iPhone is the Best Version 1 Product I’ve Ever Used

by Mike Levin SEO & Datamaster, 07/05/2007

Yes, so I’m one of the crazies who waited in line here in NYC last Friday for my iPhone. I was at an AT&T store in Harlem, near where I live. It took about 2 hours, and was not a bad experience.

The iPhone exceeds my expectations from a user interface standpoint, and moves us beyond where those little Star Trek Next Generation report tablets by a long shot. I doubt they could have effectively faked what the iPhone does for real. To say the scrolling is smooth would be an understatement. As an ex-employee of Scala Multimedia for digital signage where screen transitions were the stock and trade, I got pretty jaded as to what a bouncy push should look like. The iPhone’s technique of scrolling long lists with a flick of the finger can make each of us feel like the Fonz. I mean, Steve Jobs has really outdone himself this time. The iPhone, while not doing anything dramatically new, has somehow none-the-less managed to change not merely the state of cell-phones, but probably the state of computing.

OK, a bit more qualification. I played with the original 128K Macintoshes when they were released in 1984, simultaneously underwhelmed and impressed by their black and white displays sporting sharp square pixels. A couple years later, I bought a used Commodore Amiga 1000 computer, circa 1987. Later, as a Drexel student, I became a mandatory Mac owner, circa 1989. So, I know what cool is, and the Mac wasn’t it. The Amiga mopped the floor with Macintosh, both in terms of games, productivity software, and sheer fun to use.

I had one of the original Palm Pilot’s of the original shipment to Staples in 1996. It lasted 4 beautiful years, during which I became an expert at Graffiti handwriting recognition, and I upgraded to the even cheaper Palm M100. On the mobile phone front, I had a Verizon flip-phone featuring Brew-based Get-it-Now and played plenty of Tetris. I got my first smartphone, the Samsung 700i, and got myself familiar with Microsoft CE Mobile, and was baffled by how the dropdown menu paradigm managed to survive onto phones. The 700i became excessively flakey, so I moved on to the unsung hero of the smartphone world, the Sony-Ericsson P910 with the Symbian and UIQ phone operating system. I was almost in heaven, with the phone doing most everything I wanted. The JOT stylus system was even usable with bare fingers. I nearly moved to the P990, which is ridiculously cheap for the value now that the iPhone is out.

But I took the iPhone plunge on faith. It’s completely time for someone in the mobile phone space to become completely predatorily aggressive, the way Microsoft did in its day, and IBM did in its day before that. Users are waiting for it. Mobile application service providers are waiting for it. The commerce and coin-op world is waiting for it. Everyone knows the world is ready for the uber-cool, must-have mobile device. And no matter how the rest of the phone manufacturing and telecom industry responds, the iPhone is probably it.

At the Wall Street Journal D-Conference, Bill Gates acknowledged admiring Steve Jobs for his style, and in the world of personal mobile computing, style is everything. Steve Jobs is clearly about to take over the mantle of High Tech Overlord from Bill Gates, starting with the iPhone. I wouldn’t say the iPhone is perfect. I would not even go so far as to say that it’s great. But given my background in seeing alternative computing platforms launched, I will say that the iPhone is the best version-1 of a new product that I’ve ever seen.

For what it is, the iPhone blows the Palm Pilot out of the water, which alone is saying a lot, because the Palm got so much right. I detect undertones of the Newton’s revenge, here. The iPhone surely blows both the Amiga and the Macintosh out of the water for the first version device, as the Amiga could hardly run for 5 minutes without crashing, and the Mac was a $2000 128K B&W computer with no software, when you could get a color C64 for about $300 with loads of software. And the IBM PC and most other version 1 computers are not even in the same league as the aforementioned.

For better or for worse, the iPhone does away with most of the trappings of a “computer”. You aren’t aware of any hard drive or storage device. There’s no memory card slot. There’s no file manager. You can’t save attachments from email locally. The phone doesn’t work as an external drive when attached. All sync’ing happens through iTunes. Nothing can go on the phone that iTunes doesn’t explicitly support.

There are no drop-down menus. There’s no equivalent of the PC right-click, or CE’s click-and-hold extended options (copy & paste). Click-and-drag to highlight text is gone. The whole idea of loading or quitting programs is gone (similar to Symbian). All application icons have fixed locations, and there are four apps with special fixed-icon status: Phone, Mail, Web Browser (Safari) and Music (iPod). You can’t move these or any of the other icons. You can’t install new applications. You can’t even run anything that the iPod didn’t come with (as far as I can tell) unless it’s a Web app.

But there is clearly a system for developing apps that work online or off. There is definitely an online bias, as even apps that SHOULD work offline (Weather, Stocks), pop up “could not connect” messages when they try to do their updates. The apps that are wholly off-line ROCK (Photos, Calendar). And the apps that MUST have the online connection are excruciating when you lose the signal on the train (Maps, Safari). And worst of all, there’s no decent offline RSS News Reader, meaning if you want to read your news on the NY Subway when you have no connection, but time to kill, you simply can’t.

That’s probably my biggest peeve, because I lived and died by Wild Palm’s Headline program for Symbian phones–probably one of the best offline news readers I’ve used. I’m looking for iPhone hacks right now to read news on the phone, because Apple’s reader built into Safari is online-only.

Despite this pet-peeve and all the closed-system limitations, we’re really only seven days into the iPhone’s release, and that’s not merely enough time to judge what’s going to happen with this inherently superior version 1.0 product.