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This has been a big week for touch interfaces with the announcements from both Apple and HTC.  The Apple iPhone will be available for purchase through AT&T on June 29 and I won’t be surprised to see long lines of people before the stores open with […]

Htc_touch_3IphoneThis has been a big week for touch interfaces with the announcements from both Apple and HTC.  The Apple iPhone will be available for purchase through AT&T on June 29 and I won’t be surprised to see long lines of people before the stores open with customers clamoring to be sure they get an iPhone before initial supplies run out.  I expect we’ll see video of those customers on the network news the morning of the 29th.  HTC surprised a few people with their announcement of a new Windows Mobile smartphone, the Touch, with its touch interface that was no doubt rushed into existence since Steve Jobs demonstrated the iPhone at MacWorld earlier this year.  Both devices are interesting and I have been giving them a lot of thought the past few days.  Read on if you’re interested in my thoughts on the two devices.

First the iPhone.  Apple has done a masterful job at repeating the philosophy of the iPod.  Make the iPhone drop dead simple to operate, and make all facets of the operation seamless with the others.  It is obvious that Apple designed this touch interface from the ground up and that makes a very seamless operation of the phone and the iPod functions on the iPhone.  It’s not only cool but it is very, very simple to operate with the finger, and that appeals to an awful lot of prospective customers. 

Is the iPhone the perfect smartphone?  Having watched the Jobs keynote demonstration of the iPhone again last night I see two areas that might make the iPhone experience less than stellar.  I’m not sure how that on-screen keyboard will hold up for extended usage.  I think users are going to get tired tapping on those keys on the screen, and my experience with touch-screens tells me that you will have to tap those keys straight on from the front and not from the sides of the keys or mistakes will be made.  That leads me to the second problem I see with the iPhone.  It takes two hands to operate.  Most smartphones today can be operated with one hand for the most part which makes them much easier to use.  The iPhone requires two handed operation, one holding the phone and the other tapping/ swiping the screen.  You won’t be using the iPhone in a lot of situations you could use other smartphones as a result.

The HTC Touch is an interesting Windows Mobile device that is actually smaller than the iPhone.  It runs Windows Mobile 6 Professional, and that may be the ultimate downfall of the Touch.  Don’t get me wrong, I love Windows Mobile but it’s no iPhone.  Microsoft hasn’t really designed WM 6 to take full advantage of touch-screens, because it’s designed to also work on smartphones with no touch-screen.  HTC has developed TouchFLO, a touch interface that looks cool and operates in a similar fashion to the iPhone, but it’s really just a pretty shell sitting on the Windows Mobile engine.  I fear that to fully use the Touch with its WM background you will be reaching for the stylus a lot, and that will detract from the experience.  Above all else if HTC is dependent on the standard Windows Mobile on-screen keyboard for text entry then the Touch will fail miserably.  That keyboard is terrible to use, and even if the iPhone keyboard isn’t optimum it is way above the WM keyboard.  The Touch MUST have a keyboard that can be tapped with the finger, much like that on the iPhone, or the user experience will be horrible.  What the Touch cannot do is force the user to frequently reach for the stylus, that’s not the way to have an enjoyable touch experience.  I hope the touch interface extends to all areas of operation and doesn’t just work on a few tasks on the Touch.  It will quickly be apparent that TouchFLO is just s slap-on shell if that’s the case.

One thing I will say to both Apple and HTC- please incorporate some good functional voice dialing capability on your phones.  When you have no buttons nor keypad the touch screen only goes so far.  Voice Command for Windows Mobile will not suffice for the Touch either.  It is too resource intensive and tries to do too much.  All a user needs is a simple way to voice dial numbers.  This has been driven home to me recently while switching back and forth between Windows Mobile and S60 smartphones.  The simple voice dialing on the Nokia phones makes a world of difference after putting up with Voice Command for so long.  Keep it simple and add easy voice dialing and both phones will provide a richer user experience.

It will be very interesting to see how the iPhone and the Touch perform in the wild.  I would love to get my hands on both phones and do a real comparison of the two.  That would be cool.

  1. Both of these phones look interesting, but there is one solid dealbreaker on the iphone in my case. No corporate mail support. If (like me) you need to have easy mobile access to Outlook, I would find it hard to believe that people would carry an iphone AND a blackberry or other push mail capable device. I know that Apple is marketing the iphone as a consumer device, but in truth it really doesn’t have many consumer features that arent available in Windows Mobile 6. Sure, I bet they are more elegantly delivered, but not so much so that I will carry yet another device on the road with me. That makes the iphone a no go for users like myself IMHO.

  2. May I add three comments?

    1) There a software included in the iPhone that basically proposes you words when you type in. You can thus use the phone (possibly) with one hand… and be not so precise with the typing :) This was discussed by David Pogue from the NY times.
    2) There is no “real” internet on WinMo devices. There should be one on the iPhone.
    3) There is this graphic interface for voicemail messages.

    Now the HTC is indeed a very nice mobile phone. But what will differentiate these two devices will be the value of the software (Input, browser, ease of use, connectivity without problems, etc) and Apple are pretty good at that.

  3. I agree with you about Windows Mobile being the biggest potential flaw of the HTC Touch. I think HTC did the right thing by engineering a custom interface, which should do a lot of offset the shortcomings of WM, but it might not be enough.

    I don’t agree that the iPhone will be limited to two-handed operation. It’s much easier to demo it using two hands, but I wouldn’t translate that to a real world limitation. The keypad is in the same position as on a regular phone. It looks like thumb swipes will operate the iPod aspect just fine. The task icons on the main menu are large and accessible. Obviously, some tasks, like text messaging and web surfing, will be easier with two hands, but generally it looks easy enough to operate by thumb. At the very least, it’ll be easier to operate with one hand than my Pocket PC, which I can do with minimal effort. Of course, I typically also operate my camera one-handed, so maybe it’s just me.

  4. I am as much an Apple Fanboy as anybody. I even lead a special interest group on music for the Apple Corps of Dallas. My wife doubts that I will be able to withstand the temptation to own anything that Cupertino puts out (anybody interested in a used Newton?), I recently traded in my Cingular 8125 for a Samsung blackjack. Why? I am tired of having a phone that is too bulking to slip into a pocket for one. Another is that I absolutely hated using the touchscreen to dial phone numbers. I’m sure Apple’s touch screen technology will improve the user experience, but I’m going to enjoy my Blackjack for now.

  5. I see a couple of problems with the iPhone that will eventually deter it (although you rightly point out that it will sell out very quickly).

    1) Crapular, I mean Cingular, I mean AT&T. Bad customer service. Enough said. There is a reason why Apple first approached Verizon.
    2) EDGE. As an Internet device, running on EDGE is going to result in a poor browsing experience. So it relegates it to being an iPod with a phone.

    I’ll hold off any other comparisons at this point since the device is not available yet. Basing opinions on this device and the user interface experience is very premature. I’m sure the only media people using this thing are Apple shills Pogue and Mossberg, and we already know what they will feel about the device.

    HTC is a great manufacturer, but in terms of trying to compete with the Appleness of the iPhone, it simply won’t and can’t. And I think we need to wait for Proton to really get am interface that is new and interesting. WM6 certainly seems very nice, but it is still WM5 with improvements.

  6. I’m extremely intrigued by the iphone as well. But one thing that really irks me about SJ’s hype of it is what Nikooo said above:

    2) There is no “real” internet on WinMo devices. There should be one on the
    iPhone.

    What’s that supposed to mean? I consider the real internet more than just a browser that doesn’t reflow a page for the screensize. For me the real internet would be:
    – ability to run more than just a web browser. Remote Desktop, VNC, FTP, etc are all parts of the ‘real’ internet.
    – Web browser supporting all the standards used on most web pages today- flash, Ajax, etc. David Pogue said these would not be supported on the iPhone (at least Ajax for sure).
    – speed to make accessing the internet an almost desktop like experience. I don’t think EDGE will cut it in that regard, so surely most will be using wifi for their data access as much as they can.

    To me, SJ’s quote is overhype and inaccurate- it would be OK to try to say a more desktop like web browsing experience, but to say the first time for ‘real internet seems like the biggest overhype in years.

  7. After watching Matt Miller’s video of the HTC Touch.. wow what a waste of time producing this phone. Such crap. It’s like running Origami Experience and expecting the rest of Vista to have exactly the same interface.
    Once you get passed the TouchFLO, you’ll be wondering where the keyboard is.

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