Debating the design dilemmas of Apple's iPhone

What if I'm right about some things, and you're right about some things? Will the universe collapse?

Remember, folks: different does not inherently mean "bad."

I was surprised at the reaction to my article, published this morning, titled "Coming to grips with the iPhone's design." Specifically, with the way some people see a discussion of design tradeoffs as an attempt to tar and feather the nonconformist.

Yes, you can use your iPhone with one hand. But it's not as easy as some would suggest. Some reviewers didn't think it was that big a deal, some thought it was more of a problem. Whether or not you think it's easy to use the iPhone with one hand probably has a lot to do with the size of your hands and the dexterity of your fingers and thumb.

However, that wasn't the point of the story. The point was that Apple didn't make one-handed use as high a priority as other smart-phone companies have for years. Instead, Apple prioritized the touch-screen user interface, betting that people would adapt their existing one-handed behavior to get a shot at a touch screen, or that people who hadn't used other smart phones before wouldn't be used to older ways of using smart phones.

Many readers saw that analysis as critical of Apple, which I just don't understand. Steve Jobs has been very clear from the start that Apple designed the iPhone to be a different product from other smart phones. This article pointed out one of the ways in which Apple is forging its own path, casting aside historical design goals.

It's simply too early to know if that was a good decision or not; this thing has been out there for only two months. The phone designers interviewed for this story thought Apple wouldn't have been able to make a breakthrough with the touch-screen interface if they didn't move one-handed use farther down the priority list, and a lot of design-oriented people probably told Apple they were crazy for abandoning that principle when the iPhone development first got under way. Since the touch-screen interface has (deservedly so) received most of the attention from early users, however, it would seem that bodes well for now.

But in the long run, if Apple wants to make the iPhone a more mainstream device, the designers think the company will have to tweak future versions to make them easier to use with one hand without eroding the capabilities of the touch screen. That's all, folks. No heroes, no villains, just an attempt to point out some of the differences between the way the iPhone was designed, what other companies have done, and what the future might hold.

These are very early days for the smart-phone world. Lots of different ideas are under consideration, and the established way of doing things isn't all that established. Smart phones may very well diverge into business devices where one-handed use is the priority and consumer devices where the screen is the priority. It's a big enough market for both.

About the author

    Tom Krazit writes about the ever-expanding world of Google, as the most prominent company on the Internet defends its search juggernaut while expanding into nearly anything it thinks possible. He has previously written about Apple, the traditional PC industry, and chip companies. E-mail Tom.

     

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