Scripting News for 6/30/2007

Today’s iPhone isn’t a reading device 

Here’s how the browser on my desktop works.

I click on a link and immediately start reading the text on the screen.

When I click on a link in Safari on the iPhone, before I can read anything, I have to futz with the display resolution of the browser to make the text visible. This may not sound like a problem, but what a distraction, when following a link, before getting the idea, your mind has to take a detour into managing the device. In reading as in the movies, suspension of disbelief is broken when your mind has to exit the space of ideas and manage the projection device. It’s wrong for the device to ask you this, even as a setup issue it should be usable out of the box, but it’s unacceptable that it make the user configure the browser every time it displays a new page.

Today’s iPhone isn’t a reading device. It wouldn’t take much to configure the browser to be an excellent reading device, but Apple will have to give up the idea that the browser should work the same as the desktop browsers do. The iPhone is nowhere near as capable as a desktop display. Wishing it were so, and shifting the burden to the user to make it so, is not an acceptable solution.

I thought I could overcome this by creating a special version of a site just for the iPhone that crammed all the text into a narrow column, thinking that the browser wouldn’t see any need to make the text small because it would have all the necessary horizontal screen real estate to display every character at a fully visible resolution.

Nope. It still displays the text in an unreadably small font.

Here’s a photo of the iPhone displaying a test page.

It’s behaving like no web browser I’ve ever seen, and it’s behaving badly. It’s breaking an implicit agreement between all platforms that co-exist on the web. We create sites that assume nothing about the device they’re being rendered on, and browsers should take care to make our text readable for users of their device. The iPhone web browser doesn’t keep that promise.

Caveat about ‘initial’ reviews 

One of the things I’ve learned from being a developer is to keep a notebook with my impressions, the things that confused me, the questions I have. That was before I had a weblog. Nowadays that notebook is public, which helps me share my process with others.

This has a lot of advantages, for one, it gets me answers more quickly. It also teaches other developers how users think, think of this as a small contribution to improved usability in all products. It also provides feedback to the developers of the products I’m using, if they’re listening (I find out later they often are).

So with that caveat — I’m still not able to synch the iPod in the iPhone the way I want to do it. I turned off the automatic synching on the front page of the iPhone panel in iTunes, now all the songs appear, but they’re grayed out. I want to remove them all. I can’t for the life of me figure out how to do it.

Another problem, I tried connecting a set of Bose headphones into the headphone jack on the iPhone. No music comes out the other end. Huh?

PS: I was able to reclaim all the space used by the deleted songs by choosing to Synch only selected playlists, and selecting none of them. When I hit the Apply button magically my used space went from 3.8GB to 0.2GB. I have no idea why this worked, but it did.

Picture worth 1,000,000 words 

Paulo: “Nothing like a good conversation with a friend.”

Initial review of iPhone 

I just spent a couple of hours playing with my new iPhone.

I remember that the first few times I try a new cell phone, I wish it would just work the way my old one did. So I’m trying to factor that in, and imagine what it will be like to use it later, but it’s not easy.

I was able to register with AT&T, choose a service plan, get a phone number, and make a phone call. I was able to use Google Maps to locate my house, and while YouTube was slow, and so was the email app, even though both were running over my fast wifi as opposed to the relatively slow AT&T network, they were all usable and useful, and in some cases represent features the Blackberry doesn’t have, and would be nice to have. But there are optimizations I hope Apple makes soon.

This is my fifth iPod, and it works differently from the last one. I like to use my iPod with manual synchronization, but that doesn’t appear to be possible with this one. I’m not happy about that! I have my iPod act down, and I want to use this relatively small one (it has just a 4GB capacity) the same way I use my larger, 60GB video iPod. It doesn’t seem possible.

Look, all the other people reviewing the iPhone are gushing. I just don’t have that in me, at least at the beginning.

And there’s a major usability problem with the Safari web browser, it’s hard to believe that Apple didn’t see and fix this problem before shipping, because it seems to make all websites unusable in the default configuration, with the default font choice, and there doesn’t seem to be a way to change their choice of font. Is it possible they made this choice so that the TV commercial would look good, and forgot to test the browser the way real people will use it? I must be missing something??

(After watching the commercial I have an idea how this might work. There seems to be a tapping interface that makes the text larger. Hmmm.)

Given that all developers are going to be using Safari as their development platform, this problem seems vexing.

I took a couple of screen shots to illustrate.

Here’s my Blackberry, in its default configuration, being used to read this weblog. You can click on the picture to enlarge it.

The Blackberry isn't very stylish...

And here’s the same site on my iPhone. My eyesight isn’t great, but I can’t imagine even someone with perfect eyesight being able to read this.

The iPhone is elegant...

Has anyone figured out how to change the default font size in Safari?

Postscript about “initial” reviews.

Dan Gillmor: “This feels like a beta product.”

16 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Larry on June 29, 2007 at 11:49 pm

    Dave, to make the font size bigger in Safari, one uses the “un-pinch” gesture on the screen, to enlarge.

    Reply

  2. Posted by Martin Hill on June 30, 2007 at 12:00 am

    Dave, come on, you are not a friggin’ idiot. The model is to present the entire page (thumbnail/preview mode) and you zoom into (double tab gesture and un-pinch gesture) the portion you intend to read.

    Reply

  3. Posted by heavyboots on June 30, 2007 at 1:17 am

    When you click on the Summary tab of the iPhone device in iTunes, there isn’t a checkbox to “Manually manage music”? That seems kind of crazy to me, especially given these are really small devices…

    Reply

  4. Posted by heavyboots on June 30, 2007 at 1:20 am

    Oh yeah, and I’d be sure and watch the “Fingertips” video at apple/iphone. It seems to be sort of a video FAQ for some of the more common tasks.

    Reply

  5. Funny! I don’t even have an iPhone, but from the few videos I saw in the past, I knew the default is to present the whole page, which might probably be hard to read and I suspect I would be able to zoom in the page.

    Maybe it’s because you’re in the Blackberry browsing mindset, which does not have zooming, but is always readable (expect for pictures)?

    Reply

  6. Posted by Chris on June 30, 2007 at 12:48 pm

    Safari can zoom in on DOM structures (with the double tap). It’s the same tech behind the new do-it-yourself widgets that show a portion of a Web page in them.

    Reply

  7. Posted by anon on June 30, 2007 at 12:52 pm

    To the first two posters, did you actually read the issue Dave was having? Obviously he knows that you can make it larger by tapping an area or pinching. He’s looking for someway for the text to be larger by default – whether already being zoomed in or having the text appear larger.

    Reply

  8. Posted by Paul on June 30, 2007 at 12:57 pm

    Dave, I think you’ve got the answers on zooming in to pages (or photographs, and apparently some other stuff). ”

    On the headphones, it has been widely documented that though the iPhone takes a standard headphone jack it is slightly recessed (for some obvious, super-required feature reason upon which they will not comment at this point.

    The solution is a cheap, widely available plug–adapter. I’m sure you could find the exact adapter at an Apple Store, ATT shop, and probably any radio shack. I have some piece of equipment that requires this stupid unnecessary accessory.

    I hope you post the resolution to your synch problems. My synching has gone easier than any device so far, and I am syncing between three machines synching different things on different machines).

    paul

    Reply

  9. Dave, can u send a screenshots by iPhone about this page: http://reader.mac.com/ ? :)

    Reply

  10. Posted by heavyboots on June 30, 2007 at 4:10 pm

    Okay, so presuming its not possible to enable Manual Synching from the Summary tab, then I guess the next step is to make a Playlist called “My iPhone” and mange the music on it from there… All you have to do is add/delete songs in the Playlist and then hit Sync, yes? You’ll just ignore the actual iPhone Device most of the time and only pay attention to the playlist.

    The thing that sucks about that is mostly that it only works from one computer, but at least it should get you a manageable playlist to start with…

    Reply

  11. Posted by Jim Armstrong on June 30, 2007 at 7:53 pm

    You can manually add songs to the iPhone by deselecting the Sync check box. There is no longer a manage music manually check box with iTunes 7.3.

    Reply

  12. Posted by Jim Armstrong on June 30, 2007 at 7:56 pm

    The iPhone headphone connector is recessed for some unapparent reason. Belkin and others sell adapters to enable you to plug in regular headphones and headsets. A Y-splitter that fits into the socket will also do the trick.

    Reply

  13. Posted by Jim Armstrong on June 30, 2007 at 8:00 pm

    A more serious issue is that the Bluetooth output is MONO and not stereo.

    http://crave.cnet.com/8301-1_105-9735818-1.html

    Reply

  14. Jim, I’ve unchecked both synch checkboxes, the one under Options on the Summary page, and the one on the Music tab.

    Yet, when I drag an MP3 into the Music section, nothing happens.

    Still haven’t managed to get a song onto the device in the way I like to manage music on iPods.

    Reply

  15. I don’t see anybody else leaving this suggestion. What about rotating the iPhone 90 degrees, I know its a lot of scrolling, but it seems I heard/read somewhere rotating it in browsing mode makes the text bigger? OT:I was looking forward to you on Cranky Geeks again. Hope its rescheduled.

    Reply

  16. Dave,

    At GrokDotCom, we’re beta testing ContentRobot’s new iWPhone WordPress plugin, and the early response has been great. So, for now, we’re the first to have our blog optimized for iPhone.

    Sure, the iPhone’s early on, but is it really fair to say it’s not a reading device just because developers are just now catching up? Beta, perhaps, but it seems like broader adoption might not be too far off. Of course, not enough sites are optimized for mobile to begin with, but it seems like developers might have an easier time committing to making iPhone a reading device than they have with my BlackBerry. ;)

    Reply

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