The iPhone and I have parted ways

December 22, 2007

The wonderful honeymoon came and went, and a couple of weeks ago it was time for the iPhone and I to sign the divorce papers (hey, we were together for almost six months, a record for a phone and I). Don't get me wrong, I loved her, dearly, and will forever cherish the bright future she showed me, but even in light of all the pretty and polish, she just didn't fit in as well as I would have liked.

This little rant is by no means an indictment of the iPhone; it is the phone for the majority of the population,1 and will be for the foreseeable future.2 Furthermore, I appreciate — more than just about anyone — what the iPhone has done for the mobile world. However, as it stands right now, it just gets in my way more than it should, and given that I go through phones like most people go through a gallon of milk, I didn't see the point in waiting any longer to move onto something else3 (though we all know I'll be back).

Corporate e-mail

I'm an IP attorney. IP attorneys e-mail. A lot. Like every other large entity, my firm uses Microsoft Exchange for its e-mail, and while I could "do" work e-mail on the iPhone, it was kludgy, annoying, and generally impractical.

For one thing, e-mail was not "pushed" to me.4 To check it, I had to launch MobileSafari and head to the Outlook Web Access page (IMAP wasn't an option). Could I get my e-mail through OWA? Yes. Could I respond to e-mail through OWA? Yes. But, the entire process was unbearably slow (and user-hostile), not least because there was no mobile implementation of the site — you always got the same page (i.e., same markup, same size) no matter your browser or connectivity.

Moreover, the message body area was a fixed size, which meant that if I needed to read an e-mail containing a sentence(s) that spanned more than the width of the message body area, I had to either zoom in and use a magnifying glass, or zoom out and scroll back and forth. It couldn't have been more aggravating.

Is any of this Apple's fault? Of course not. Do I expect Microsoft to create an iPhone-only interface? Of course not. Would it be nice? Maybe, but the core problems would persist, namely e-mail would still not be pushed, and contact lookup (if you needed to add someone to a reply or a new message) would likely still be so annoying as to be unusable, or at least unpleasant.

Yes, I'm well aware of the recent opening at Apple for an Exchange engineer, and this looks very promising (i.e., I think it's safe to assume that any support would be baked into MobileMail, which would be great); however, I just don't see whatever comes of it wooing me away from the BlackBerry.

General day-to-day use

I enjoyed using the iPhone, don't get me wrong, but as far as day-in, day-out operations went, it just wasn't for me.

Before getting into this section, let's go back a few months and look at something I wrote just a few days after I got the iPhone (I apologize for quoting so liberally, even if from myself, but I feel it's warranted):

I’ll likely get rid of my iPhone sometime in the next few months; just like every mobile phone and PDA (remember those!?!) I’ve ever owned, I’m guessing I’ll tire of it rather quickly and soon be on the hunt for the next best thing []. However, the difference this time around, and for the foreseeable future, is that there will be no hunt — the next best thing is going to be the next iteration of the iPhone. Can any of us go back to a pre-iPhone phone after playing with this thing for a few days? Everything else is kind of laughable at this point and I think it’s going to be at least a couple of years before the iPhone begins to see any legitimate competition.

The best part about Apple making mobile phones is that I no longer have to scour the earth looking for the “new hotness” and then hoping that it’s unlocked, uses GSM, and costs less than $1000. The worst part about Apple making mobile phones is that I’ll now be the rule instead of the exception (and I think part of me kind of enjoyed being the exception).

A lot of what I said there still holds true; that is, the iPhone still makes almost every other device look silly when it comes to sheer sexiness and the ability to get people to imagine what's possible going forward. If you want to argue that, I'd like to hear from you. Furthermore, its interface and the (usually slick) handing off between applications (e.g., when you get a phone call while browsing or listening to music) is always going to invite a "wow" from its users. That said, it isn't yet as useful as some other devices.

I kind of hate to say it, but one of the things that annoyed me most was the touchscreen. Sure, everyone wants to get behind this technology and herald it as the holy grail of device interaction, but for some things it just doesn't work. I think the only things I truly enjoyed doing with the touchscreen were cycling between photos, zooming in and out of them, and zooming in and out of sections of a web site; realize that the first two things I mentioned were only ever done when showing the iPhone to someone who hadn't yet played with one. It annoyed me in almost every other context (you know, like making a phone call).

Take, for example, scrolling in MobileSafari. If I was reading an article that required me to scroll, there was no way to simply page down. Instead, I had to start scrolling and pay close attention to where I stopped reading so as to not lose my spot and scroll past it.

Typing with the touchscreen was OK, and infinitely better than I thought it would be before I actually used it, but I didn't particularly like using it. In fact, I didn't much like it at all. It was totally usable, but never felt quite right (even in the face of me trying hard to convince myself that it did).

Sadly, there probably won't be a non-touchscreen iPhone for a long while, if ever, because the interface has proven to be so popular. Indeed, there may even be a BlackBerry "touch" on the horizon (not to mention the countless others who have followed the iPhone's lead).

Another thing that I found terribly annoying after just a few days was the lack of copy/paste. After having used a few BlackBerry devices, I came to rely on this quite a bit, and missed it dearly in the iPhone.

Finally, the last day-to-day thing I'll mention is the speakerphone, which was essentially useless given its lack of volume. It's very rare that I hold a phone up to my ear — I'm either in my car using whatever Bluetooth headset I bought that week, or I'm at a desk using the speakerphone. The iPhone required me to always remember to bring my Bluetooth headset to and from the car, lest I be made to actually hold the iPhone while talking.

There are surely other niggling things that started to grate on me after a while (e.g., couldn't use headphones without an adapter, couldn't SMS to multiple people, couldn't voice-dial (especially egregious in light of RIM's tagless voice-dialing) etc.), but I digress.

What will I miss most?

Tabbed browsing, without a doubt. MobileSafari wasn't perfect, but one thing it got right was tabs (even if switching between them always seemed to take more time than it should). It was so nice to have the same few sites I always have open on my desktop, open on my mobile phone (i.e., Gmail, Google Reader, Vitalist, and Twitter). And the best part? Session restoration. When MobileSafari crashed, as it was prone to do, it relaunched itself and brought me right back to where I was, tabs and all.

I'll also greatly miss the idea of having OS X in my pocket.

Will I buy the next iPhone?

What do you think? Have I ever not bought the latest and greatest mobile device? Ever? To be honest though, I may not buy the next-gen model if the only real changes are under the hood (e.g., 3G, bigger flash drive, etc.). The fact is, I'd really like to see a hardware keyboard, but something tells me that this, like a proper two-button mouse from Apple,5 is a pipe dream.

OK, enough talk about the iPhone; all I'm thinking about right now (and indeed all I've talked about for the last year and a half) is the "ultra-portable" MacBook (Pro), hopefully to be announced at MacWorld in less than a month. I. Can't. Wait.


  1. It appears that Apple will soon announce sales of 5 million iPhones. Umm, Wow.   

  2. Indeed, if, over the course of the next year, you hear someone tout another device as an "iPhone killer," realize that they probably have no idea what they're talking about (let's not forget the countless "iPod killers" that never amounted to a hill of beans).   

  3. I picked up the BlackBerry 8320 ("curve"), and as you're probably expecting me to say, it's wonderful. Really, really nice.   

  4. Can I live without "push" e-mail? Probably, but in reality, my profession sometimes demands that e-mails work like IMs, not to mention that I've come to rely on/expect the immediacy (which, on balance, is probably not a good thing).   

  5. See Apple Mighty(?) Mouse.   

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