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I want to invite you to my new gig over at Light Thinking. We are devloping light gadgets for photographers.
You can't be a designer and not be into photography at some level. Maybe you know about the whole off-camera strobe movement that originated over at at strobist? Maybe you even know about the new HDSLR cameras and all the amazing stuff people are doing with them?
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None of us has actually held an iPhone in our hand, but there seem to be no end to bold statements of how the iPhone is going to revolutionize the mobile industry, become the most sold phone in history etc. etc. The arguments are that it has such a great browser, such great SMS capabilities. I dont buy those arguments. I have a strong feeling this is because Apple is a US company introducing the iPhone into a market where the operators have a Closed Garden model. In most other industrialized countries, costumers have a vastly greater choice and fewer limitations. Well, we'll see. But there is a few very interesting aspects of the iPhone that clearly sets it apart from (most of) the rest. The most interesting from a Interaction Design point of view is direct manipulation.
Some manufacturers, most notably Nokia, has been extremely successful in making mobile phones that people want to buy. Nokia invented the NaviKey phones and later drove the adoption of the 2 and 3 softbutton phones ("NaviKey" has a single softbutton - and to my knowledge no other interaction style has ever scored higher on user satisfaction). The 3 softbutton phone is the de-facto standard today. These phones employ a indirect manipulation model. In a direct manipulation model the user points at whatever item on the screen they want to interact with. In a indirect model, the user has to mentally connect 3 things: the item on the screen, the softbutton label in the bottom of the screen and the actual hardware button located near the label. The indirect model is harder to learn. It also have some limitations that the direct manipulation method don't have. You would not want to implement drag and drop in an indirect model. There are an bunch of other issues also. Which means that the user of a particular brand of mobile phone has learned, if not to love, at least to use them. Even if the Nokia interaction style is widely copied, interaction is by no means standardized across manufacturers. Quite the contrary, the manufacturers want to differentiate. People use their mobile phone a lot and interaction patterns get embedded into the motoric memory. This makes people feel "at home" with their old brand and resists changing. As a result, phone manufacturers does not want to change their interaction styles. They want evolution, not revolution. Why change something that has sold billions of phones?
Apple has said that since they are new to the mobile phone industry, they could start with a "fresh view". Not true. Apple does not start with a fresh view. What Apple does, is trying to apply a PC interaction style to a mobile phone. I'm not saying this is bad per se. It's not really new either. The Symbian UIQ used in the SonyEricsson P800/900 phones has used this for many years. The P800/900 phones has not been a runaway success, but these phones are clearly aimed at business users while the iPhone is a lifestyle phone.
I believe the most interesting here is to see if the iPhone's direct manipulation model (big fingers, small screen) can displace indirect manipulation (tactile buttons, combersome manipulation). If it does, it may certainly start a revolution.
But we will not know until we hold it in our hands.