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malevolent design weblog

This blog is now defunct, but you can find more stuff over at my personal site


I’ve had a Nokia N80 for months now, and was about to write about it. Although it has a great feature list and few hardware weaknesses, it’s spoiled by a silly menu system that puts things in illogical and inconsistent places. Rather than simply bitch about that, I was going to outline a possible way for smartphone interfaces to get back to simplicity with fewer buttons, clearer visuals and stronger information architecture.

But what’s the point? Apple’s now gone and unveiled a product that does just that. The iPhone has one button on the front, bold on-screen menus and seemingly great navigation.

Apple iPhone

From the keynote speech it’s abundantly clear that this is Steve’s baby. He loves it. You just know he must’ve endlessly ranted about crappy phones with their crappy interfaces and crappy voicemail (the iPhone lists messages like emails, requiring the carrier to implement new, long-overdue integration), watching everyone else repeatedly screw it up until he couldn’t bear to carry their devices around any more.

The cute ‘slide to unlock’ is almost enough in itself to get me to buy one, but the inadequacies and potential pitfalls are obvious. Battery life is likely to be poor, there’ll be bugs, it doesn’t have 3G or GPS, and Multi-Touch might not be reliable/usable. It’s expensive, too big for most pockets, and won’t be readily available worldwide for a long time, so Apple won’t gain significant market share this year.

But anyone focusing on these negatives is missing the point: it’s a version 1 product that’s breaking new ground. It’s for early adopters with cash and patience to spare. If the iPhone interface is really as compelling as it appears then the technology will spread to cheaper, smaller, mass-appeal products. Look back at discussions about the first iPod and you’ll find (perfectly understandable) grumbles about price and compatibility, but the interface and styling were the deciding factors.


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