iPhone Review: User Interface and Keyboard

All cellular phones make calls, and many play music, video, and browse the web. So what's so special about the iPhone? The way it integrates these capabilities in a seamless manner and makes the user experience not only simple, but also somewhat intuitive.


User Interface

While most phone rely on the user to go through endless settings or options lists, or click buttons, the iPhone responds to the user's hand gestures to take its direction. While on any other phone the user would have to use up-down arrows and select keys to, let's say, zoom in on a picture or web page, iPhone users just pinch/un-pinch the screen or double tap the screen and the same procedure is accomplished. This makes the user's interaction with the device more tactile and physically intuitive. Be warned that there is a learning-curve when learning the gestures, and they are unfortunately not consistent throughout applications, but once you figure it out, there is much less hassle involved in navigating the iPhone than any other phone to date. The iPhone takes radically new and extremely simplified and streamlined approaches to common tasks for mobile devices.

One very vexing component of the iPhone's user interface, however, is the user's inability to customize appearance themes. Users can set their background, but this only shows up during unlock mode and when taking a call (when you wouldn't see the background anyway unless you are using headphones or the speakerphone). On top of this, the appearance from application to application is also inconsistent. While this adds variety to it's appearance, it obviously lacks cohesion.



One of the most important aspects of a handheld's usability is it's keyboard; so how does the iPhone's stack up? The iPhone has substituted a physical keyboard for a virtual one, which appears on the screen much like a proper computer keyboard. However, it's missing one thing - that tactile quality that most people enjoy while typing. This leaves the user to "trust" in the keyboard without gaining any physical feedback from keys. That being said, how does the keyboard actually perform?

Like other phones, the iPhone uses a combination of dictionary prediction and keymap prediction to help out typing. This makes it more efficient, but there are also a few inefficiencies on the iPhone keyboard. For example, the keyboard will not recognize a second key tap before you have lifted your finger off the first key. This slows down typing a bit since may people already have their hand on the second letter as they are lifting off the first. Also, the period sign is not accessible from the main keyboard and it must be accessed (along with other commonly used symbols) though a flipped over symbols keyboard. Again, this slows down typing as does the fact that you can't hold down the shift key to type in uppercase letters. Instead you must press shift before each letter. Caps lock is actually disables in the default setting and must be turned on.

This automatic dictionary function can do more harm than good too, since by ignoring a misspelled word, users can accidentally add it into their dictionary file, meaning it will never be caught again, unless users clear the dictionary they're been customizing in it's entirety.

On the upside, the landscape orientation horizontal keyboard is far superior, with bigger keys that allow less mistakes. The horizontal web keyboard also has convenient previous / next buttons for tabbing through fields. Also, the keyboard the user is given when entering URL's is handy because of it's inclusion of shortcuts to ".", "/", and ".com" instead of a space bar, since spaces are non-existent in URLs.

Overall, the keyboard on the iPhone has about as many flaws as handy features, and depending on the person it can be easily adapted to or adapted to with some effort. While the portrait orientation keyboard could use some work, the horizontal keyboard is far superior and hopefully Apple will make it able to be used in all applications in the future.


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