Wednesday, January 02, 2008

iPhone: The Usability Question

Looking at the iPhone usability ...

"Apple and AT&T's implementation of visual voice mail is one of the iPhone's best features. When a voice mail comes in, and you choose not to listen to it right away, it's stored for you in the visual voice mail menu. Listening to a voice mail is easy -- tap the caller's name or number and you're one more tap away from listening to it, calling the person back or deleting it.

... Ergonomics Get Interesting

Half the battle with using a good cell phone is the feel and function -- the simple ergonomics of everyday use. The iPhone's relatively large size compared to basic cell phones (not compared to smartphones, which are typically larger than the iPhone) actually works in the iPhone's favor. Talking on a larger phone for long periods of time is flat-out easier than talking on a tiny phone. Of course, I'm a bigger guy with big hands, so take that into consideration.

When iPhone is naked, however -- when it's not in a protective case or skin -- it's a bit slippery. You have to pay attention when you're holding it, partially because of the slip and partially because of the unfamiliar form factor. In addition, the iPhone has the annoying ability to catch and pull my facial hair. It turns out the metal rim next to the glass has a gap just large enough to let a bit of cheek stubble slip in so that when you shift the iPhone, it pulls your hair. Obviously, this is a flaw that only affects men who don't keep their cheeks silky smooth.

Both the slip and the hair-pulling issues, however, were easily remedied when I added a black Speck ToughSkin. I'm not sure if it's a rubber or silicon material -- Speck doesn't say -- but it's definitely rubbery. On the plus side, it's rugged-looking, protective and prevents the iPhone from sliding from my hands or out of my pocket. On the minus side, it masks much of the iPhone's elegant style. Still, ever since putting it on, it hasn't come off.
Double-Touch Interface

Many cell phone reviews cover the feel and size of the keys -- often the keys are small or slippery or simply feel weird on cell phones. On the iPhone, there's only one button on the face, and there are no keys. The keypad is a virtual touchscreen-based pad. When you use the touchscreen keypad to dial, each key makes a familiar beep and briefly lights when you tap it. Plus, you can double tap numbers really fast and the iPhone never makes a mistake.

Once you're on a call, the screen goes blank when you lift the phone to your ear. The iPhone's proximity sensor notes the presence of a cheek and turns off the touch screen. It's a seamless feature that you quickly forget about.

When you pull the phone away, however, the screen comes back, giving you seven large button options: mute, keypad, speaker, add call, hold, contacts and end call.

If you choose contacts, you can scroll through your address book, find the person you want, and add him or her to the call. So three-way calling is wicked-easy. Tapping add call, by the way, sends you directly to your contact list. If you don't want to merge calls, which is an immediate option when you add a call to your existing call, you can swap the calls back and forth.

Additionally, you can ditch the phone interface altogether, punch the iPhone's main button to go to the home menu, and tap your calendar to see your schedule. Getting back to the call is easy -- you tap a green bar at the top of your screen. Can't miss it.

To end a call, all you have to do is a tap a large red button at the bottom of the screen. Surprisingly, this took me some time to get used to. Because the iPhone's main Home button is used so often to take you back to the Home screen, you tend to use that button whenever you want to exit whatever it was you were doing on the iPhone. When I "exit" a phone call, I still sometimes use the iPhone's Home button, which doesn't end the call. Unfortunately, the iPhone is not yet able to read my mind."    (Continued via TechNewsWorld)    [Usability Resources]

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