iPhone envy

By | October 4, 2008

Handheld devices have become useful tools for mobile computing. With the expansion of wireless Internet availability, people increasingly want to be able to browse the web from their handhelds. But on most cell phones, the small screens are unable to convey the richness of web content.

That is, until the iPhone.

The iPhone is a cell phone with many of the capabilities of a digital media player as well as a Web-enabled handheld computer. It boasts a remarkable visual user interface driven by touch and virtual keyboard technology.

Busy consumers gravitate toward products that help them get things done (utility). They will repeatedly use products that help them affirm their personal relationships and individual identities (purpose).They will develop loyalty to products that are functional, intuitive and easy-to-use (performance).  And they will buy products that don’t cost too much (economy).

People also are generally drawn to gadgets that look cool (aesthetics).

When it was released by Apple in 2007, the iPhone promised to fulfill all five of these categories. It seemed to have it all rolled into one sleek, black handheld with richly luminous graphics. The iPhone managed to capture consumers’ attention by tapping into their design sensibilities, curiosity and aesthetic consciousness.

As a handheld, the iPhone is ergonomic. It offers clear typography and interaction cues for navigation. It has successfully attracted a cache of complementary software, such as Google mapping interfaces and the New York Times, making it all the more valuable to consumers. And more companies are rolling out specialized iPhone applications as the gadget becomes a “platform” for information delivery

But as consumers by the millions literally bought into the iPhone hype, deficiencies with the iPhone revealed themselves.

“Despite all the hoopla about the elegant operating system and stunning screen, odds are that even a cheap cellphone has better voice quality; your old fashioned BlackBerry is more dependable than my e-mail system; and an inexpensive digital camera takes better quality pictures,” wrote George Gombossy, consumer columnist for the Hartford Courant. “In short, the iPhone is a beautiful tiny computer, but in some ways it’s like a combination hammer-screwdriver-wrench — it does it all but none well.”

Early adopters of the product found that the iPhone’s anytime/anywhere accessibility diminished due to network slowness. Apple partnered with AT&T to deliver service to consumers, but AT&T’s 3G network isn’t as robust in many areas. Apple has yet to allow consumers to use the iPhone on any service network they choose. The AT&T iPhone contract is both restrictive and expensive.

The novel touch screen of the iPhone doesn’t work so well for those with large, heavy or less than dexterous fingers. And the iPhone is still missing some features that users expect as “standard” – such as the ability to record video.

An uneven deficit in one or more of the five categories – performance, utility, purpose, economy or aesthetics – tends to foster negative user experiences. For example, the iPhone’s look makes up for some of functional expectations, but if its performance is really bad, people won’t bother trying use it, no matter what it looks like.

But if designers and developers at Apple are smart, they will take heed of the negative experiences and complaints, and work to make sure the next generation of the iPhone is better.

And no one likes restrictions or high prices. The business folks at Apple should realize that the iPhone could dominate the market if it makes a point to be less proprietary and more open source. The easier it is for people to connect the iPhone to products they are already loyal to, the more likely people will want it as a part of their daily lives.


Gajendar, Uday. “Experiential Aesthetics: A Framework for Beautiful Experience.”  Interactions: Magazine of the Association of Computer Machinery.  Vol 15.  September / October, 2008. pp 6-10.  Retrieved on 10/2/2008 from http://interactions.acm.org/content/?p=1140 

Gombossy, George. “iPhone 3G Is Nothing To Write, Or Call, Home About.” Hartford Courant. Sept 28, 2008. Retrieved on 9/29/2008 from http://www.courant.com/hc-watchdog-0928,0,1541295.column

McQuail, Denis. McQuail’s Mass Communication Theory, 5th edition, 2005. Why people Use Media.

Cusumano, Michael.  “Technology Strategy and Management: The Puzzle of Apple.” Communications of the ACM. Sept 2008. Vol 51. No. 9. pp. 22-24.

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