iPhone features: Lost in translation--Chinese style

Chinese language abilities allows a generation gap to be filled.

Ni hao? The iPhone's Chinese language support screen. Kevin Ho

One solution to the what-to-do-with-the-iPhone-1.0 dilemma that occurred to me over lunch with my grandpa on Tuesday (in San Francisco's Chinatown no less) was to give him my old iPhone 1.0.

My grandfather is an immigrant and a jolly, happy type who stays vibrant by talking with his friends from church or with family members. But because English is not his first language and because he's not as tech-savvy as his grandchildren, he has often found dealing with a typical cell phone difficult. The technology gap, generation gap, and language gap all posed by a typical cell phone's user interface (Nokia in this case) were oftentimes frustrating. After all, who can remember to press UP and * to unlock a phone?

With the iPhone's 2.0 firmware, with international language support (including simplified and traditional Chinese) and with the easy interface, however, the path was clear. After showing him and asking him if he understood what the menus meant on my iPhone 3G (as a test run), we were convinced that it was time for him to upgrade to an iPhone--and that a 1.0 iPhone would be more than fine.

Pleased with ourselves, our next problem was that it took us awhile to navigate and convert my iPhone 3G back into English. Even after that switch back every now then (especially with texting), I notice the iPhone slipping back into Chinese mode. It too seems to be stuck in a foreign tongue. But the fact that my grandfather can understand and use an iPhone well enough to help me guess my way back into the English mode is great example of what a universal user interface should be like.

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