21 July, 2007

IPhone goodness

Okay, before you write this post off as another fan boy review, let's get a few things straight. I'm not a fan boy of anything. I don't care who makes your computer: it's still a computer. I write this blog because I believe that we need to start looking at technology as a tool to address our limitations. By the way, we all have limitations whether we were born with them or not. My interest in technology is not to say, "this company is better than that company". I'm far more interested in looking at a particular problem such as my inability to dial a traditional cell phone without making my fingers scream for mercy, figuring out the best solution to address my problem and then, getting the appropriate software and/or hardware in place. I don't choose a wheelchair based on who the manufacturer is! I buy a chair because after doing my research; and that's important; the particular model I finally choose is the most appropriate one for my daily living. We really need to get to a point where we choose PCs the same way. I have cerebral palsy, as most of you know and consequently, I run a large mixture of devices and software. Some of it's from Microsoft, and some is from Apple and likewise, some of my most important software is from companies that neither Apple nor Microsoft may not have heard of. And that's the way it should be. Always remember that PCs whether they run Windows or OS X, should do what you the consumer need them to. If you tried to reverse that, everything falls apart. Therefore, it's not about company loyalty. It's about solving problems efficiently and getting things done in a way that makes sense for each individual user. Now class, does anyone actually remember what the term PC stands for? Anyone... anyone...? Personal computer. If the device/computer/operating system you're using right now doesn't work for you, you need to do two things.
1. Research what works the way you would like to.
2. Demand better software. Really take the time to think about what you'd like your software to do and exactly in what manner you would like to achieve that. Be specific and tell the PC manufacturers/software giants your ideas. They really do want constructive feedback. Most importantly though, remember, these devices are supposed to be designed to make you and I more productive in the ways that We need them to. Not all devices/computers/operating systems work best for all people. But today, I'd like to discuss one device that has made a difference to me: the iPhone.

I have been using this device for a little while now andI could go into great detail about why it's easier than any other traditional cell phone I've tried, but I think the best way to really make the point is with a little story. I wake up one morning; morning ritual of checking e-mail after getting out of bed and surfing the tech news sites as breakfast is being prepared by my morning PCA (personal care assistant) when, something on the Apple site catches my eye. Steve Jobs keynote from MacWorld is available on demand. So after I finish all my morning activities such as dressing, eating, and of course, visiting the restroom, my staff person can leave for the morning and I am free to watch the keynote. I make it a point to always watch keynotes and product launches from both Microsoft and Apple or for those of you that like to quibble over semantics, Apple and Microsoft :-). So I'm expecting Steve to discuss the latest iMac or PowerBook and what's he talking about instead? A cell phone. Okay," I thought, "Apple is going to release another cell phone that I will never be able to use." Then, Steve begins to describe the user interface saying, "we're going to touch this with our fingers". I was intrigued. Then he demoed the device. It wasn't the touch screen iPod that sold me, although that's awesome. It wasn't the SMS messaging that sold me. Why would I use any kind of keyboard ever?! Being able to flick through photos with your finger is pretty cool, but that's not what sold me. You want to know what sold me on the iPhone? I'm sure it will surprise you :-). It's the ability to make calls without ever having to dial a phone number.My particular case of CP impacts my dexterity and fine motor control and as a result, dialing a long number is extremely difficult. When I saw Steve make a phone call in about three taps of his finger, I was hooked. I knew this was an answer from abovve. I call my mother at her work immediately to share my excitement. She diddn't quite understand exactly what I was talking about the next day when she came to help me in the afternoon, I showed her the keynote. I was all set to try to explain why this device was going to be helpful when after we had been watching the presentation for a few moments, she turned to me saying, "you'd better save up to get one because you need it." Those of you who don't know my mother may not understand that she's not like me. I understand technology at a very high level she understands why some technology can be helpful, she usually requires that I explain why and exactly how it will be helpful to me. Not so with the iPhone. And I have to tell you, that's amazing.

So how is the phone in reality? Wonderful. Be careful not to assume that because I said it's wonderful that it's also perfect. We do after all, need something to shoot for in version 2.0 :-). If you're blind, at the moment, you're not really going to be able to use the iPhone. That will come, I'm sure. Apple does make one of the best integrated screen reading systems I've seen in the opeerating system. It's called voice over, and it's included with OS X. so I don't think it will be too long before we see some kind of implementation of the same technology on the iPhone. The phone is TTY compatible with an adapter (purchased separately through the Apple store). The touch screen is terrific. I can't speak for everyone with cerebral palsy because it impacts everyone differently but for me, the iPhone is able to interpret my gestures nearly perfectly. Most of the "buttons" are large and friendly and easy to tap and over time, because the buttons are all virtual, I believe we will see some way to make them even larger for those that need such things. In the meantime, iPhone 1.0 is a promising beginning that is changing the way I use a cell phone. For the first time in my life, I have been able to set up my own voicemail on a cell phone. I'm musing about 90% of the applications available on the phone which is, light years ahead of what I did on my old phone. There, I used about .1% of the phone capabilities because the buttons which were physical button, were so smaall! The iPhone is different. It's not perfect. It's not fair that those who are blind can't use the phone now, for instance! But the phone is so simple and so elegant to use. It works the way I think about computers and mobile devices. When I think of computers and other smart devices, I do not visualize myself interacting with them using a keyboard and mouse. That's just not the way I work. I may have trouble pushing tiny little plastic buttons on most cell phones, but the iPhone allows me to just tap the one finger; it doesn't matter which finger; to get everything I need. II do have two important complaints about the iPhone, and here they are.

1.the virtual keyboard does work well for a keyboard, but why is there a keyboard at all? Apple spent all this time developing a beautiful touch screen interface and yet... you still have to use a keyboard (albeit virtual) for e-mail? Why?? Where is the dictation engine for e-mail? They say iPhone runs OS X. Okay boys and girls, if the iPhone does indeed run OS X, where is the speech recognition for e-mail? I realize that the "Apple speakable items" is only for command-and-control speech recognition, but my point still stands.

2.the iPhone cost $499 for the 4 GB model. That of course, doesn't include the two-year contract with AT&T. The 8 GB model is $599. Again, that's before a two-year service agreement. The iPhone is a very important device and whether the initial version in usable to you or not, the innovations introduced in the phone will impact everything. I believe that this is the most user-friendly mobile phone (for consumers) ever made. But if we're going to get it to people with disabilities like myself, over all, the price of the unit needs to come down.
The iPhone does work as advertised. It does so even for me for the most part without mistakes. And I know that because this is the initial release, the software will only get better from here.

No comments: