All Things iPhone: Interface and the 16 Applications
Basics of the Interface: Once you’ve turned iPhone on using the top Sleep/Wake Button, iPhone relies upon its touch screen for almost all of its user interactions. You swipe your finger across a locking mechanism on the screen to unlock the touchscreen—it’s locked by default to prevent accidental button presses—then use the on-screen buttons for everything else. You can press the physical Home button under the screen to go back a menu, and press the Sleep/Wake button to re-lock the phone’s screen.
Apple’s current suite of non-core applications includes SMS Text Messaging (“Text”), Calendar, Photos, Camera, Calculator, Stocks, Maps, Weather, Notes, Clock, and YouTube, plus a Settings menu, as well as four core applications: Phone, Mail, the Safari web browser, and iPod.
Generally speaking, Apple uses the center of the screen for the bulk of the action, with context-appropriate buttons placed largely near the screen’s edges. This enables you to scroll, pinch, and tap in the middle of the display; only errant motions near the screen’s edges will trigger other features.
A keyboard, described more fully below, appears on screen whenever it’s appropriate or necessary to enter text on the screen. Apple claims that in “about a week,” you’ll be thumb-typing faster on iPhone than any other small keyboard, though it provides no tactile feedback. The keyboard can auto-correct spelling errors for you, if you desire.
Scrolling feels very good, but not perfect. It will take a tiny amount of user training, comparable to your first time with an iPod, before it feels perfectly comfortable. That’s mostly because icons are now in unfamiliar places on the screen, and you need to make sure you touch the right place on the screen in order to activate them. According to Apple, gestures such as pinch aren’t angle-dependent; our initial impression that they might be may just be attributable to the brief user learning curve, and your need to place enough pressure on the screen to have the pinching motion properly recognized.
The unit’s first screen background—displayed when it’s locked and waiting for a call—can be set at any time from any picture on the unit. This is a really nice feature, but other menus do not use this image as their background. As of early June, it appears that at least some of the main menu’s icons can be rearranged by the user, but this is not as yet known for certain.
Calculator: iPhone includes a simple calculator application like the OS X Calculator widget.
Calendar: iPhone includes a simple Calendar application with a slightly evolved, less colorful version of the Calendar found in fifth-generation iPods. Unlike the iPod Calendar, which merely displays synced content from your Mac or PC, iPhone’s Calendar can be updated while you’re using the device.
Camera: A two-megapixel camera is found on iPhone’s upper left back corner. Like most cell phone cameras, this one uses a fixed lens and has no optical zoom capabilities. It permits full-screen framing of your photos, but is presently a still camera only, not a video recorder. Current information suggests that the camera’s lens is a fast, fixed f/2.8, and that it records the iPhone’s orientation in EXIF data when pictures are snapped.
Clock: iPhone almost always keeps a clock at the top of its menu screens, but the Clock application functions like the iPod’s clock, enabling you to track current times in your favorite cities around the world.
iPod: Apple has called iPhone its best iPod ever, based on the device’s ability to use its 3.5” widescreen display for two new features: widescreen video playback, and iTunes-style Cover Flow music browsing. Whether it’s showing off 4:3 or 16:9 content, iPhone fills the majority of its screen with video that’s better-looking than on the fifth-generation iPod, and also has large, high-resolution album artwork for your music. The only hitch: you won’t be able to use most old iPod earphones with the device unless you buy a special adapter; the iPhone’s headphone port is small and recessed under its surface. Companies such as Belkin, Griffin, and Monster Cable will offer iPhone-ready adapters, while headphone manufacturers are working on iPhone-ready earphones.
The main iPod Now Playing screen contains a large piece of album artwork with track and artist details above, plus a Star Ratings bar, and forward/backward, play/pause, and volume controls below. iPhone’s text-style iPod interface has been given an overhaul, too, with lines dividing artists’ names, bars dividing letters of the alphabet, and thumbnails for video content. Swipe gestures move you through your library like Click Wheel rubs do on iPods, while little letters on the side of the music menus let you point to any part of the alphabet and jump there instantly.
When the iPod is rotated on its side, the iPod browser automatically searches to Cover Flow, an album cover browsing interface, which can be scrolled through using swiping finger gestures. Any album’s track list will display automatically when you press on the album cover, flipping it around.
During iPod menu navigation, new icons for Playlists, Artists, Songs, Videos, and More (...) appear on the screen’s bottom, with a full alphabet listing on the right hand side if you want to jump around more quickly. The “More” icon at the bottom of the iPod screen provides you with the option to customize the device’s list of default one-click categories, including icons for Albums, Podcasts, Audiobooks, Genres, Composers, Complications, Playlists, Artists, Songs, and Videos. Any icon can be dragged from the list to replace one of the icons already at the bottom of the screen.
When in iPod mode, all stored video types are now collapsed onto a single menu, which has all categories—TV shows, movies, etc.—all placed on one scrollable screen with icons for each video item. This is most likely because you won’t be able to fit enough video on an iPhone to need multiple screens for its video content. Video playback is totally smooth, displaying at 480x320, or twice the resolution of the 5G iPod.
We have heard conflicting reports on iPhone’s video output capabilities. Our belief is that iPhone will not be able to display iPod-style video on external displays; however, if Apple’s claims about iPod accessory compatibility and iPhone’s “widescreen video iPod” functionality prove fully accurate, iPhone should eventually become capable of this, too.
Keyboard: Though iPhone’s keyboard doesn’t require thin fingers for typing, it will require a little practice, especially since it appears to only recognize finger input, not stylus, fingernail, or clothing input. If your entry is sloppy, the software attempts to figure out the words you’re likely trying to type, and lets you hit the spacebar to accept them. Unlike the Nintendo Wii, which uses rumbling controllers with an on-screen pointer to simulate the feedback you get from pressing keys on a keyboard, iPhone’s flat touch screen provides no tactile feedback. In phone mode, though iPhone is designed to be highly Contacts-based and eliminate the need for dialing, its QWERTY keyboard shifts to a large-buttoned numeric keypad for dialing when necessary.
Mail: Apple’s Mail application lets you receive and most likely forward rich HTML messages from a free Yahoo E-mail account, which uses “push” service to automatically forward messages to iPhone no matter where you are. iPhone is also said to be capable of syncing with POP3 and IMAP accounts, meaning that you can receive most of your e-mail wirelessly while you’re on the go, or connected to a Wi-Fi network. Note that while you can create simple text and photo emails on iPhone, you apparently can’t compose rich HTML messages on the device.
iPhone can display, but not edit Microsoft Word and Excel documents, and it can similarly open PDF files and e-mailed JPEGs for on-screen display. In addition to a full-screen mode, a paned (split-screen) view is available to let you quickly scroll through message headers at the top of the screen, while e-mail contents are displayed at the bottom. You can also choose between 0 and 5 lines of preview text to show in the mail window, and change between five font sizes for easier reading.
Mail offers an on-screen indication of the last time of e-mail synchronization. Through a settings menu, mail can be checked manually, or automatically every 15, 30, or 60 minutes.
Contact lists from Microsoft Outlook, Outlook Express and Apple’s Address Book are managed and synchronized through iTunes. In addition to synchronizing all the basic text details from Address Book or Outlook, as iTunes does with the iPod, contacts also have the same on-screen photo icons we’ve seen in iChat AV and Apple’s Address Book. These icons don’t appear during SMS chat, however.
Maps: Maps is short for Google Maps, an Apple-developed client for Google’s impressive mapping software. Using iPhone’s on-screen keyboard and touch-sensitive on-screen maps, you can enter in addresses to view in drawn map, satellite imagery, or list form, and get directions to or from those addresses. Zooming in or out of maps can be accomplished with one or two simultaneous finger presses, in addition to pinching and expanding gestures.
Though iPhone lacks a GPS satellite antenna for automatically determining your location, you can save a list of commonly used locations (such as Home) to use as starting and ending points. Maps can be overlaid with current traffic conditions using the bottom-of-screen car icon, which calls up Google’s traffic information to provide red and green map overlays.
Notes: Like the iPod, iPhone has a Notes application capable of displaying saved text on the screen.
Phone: iPhone’s phone functionality is broken up into several components. First, it functions as a standard cell phone handset, with a speaker for your ear and a microphone for your mouth. Second, it works as a speakerphone, using a second, louder speaker on its bottom, and the same microphone for your mouth. Third, it can serve as a Bluetooth wireless broadcasting device for separately-sold wireless headsets. And fourth, it is a digital message center for voicemail messages, with a special feature called Visual Voicemail.
You can make telephone calls using a list of Contacts, or with a phone-like on-screen numeric keypad. Contacts appear in a scrollable list that resembles the iPod’s lists of songs, only with a full alphabet of tiny letters ever-present on its right-hand side. This mini-alphabet is actually a letter-specific scroll bar that you drag your finger through and stop at a letter of your choosing. Picking a name provides you with a list of contact numbers; selecting one dials your number of choice. Like its Safari web browser, the Phone feature includes a list of favorites that can be customized with the specific numbers you prefer to use for people of your choosing, making calls to these people easier than scrolling through larger lists.
Calling is straightforward, with a twist: context-sensitive in-call menus that make switching between two callers (“swap”), merging calls, and adding a call (keypad/contacts) easy. Once a phone call is in progress, you can press the Home button during a phone call to return to iPhone’s main menu, and a green bar at the top of the screen appears to keep you informed of how many minutes and seconds your call is taking.
How does iPhone sound to callers and to the user under each of these usage conditions? We will have to do our own tests before providing answers, but a pre-production iPhone we heard back in January sounded very clean on the receiving end. We didn’t have the ability to test this feature anywhere near as much as we’d wanted.
As a brand new feature of iPhone, Visual Voicemail not only provides access to all of your voicemails at once, so that you can select which message to play, but there’s also a scrubber on the screen to let you scrub through each piece of voicemail just like an audio file. You no longer have to “dial voice mail” to hear your messages, or spend minutes navigating through menus to determine what to do with them. Using a small red number bubble in front of the Phone icon, iPhone’s main screen tells you how many messages you have waiting to be heard.
Photos: iPhone synchronizes photographs from your PC or Macintosh, just like color-screened iPods, and presents them in similarly organized albums that can be navigated with finger gestures. In addition to displaying 20 square thumbnails at a time - 4 wide, 5 down - iPhone can display full-screen photographs either vertically or horizontally, filling as much of the display as possible, and leaving black letterboxes in the gaps.
Stripped down but otherwise iPod-like photo slideshows even have music, though they lack for any transition effects save the default. You can skip through photos with finger swipes.
Google search is the default for the integrated Safari browser, but Yahoo can be used instead. Accessing search is available by touching the URL. You enter URLs with iPhone’s on-screen keyboard, and save favorites just as with Safari.
Settings: iPhone’s Settings menu includes a collection of separate settings menus for the device’s numerous features. It also tracks how long the phone has been used, and includes “Airplane Mode,” a way to deactivate the unit’s Wi-Fi, cellular and Bluetooth radios during a flight to comply with regulations. While in Airplane Mode, an Airplane icon appears on the unit’s top left corner, and all of the wireless icons disappear.
Another setting controls iPhone’s sounds, such as ringtones. You can choose from 25 built-in ringtones, including Alarm, Ascending, Bark, Bell Tower, Blues, Boing, Crickets, Digital, Doorbell, Duck, Harp, Marimba, Motorcycle, Old Car Horn, Old Phone, Piano Riff, Pinball, Robot, Sci-Fi, Sonar, Strum, Timba, Time Passing, Trill, and Xylophone.
Marimba is the chime currently most associated with the iPhone; there does not appear to be any way to use your iTunes music as a ringtone. You can also manually adjust iPhone’s brightness, change its introduction screen wallpaper, and make adjustments to numerous other iPhone applications.
A setting called Passcode Lock enables you to prevent the iPhone from being accessed without entering a code each time it is turned on, or awoken from sleep mode, enabling you only to make an emergency call. Four digits are entered and confirmed using the General portion of the Settings menu, then re-entered whenever you want to use iPhone.
Stocks: iPhone’s Stocks application allows you to view historical stock performance for a company on a scale of 1 day to 2 years, with 1 week, 1 month, 3 month, 6 months, or 1 year options in-between. It also lets you know whether the markets are open or closed.
You can add additional stocks to the list, and scroll through them if they don’t all fit on your screen with the performance graph in place.
Text: Despite obvious visual similarities to Apple’s iChat AV program - a Mac client for the Internet-based AOL Instant Messenger - iPhone’s messaging system communicates over the cell phone-based SMS network, and does not enable you to reach AOL Buddies or .Mac users.
Apple does allow you to have multiple SMS chat sessions going on at once, but Contact icons/images don’t appear on screen when you’re in SMS mode, despite the fact that it looks otherwise just like iChat. This is most likely to fit more text on screen.
Weather: A simple weather application mirrors the functionality of Apple’s OS X Weather widget. Based on weather data from Yahoo, the Weather application provides graphical sun/rain/snow/cloud views and numbers for today’s current temperature, high, and low for a given city, plus a six-day forecast with conditions, highs, and lows.
Swiping your finger across the screen will take you to weather reports for different cities; you can enter in multiple zip codes or city names to keep their local weather details permanently monitored with iPhone.
YouTube: Announced as a surprise feature in late June, iPhone has a YouTube video browser available from its main menu. YouTube is a popular video-sharing service filled with user-submitted clips that range from obscene or absurd to interesting and worth sharing with friends. iPhone’s browser is decidedly different from the one released for Apple TV, and includes the ability to bookmark and e-mail YouTube clips directly from the Now Playing screen.
A full Bookmarks screen full of previously saved YouTube clips can be accessed, and each video can be selected to view an expanded text description, related videos, and a simple “Share” button.
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