three weeks on the phone: are we literate yet?

We’ve been living with iPhones for three weeks now and it’s still a toss up between Christmas and hell. Essentially, the phone is another computer – one that does voice but really just another computer. So we have to learn to deal with another set of computer idiosyncrasies: typing issues, restarts, crashes, syncing, settings…. The reading and writing spaces are different again from laptops and even the Palm TX that I’ve been using for the last year and a half. Learning a new interface brings forward the affordances we learn to work with in writing and reading. Writing on the iPhone is a little like 10th grade typing class and a little like using PC Write. I wrote a 130 page thesis in PC Write, and I got a B in typing.

I’ve been using the iPhone as a notepad while I was fixing a server snafu this last week. Useful that way. I emailed myself annotated extracts from man pages that I had reviewed on a laptop that I could refer to as I worked, and it was useful to have a second screen to work from.

(On the other hand, composing sentences on the touchpad makes for some really annoying and sophomoric constructions. Composing on point is influenced by the means of input. I handle a keyboard better than a touchpad and a pencil. The more rapid the input the more compositionally sophisticated I can get. I’m making sytax moves on this keypad I would never make on a keyboard. Crap moves that demand an editing to clean up. And they are not oralisms.)

As a notepad ok. As a writing space for more extended prose, not so good.

Access to stuff is brilliant: newsfeeds, proper news, Flickr, podcasts, mail, maps. For access, the iPhone almost replaces a laptop – but it’s best when the data has been scraped and formatted for the screen; there’s lot to be said for web apps and standalone reader apps. A laptop is more versatile; it can make more stuff accessible more readily. But the iPhone is far more portable for the typical stuff I need to do. Sort of a Mini Cooper compared to a Toyota.

Games and drawing apps: pretty good. Easily equal to a laptop – as long as the game is designed for the small screen. Card games can’t simply be ported. The card faces need to be redesigned for the small screeen. Compare solitaire games and you’ll see. Pips aren’t necessary on the small screen.

Always on – always connected. This is interesting because I find myself doing things I hadn’t done before. I can check prices online while in the store. I can take pics and upload on the spot. Viv and I can share lists.

Ok: These are mundane uses, either unnecessary or easily handled in other ways. Yep. Superfluous. Bourgeois. Silly. Mundane.  But it passes the time.  And what’s mundane can be valued by others. Historians pour over 13th century shopping lists to get a sense of day to day life.

Most recently, I added a nifty WordPress plugin to this blog that handles displaying it on the iPhone. A lot of sites are going to need this sort of re-fit to be really useful on the phone – especially for education. It’s a matter of usability design.