iPhone vs. Windows Mobile: And the Winner Is�

There's no nice way to say this, argues John Welch, but Apple is just better at intuitive user interface than Microsoft.
Posted February 6, 2007
By

John Welch

John Welch


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I’d like to talk a little more about the iPhone. Yes, I know, I did so in my last column, but I hadn't watched the keynote when I wrote that. So now that I've "seen" the iPhone, and talked to some people who have really seen and touched it, I thought I'd take some more time to talk about the iPhone.

Now, first, I want you all to understand something. I own a Windows Mobile 2003SE phone that I paid for, and I have a Windows Mobile 5 phone that I was issued by my "real" job. I've been using the WM 2003 phone for two years now, the WM 5 one for a few months. I support both WM phones and Treos. I have more than a passing acquaintance with them, and, I'm actually pretty happy with them. However, I am now far more impressed with what Apple is doing with the iPhone than I was before, and it's not just the infamous "reality distortion field" kicking in. I'm still not planning to jump to Cingular just for this phone. But it's a lot more tempting than it was.

First, the user interface. Steve made a really good point about most smartphones: When you have controls carved in stone, your applications are limited. Most of my smartphone's UI is based on hardware buttons. There's some touchscreen action, but it's kind of annoying, even with a stylus, and in some cases, far too clumsy to use without the stylus. The iPhone UI may not be perfect, but it is better in some noticeable ways.

First, it's far more intuitive. The unlock action on the screen is obvious and explicit...you get text instructions and an animation to tell you what to do. On both of my WM phones, it's somewhat obvious what to do; tap the screen after you wake the phone up. But Apple took that extra step. Actually, it kind of reminds me of the turn signals on an early-model Mercury Cougars. The point is, no guessing. No assumptions. You know what to do because the UI clearly tells you what to do. In a lot of ways, the iPhone UI is much better than either Mac OS X or any version of Windows at this.

This clarity holds for all of the iPhone, or at least the parts in the keynote. When you scroll down, it's by tracing your finger down the screen, up to go up. When you make a call, it's not just little symbols, they're big and they have text. The UI for switching between too calls? Nice, big and clear. No doubt that you have two calls, and which one you're in. Creating a conference call? The UI is a little shakey there, but I think that "merge" is better than "conference" for a verb, and I can't really think of one that's noticeably better than merge.

The button and other scaling functionality is much smoother than on either of my WM phones. The demo of how it handles showing you an incoming call is so much better than my WM phones. On the iPhone, it's a pretty monstrous button. Really easy to hit. On my WM phone? Little tiny button. Sucks to hit, and really hard. I have to use the physical button on the phone most times, because I can't hit the target area with my finger fast enough. That's on the WM 2003 one. The WM 5 phone is even worse.


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