IPhone video demo: UI is the secret of its success

Tap, 'pinch' and drag; that's all you need to do

In the first two and a half days that its new iPhone was on the market, Apple Inc. sold about half a million of the popular devices. And while the iPhone can be put to a variety of different uses -- making a call, checking e-mail, surfing the Web, listening to music or even scrolling through photos -- the biggest feature is the user interface. That's what really sets it apart from competitors, and that's what we focused on in our video demonstration.

For those who slept through the last six months and missed all of the prelaunch hype and buzz, the iPhone went on sale at 6 p.m. Friday and comes in two different models. The 4GB model sells for $499; the 8GB model retails for $100 more. (A survey of buyers at three Apple stores indicates the more expensive model is by far the most popular.) The only difference between the two is the amount of storage space.

iPhone Video

Click to see video.

Would-be buyers should also note that there's just one mobile carrier for the iPhone: AT&T Inc., which offers three service plans for it priced at $59.99, $79.99 and $99.99. The main difference between plans is how many calling minutes you get. All of the plans offer unlimited data transfers, visual voice mail, 200 text messages and rollover minutes.

User reviews since the iPhone's launch have been largely positive.

First and foremost, the iPhone is a phone, and it delivers the goods. Making a call is easy: Tap the green phone icon once, and you'll see a screen that either has the keypad ready for you to tap in a number, or your contact list -- imported from your computer through iTunes. Tap a name in the contact list, tap the phone number associated with that contact, and the call goes out.

The e-mail function works just as well, with a fluid interface that takes you from the mail icon (again, one tap will do), to your in-box. Tap a message in the list that shows up, and the e-mail is displayed on the screen. Hit the reply arrow, click the Reply button that pops up on screen, and a virtual keyboard springs up at the bottom of the screen. As you type, the keys enlarge, making it easier to see whether you tapped the correct one. An extremely useful feature, given the small size of the "keys," is the predictive texting that tries to figure out the right word when you make a typo. More often than not, it works exactly as it should, allowing you to type faster than you'd expect with just one or two fingers.

Even better than the e-mail function is the ability to surf the Web -- the real Web, not a truncated text-heavy version often used on mobile devices. Flip the phone for a wide-screen view, tap the screen to get closer to the page, or pinch your fingers together to pull back. You can also fire up Google Maps, which offers both street and satellite views, Yahoo weather stocks, listen to tunes as if the iPhone were a glorified iPod or scroll through photos imported from your computer.

While none of these features is by itself revolutionary, what is revolutionary is the interface that links them all together. Apple has long been seen as leader when it comes to making difficult computing tasks easy to do. Never is that user interface design more obvious than in the multitouch functions that make the iPhone, well, the iPhone. Tap the screen to make a call; tap to see e-mail; open a Web page, and tap a link to go to that URL; slide up and down to scroll through contact lists, photos or music files. Make a pinching motion with two fingers, and images or Web pages shrink. Because the screen is glass, it's less likely to scratch and is wicked easy to clean off greasy fingerprints.

Note to new owners: If you haul an iPhone out in public, strangers will walk up and want to play with it for a minute -- or 10. There will be fingerprints, which is one reason Apple includes a little black cleaning cloth in the box. (It works.)

iPhone Video

Click to see video.

There are other less-obvious user interface features. You can view a Web page vertically, or, by rotating the iPhone 90 degrees, you see that same page in wide-screen mode. (The same thing happens with photos.) You don't have to do anything more than rotate the phone for the image to pivot. Another nice feature: When you're done with a call, as you take the iPhone away from your ear, the "end call" button pops up, almost as if the iPhone knows that's the next logical thing for you to do.

In hand, the iPhone is right-size, but perhaps a bit heftier than some cell phone users are used to. It'll fit in a shirt pocket, but that pocket will bulge a bit from the weight. No doubt there will soon be a plethora of accessories designed to make it easy to carry the iPhone, either in a utilitarian way or in a way that allows you to it show off. IPhone armband, anyone?

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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