In my line of work, cell phones come and go faster than mixed drinks on MTV’s Jersey Shore. They’re here, they’re gone and most of the time they’re quickly forgotten. I can’t even recall all of the mobile devices I’ve handled in the past month, let alone the past year. And though hundreds of handsets have crossed my path in the 1,211 days since June 29th, 2007, only one phone has managed to stay in my pocket day in and day out: Apple’s iPhone.
Say what you will about the device, the company, me, my mother, or anything else… the iPhone might be my go-to handset but I have no allegiance to any manufacturer or OS. In fact my iPhone 3GS was almost replaced last year by Sprint’s Palm Pre. I still love webOS but I need hardware that matches the fit and finish of Palm’s great operating system before a webOS device can fly solo in my pocket. And no, unfortunately, the Pre 2 likely won’t fit the bill.
So I continue to carry and use the iPhone because it just so happens to be the device that comes closest to suiting my needs. I almost always have a second phone on me — an Android phone, the Palm Pre or maybe a BlackBerry — but each is just a companion device that rarely gets any face time. Most common tasks are so much smoother on the iPhone than the competition, it just doesn’t make sense to bother with another device.
The iPhone is not a perfect device by any stretch of the imagination, but for me, right now, its the best we’ve got. It has the best build quality and is comprised of the best materials. It has the best display and the most responsive touchscreen. It has the best oil-resistant glass and countless amazing apps. It has the most fluid interface and the best customer service supporting it.
But for every best, there is also a worst. And because the iPhone’s bests are so great, expectations are high and the worsts become much more pronounced. Here, I go through my compilation of the iPhone’s worstworsts.
First and foremost, the iPhone is the worst smartphone I’ve ever seen when it comes to watching YouTube videos. Forgetting the fact that half the videos I try to watch aren’t compatible with iOS, videos that should work with the iPhone are terrible. Over 3G, the quality is horrendous. I get up to 6Mbps with AT&T, Apple — there’s no need to reduce the quality of the videos I’m trying to stream. Then, over Wi-Fi, the quality is spectacular but videos won’t play. Ever. If there ever comes a time when my iPhone can stream a YouTube video over Wi-Fi without choking every 2 seconds, I might pass out. It’s funny how critical Steve Jobs is of Adobe’s Flash when he’s perfectly content shipping this steaming pile of a YouTube experience.
The iPhone also has the worst auto-correct system ever devised by man. It doesn’t learn from habits, which means I have to reject the same changes repeatedly, forever. I also can’t add words, so the only way to get iOS to remember an unknown word is to add it to the address book. And speaking of the address book, I better not have any contacts prefaced with “Mr.”, such as one of my favorite little Chinese restaurants, Mr. Wok. If I do, I need to be prepared to constantly reject an unwanted change every time I type the word “me”.
It seems crazy that iOS still doesn’t support widgets. Widgets are great for grabbing information at a glance, and Apple’s competitors all make wonderful use of widget systems. But not Apple. I want to see the current weather in an instant. I want to see if I have any upcoming calendar appointments without a single tap. I want to see a small collection of items from my to do list. And so on. It’s a little scary that Apple realized how nifty it would be to show the current date on the Calendar icon but it hasn’t yet extended that functionality elsewhere.
And why doesn’t iOS include an easy way to perform simple functions such as enabling or disabling Bluetooth and Wi-Fi? If I want to save some precious battery life and disable Bluetooth when I’m not using it, it takes five taps. Compare that to Android, where disabling Bluetooth takes a single tap on a widget.
On we go, to one of the more popular gripes in recent months — multitasking. Apple is right that there are downsides to a completely open multitasking policy, but there are better solutions than the currently available workaround. State saving is great but Apple is holding developers back by limiting the number of available background APIs to just a handful. Then, it’s ridiculous that there is no way to close an app without saving its state. The iPhone is easily the worst when it comes to clutter in the app manager, and the solution would be all too simple. How about a long-tap on the home button to close an app, fellas?
While on the topic of easy fixes, I should certainly call out the Mail app. The iPhone’s email client is actually pretty fantastic, especially with the new features introduced in iOS 4. In several ways, however, it really is the worst mobile email client on the planet. It’s 2010 and I still can’t set a custom ringtone for new emails. I still can’t view only unread emails. I still can’t flag emails. I still can’t configure a unique email signature for each different email account. And, at least in my case, I still can’t send emails generated in third-party apps because they just sit in my outbox until I open each one and manually resend it.
Finally, my biggest complaint: Apple’s iPhone has the worst notification system known to man. It is, without question, abysmal.
iOS notifications are as disruptive as notifications on a mobile device can possibly be. A box pops up in the middle of the display, interrupts whatever might be taking place at the time, and prevents the user from doing anything else with the device until one of two things happens — the user must either interact with the notification (dismiss it or open the related app) or turn the display off and back on.
Then, when the stars are perfectly aligned, something special happens. The iPhone begins regurgitating an unstoppable stream of successive notifications that render the device inoperable. Calendar alarms, SMS notifications, WhatsApp alerts, banking notifications, new mentions and direct messages from Twitter, missed call alerts, Growl notifications, clock alarms, Words With Friends notifications, to do app alerts, sports scores… all popping, dinging and dancing at once.
I’m sure many users know this scenario all too well — I call it iPuke.
Apple is a company that puts a tremendous amount of time and effort into its user experiences and the results are typically astounding. In the case of iOS notifications, however, the results are downright embarrassing. We know Apple hired the engineer responsible for the webOS notification system away from Palm this past summer, so a complete revamp of the system is expected at some point. But the fact that Apple would release the iOS notification system in its current state is just plain sad.