Since the dawn of time, man has wondered: will Apple come out with a iPhone
, and will it match the success of the iPod?
This is the Internet, of course, so by the dawn of time I mean three or four years ago, well before the Motorolla Rokr came out. Despite whipping the rumor mill into a frenzy, the Rokr ended up being not much of an Apple iPhone and was immediately overshadowed by the iPod Nano.
Now, it seems Apple may be actually coming out with an iPhone in early 2007
. And you are going to want it. Here's why.
(A quick disclaimer: I don't have any inside info about Apple or the iPhone. This list is an educated guess. I like to think of it as "analysis" rather than "idle speculation.")
1. Simple controls.
My very first cell phone, a Kyocera 2135, had a keypad, a directional pad, a total of four buttons and a couple of menus. Since then, as I have gotten new phones and new plans, the number of buttons and menus has increased at an exponential rate. It looks like amazing progress, a Moore's Law of mobiles, except most of the time, I'm just trying to make a stupid phone call.
The evolution of the iPod has been a study in simplification
, to the point where all you have now is the clickwheel, unless you have a Shuffle, in which case you have even less.
2. Consistent controls.
When you get a new phone, how long does it take for you to get used to it? Forget any new features for now -- what about just using the "dial", "hangup", "OK", and other common buttons in different contexts? Earlier cell phones were often better current phones in this regard, probably because they had less functionality. When a phone has both a dial and an enter button (like the Treo), you're not always sure which is appropriate in which situation.
I can almost guarantee the iPhone will embrace the "it just works" attitude Apple is known for. I know my contact list is getting way too long to navigate with up/down arrows, and even jumping by letter is becoming tedious. Look for the contact list to work the same way a playlist works, and expect to spend a lot less time figuring it out and more time just using it.
3. Innovative controls with obvious affordances
. Big words, but all I'm saying is that the interface will be different from what's out there, but won't require much explanation. Affordnaces are surfaces and shapes that imply use - for example, a handle on a door implies "pull" while a horizontal bar implies "push".
My guess? A haptic interface for common, atomic actions. Instead of needing to find and press a little button to hang up, maybe you can just shake the phone--think erasing an Etch-a-Sketch.
4. Streamlined interaction design.
Current phones include a lot of functionality - calling, text messaging, taking photos, shooting video, sending email, surfing the web, etc. The current solution is a burrito-like seven layers of menus and icons.
If Apple is smart, the iPhone will make sure the most common tasks will be the most visible and easiest to get to. Think of the actions you perform the most with your current phone - making a call, finding a contact, hanging up, etc. The main difficulty for Apple will be effectively combining music player and phone functionality without adding a whole layer of menus or icons. Something like Front Row might be a step in the right direction. Listening to music is a more passive activity that calling, and you don't want to add a "switch to phone mode" step when the phone rings, so It's not exactly the right metaphor.
5. No more disgusting face grease on your screen
. This is, in my opinion, the holy grail of cell phone design. There have been a few phones that tried to address this issue, but the vast majority of phones are shaped such that you must press the screen to your face to make a call. I know what you're thinking. "But my face isn't oily and gross." Yes it is. Take out your phone and really look. Perform this experiment: clean the screen and buttons, eat a couple slices of pizza, and call your grandma (you really should call more). Now look at the screen.
I cannot imagine Steve Jobs allowing skin oil and other human excretions on his beautiful devices, let alone requiring it just to make a call. I have seen the press conferences, this is a man who exfoliates. I'm not sure how exactly they will get around this one, but is it possible they might make a phone... actually shaped like a phone? I have never had this issue with a landline phone.
6. No more lock in
. I'm not talking about the elimination of Apple's one major lock-in scheme, requiring iTunes for purchased, DRM-ed music. But notice that with the iPod there are no limits on loading up your own MP3s, photos, etc. My guess is the iPhone will be similar.
This is actually revolutionary for a cell phone
. There is a good amount of hardware and functionality built in to the phone in your pocket that you don't have access to. It's because the carriers will block anything they would compete with any service they offer (or think they might offer some day in the future). They also like to lock you in to a contract when you purchase the phone. Apple, debuting a shiny new must-have cell phone, just might have the leverage needed to just say no.
7. It will look really, really nice
. This is subjective, and I'm sure there are a few people out there not impressed by the iPod. It's clear, though, that Apple knows how to fashion artifacts that a large number of people drool over. And this mass of drooling people seems to include geeks, hipsters, famous people, and all the popular kids at school.
8. Integrated voicemail, chat, SMS and email
. This isn't a new idea, and there are plenty of carriers and startup companies promising to do this really soon now
. As far as I know, there really isn't a solution that makes the different forms of messaging work together that has been adopted by the general public.
It would require integration with the service providers (difficult) or a chip beefy enough to encode audio, but imagine if you could store and manage voicemail and SMS as easily as you do email, through a simple visual or audio interface. There is plenty of hard drive space on an iPod, so why not apply the Gmail concept of effectively infinite storage to voicemail?
9. No camera
. I'll say up front that I'm not nearly as confident about numbers 9 and 10, but I have a feeling the iPhone will not have a camera. Why not? It is a little-known fact that people only use their cell phone cameras in two situations: the first week after purchase, and when drunk. The cameras themselves are not very good, the shots are low resolution, and the carriers have made it their mission to make getting the photo to your computer or printing it at Walgreens difficult and expensive.
So why not leave it out? That's one less thing to squeeze into the form factor, one less item in the menu, less clutter.
. At the very least, expect to be able to connect to anything an iPod can connect to now. The iPod does not have wireless features like the Zune
, but it seems like the Zune was crippled for DRM purposes. Cell phones are inherently wireless, so it will be interesting to see what Apple does here.
Is it possible they might make bluetooth actually live up to its promise? Specifically, it would be really nice if it was easy to beam contact info, photos, etc. to others. This is 2006, there's no excuse for making us strain to hear someone's number in a loud club or try to manually enter names and numbers while being jostled by a crowd. And every phone I've ever played with that can store or take photos makes it a major chore to ever get them off the damned phone. I'm not too sure this will happen, because getting the bluetooth turned on with my wifes iBook was a chore, and getting it to actually connect to my Treo was a pain too.
Of course, there's no guarantee the iPhone will have any of the above.Â It's possible that Motorolla or Nokia's next phone will cover enough of the items above to become the next must-have gadget.Â But they've had plenty of chances.Â I'm guessing it will take a company with a new perspective to make a really great phone, and Apple just might be that company.