhone to landscape mode, there is no Skip button visible.

There are workarounds for some of these issues, but it's still much easier to use a real iPod instead. For what it's worth, I have a blog entry where I discuss this issue and suggest that Apple should fix it by creating a three-button iPhone.


Shawn King -- [Shawn is the host and executive producer of Your Mac Life, "the most popular Macintosh-focused broadcast on the Internet." On the Your Mac Life Web site you can listen to the show live on Wednesday evenings at 5:30 PM Pacific/8:30 PM Eastern and find archives of past shows.]

My favorite part is definitely the browser. I've had a Treo 650 and a Blackberry 8700c and quickly got sick of trying to surf "the mobile Web." I've done everything from reading RSS feeds to checking movie times to finding addresses - heck, I was outside a bar one night and someone, apropos of nothing, walked up to me, his Crackberry in hand, and asked, "Do you know the country code for the UK?" (strangers ask me the oddest questions sometimes). I replied, "No, but hang on..." I quickly Googled the answer for him and he happily called his friends in the UK.

I can't agree about the Maps usefulness - not as long as Google Maps can show me where the traffic is but won't show me a route around it! Does that make sense to anyone? I mean, Google Maps knows where I want to go and it knows where the traffic congestion is. So why would it think I want to drive through it?

On the downside, two things bother me. Oftentimes there are too many "buttons" to push to do something simple. Also, there are a variety of interface inconsistencies, such as the keyboard being available in landscape mode only in the browser, and common buttons like Edit appearing in different places in different applications.


John Baxter -- [John has spent the last 12 years as a System Administrator at the long-established ISP OlympusNet. Unfortunately, he no longer has time to devote to Macintosh software development.]

I find the most useful and unanticipated feature of the iPhone is the way it lets me watch my company email via IMAP while away from home or on weekends with the main machine shut down. But I also agree with the comments about the Maps application. I had no idea I would find it as useful as I have.

But I find it utterly annoying that the iPhone lacks repeating sounds for unacknowledged incoming SMS messages. My incoming SMS messages are problem alerts from our systems. I'm partly compensating by routing the messages both via SMS (number@txt.att.net) and a newly established Yahoo account. At least then I get two sounds separated by perhaps 20 seconds.


Arlo Rose -- [Arlo is currently an Entrepreneur in Residence at Yahoo! working on next-generation open platforms. He's best known in the Mac world for his work on Konfabulator, which brought the concepts of widgets to the Mac before Apple's Dashboard.]

I think the surprise for me is Maps. Having the real-time traffic overlay is a lifesaver, and being able to use it as a way to look up business phone numbers and addresses is great. The integration with the Web browser and the phone is really well done.

The biggest annoyance for me is the lack of basic text editing features. Not being able to select text, cut, copy, paste, or have a basic spell checker drives me nuts. I want to be able to select large chunks of text for mass deletion or moving elsewhere, and that's not possible.


John Massengale -- [John is an architect, urban designer and educator, recently teaching at Notre Dame, the University of Miami, and the Institute of Classical Architecture & Classical America - where he's on the Board. He's also the Chairman of the New York chapter of the Congress for the New Urbanism.]

I love the touchscreen, which makes it so easy to do many things, including access the contacts list (my old phone had Bluetooth but I could never get it to sync), move among different functions, and more. I expect the touchscreen to revolutionize future laptops.

In response to your second question, the iPhone is not annoying. It has some bugs, but Apple will fix those. It could use more finishing touches, but it will get those. It's the best phone, PDA, and handheld Web browser I've ever owned, and even EDGE speed is usually acceptable.

The way Apple overhyped the introduction of the iPhone was annoying. So was the experience of having the manager of an Apple Store tell me I might have to return my acting-up iPhone and to come back nine hours later for an appointment with a "Genius." I solved that problem by calling Apple, who connected me to tech support right away. Tech support then solved the problem, which did not require a new iPhone.


Chris Breen -- [Chris is a Senior Editor for Macworld, where he pens the magazine's popular Mac 911 tips and troubleshooting column and hosts Macworld's podcast and video podcast. He also participates in the MacNotables podcast as well as Scott Bourne's The iLife Zone and The Apple Phone Show. Chris is the author of "Secrets of the iPod," "The iPod and iTunes Pocket Guide," and "The iPhone Pocket Guide," all from Peachpit Press.]

The feature I've used the most lately is, surprisingly, Maps. I just returned from a vacation in Hawaii and it seems I was hitting Maps several times a day - seeking restaurants, dive shops, fish markets, and even a movie theatre (yes, I know going to a movie in Hawaii is completely lame).

In the middle of my trip I spoke to the Hawaii MacNuts user group, which is located on the Hilo side of the Big Island. While I had Google Maps directions to the University of Hawaii, Hilo, where the meeting was to be held, I had no way to print out the directions and I didn't feel like driving with a laptop planted next to me. The solution was the iPhone.

I just plugged in the start and end addresses and the iPhone laid out every twist and turn for me. (Warning: Hawaiian street names are really long; most start with an H, W, or P; and the iPhone's text can be a little small, particularly when you're using the Journey view with the map below and the specific direction above. Doing this while driving can get you killed in a hurry.)

I've found the single most annoying thing about the iPhone to be its general application stability. Prior to the 1.0.1 update, Safari crashed on me routinely, particularly when browsing pages zoomed in. Since applying the latest firmware update applications still randomly quit.

Apple suggests it won't allow third-party applications because they can threaten the stability of the phone. Fine. But in exchange for having to use only Apple software, I'd like those applications to be bulletproof, and so far, they're not.

 

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