Glaring Omissions

After some patience, I finally got my iPhone situation sorted out: I’ve now happily left Verizon Wireless behind and am using my new iPhone on AT&T with generally satisfactory results. I tried AT&T’s wireless network for about a week in 1998 but dumped it quickly because its signal quality at the time was just plain unacceptable in New York City. So I’ve been very pleasantly surprised by how often my calls sound clear and strong; the network has obviously been significantly improved. The voice network, that is. You can pretty much forget about the company’s EDGE network for any sustained or urgent Internet access.

But that’s not what I’m here to complain about today. Rather, I want to point out a couple of conspicuous deficiencies in the iPhone. Don’t misunderstand me, I’m generally delighted with it; without a doubt, it’s a breakthrough device and, more importantly, it’s fun to use. But there are two significant and, to my mind, glaring omissions in the design of this product.

Missing in Action

First up is the lack of .Mac integration. As I wrote before its release, I was rooting heavily for the iPhone to work intimately with Apple’s rag tag collection of Web services. A revamped .Mac could provide on-the-fly synchronization from anywhere — it would be like a dream come true. Except it hasn’t come true yet, so I guess it’s just a dream, still. But it irks me — no it amazes me — that I can’t enter data into my iPhone and have that data synchronize with my Mac until I’m within the computer’s immediate proximity — indeed, not until I’m physically close enough to attach the iPhone to the Mac via a short cable. That seems incredibly old fashioned to me.

Second, I’m somewhat astounded still that this device does not include a clipboard of any kind. I can’t copy, cut or paste, period. In fact, I can’t even highlight strings of text, an operation so basic to the past few decades of computing that Apple’s brazen decision to leave it out seems outrageous to me. In a practical sense, having no clipboard means that if I come across a particularly interesting or useful passage on a Web page via the iPhone’s Safari browser, I can’t copy it and bring it over to the (basically useless) Notes application for safe-keeping. I also can’t copy a friend’s instant messenger handle from my contacts database in order to use it in one of the Web-based I.M. clients now jockeying for iPhone user attention. I also can’t copy text from an email to use inside a new email message… The list goes on, and it’s annoying.

Looking forward to Change

It’s probably an ill-advised exercise to draw positive inferences from egregiously negative evidence, but for me the saving grace of these two omissions is this: there will likely be some nontrivial changes to the architecture of the iPhone operating system sometime in the next year. It just doesn’t seem sustainable to me that a so-called ‘smart phone’ can stave off the inevitable addition of a clipboard, to begin with.

Nor does it seem likely that, if Apple is serious about reinvigorating its long-languishing .Mac product, it will do so without some significant integration with the iPhone — that’s a no-brainer. And, as long as I’m predicting these enhancements to the system, I may as well also say that they only seem like a step or two shy of actually opening up the platform to third party developers. Though I hate to set myself up so effectively for continual disappointment, I’m rooting for all three to happen.

  1. Indeed, your examples are glaring enough for sunglasses, but are probably not the most blinding. Based on my casual observations of the public’s response to the iPhone, I assume the lack of MMS support and widescreen keyboard availability for every app (read: Mail) are the top disappointments.

    See, also, my compiled list of other quirks which could be fixed with “changes to the architecture.”

  2. Yes, the lack of .Mac wireless sync baffles me … to the point that I’m ready to say goodbye to my .Mac subscription. It’s there. It’s 100% accessible, yet they continue to neglect it. I’ll continue to hope for an elegant solution from Apple when we get that all important first update.

    I can live with most of the quirks … it’s a phone, so I don’t expect it to was the dishes. The one thing that drives me crazy is the lack of consistency in the mic/remote. I listen to iPod on iPhone while I walk to the station. when I get to the station I click once to pause and begin reading — right now, On Writing Better, great book. When I leave the train I click once to resume playback. Now, the problem enters. Sometimes playback resumes. Sometimes it doesn’t. I’m not doing anything differently from day-to-day/train-to-train. I know this seems pedantic, but it’s annoying. I have a book in one hand and a bag in the other. When playback doesn’t resume I have to pull the phone out of my pocket, juggle the bag and book, click, slide, press play, click, and return it to my pocket … and pray I don’t drop the thing.

  3. Your hopes for the .Mac integration are part of the reason I finally broke and set-up a .Mac account. It makes complete sense that if the iPhone is to be viewed as a ‘satelite’ of the main computer that it should be able to sync from anywhere it has a signal.

  4. I can imagine that the lack of copy and paste is an annoying factor in the whole iPhone User Experience. But isn’t that an indicator on how right apple did things as well?
    I am using a Nokia E70 here in Germany and I surf the web quite a lot with that device. I haven’t heard or read anything or anybody complaining about the missing or not working clipboard. I do remember that I saw a copy command somewhere but I never figured out how it works and you can not select anything inside the webbrowser as well. Obviously nokia users are not demanding this or are satisfied with what they because it is already better than they expected.
    But iphone users are really complaining about this issue and I can’t stop believing that this is the best proof of how much Apple did right. The iphone seems to be a real smart phone because people expecting desktop computer alike behavior.


  5. @Meikel: Press and hold down the little Pencil icon on your N70 keypad, then use the joystick to select text you want to copy. The copy command will appear at the lower left of the screen. Go to where you want to paste text and press the pencil again, the paste command will appear in the lower right of the screen.

    It’s a little fiddly but I use copy and paste on my Nokia N95 (and past phones N80, 6630, NGage) very frequently.

    The lack of copy and paste would be a real hassle to me if I had an iPhone (being in the UK I can’t get one yet!).

  6. I doubt the .Mac integration thing was an omission. more just a priority.

    How many iPhone owners will have a .Mac account. It’s imagine the number is tiny. Also, talking about the silly ‘physical limitation’ of having to be near your computer to sync seems a little odd to me. People generally carry their phone with them, so if you’re at your PC, then you’ve iPhone there too.

    The copy&paste thing will be interesting. The UI isn’t naturally geared towards that kind of action, and though it too, isn’t a priority, I’d imagine that Apple may eventually come up with an innovative way of dealing with it.

  7. It is my opinion, based on what we saw announced for leopard that .mac synchronization will be brought to the fore when the new services ships with leopard. Also I’m sure the notes facility will prove much more useful upon the arrival of Leopard. Meanwhile, I wait with all my euro brothers for the euro version.

    Has anyone else thought that some of the hype surrounding the iPhone was brought on by the fact that is the one of the first mobiles to ship first in the U.S.? Just a thought.

  8. I have a feeling the .Mac syncing will be addressed in October with Leopard. During the D5 interview with Steve Jobs and Bill Gates he mentions that .Mac has been sorely neglected and they have plans in the works to do a major overhaul of it to allow for better and more features.

    It makes sense that you’d use the .Mac service to sync up your iPhone…

    After October if there’s nothing, then I think the letter writing to Apple should be really kicking off.

  9. My theories:

    .Mac integration: remember the rumors that Apple was working with Google on updating .Mac? Now remember that .Mac is meant for Mac users and that not all iPhone users will also be .Mac users (because they come from PC or they just never got .Mac). Well what if the Google rumors were true and Apple will update .Mac to use Google for live iPhone sync?

    Copy and Paste: Apple can implement this using the magnifying glass tool combined with multitouch. Using the magnifying glass convention (and the rules that determine when it shows up vs when to scroll), use one finger to select the starting point for the selection. When your second finger hits, the first magnifying glass disappears and the second appears to choose the end point. When you lift both fingers, a cut/copy/delete dialog shows up and off it goes into the clipboard.

    Of course this is all in theory and in practice, it may be harder to implement for exception cases (like maybe your thumbs are just too big to select small phrases) and maybe Apple’s just tuning it so it works better.

  10. AT&T had a CDMA network in 1998, and it rolled out its GSM network in the early 00s, which is why I switched to it in 2003 and probably why you’re seeing better signal strength than before. At the time, I thought AT&T would get a better selection of phones, being a GSM network, but it took the RAZR and the iPhone to make that true, finally.

  11. I couldn’t agree more with the points in this post. Lack of copy/cut/paste is MADDENING on my iPhone. And no .Mac syncing is equally so.

    I’m holding out hope with you that both will come in time.

  12. I got a Moto Q about 2 months prior to the iPhone introduction, and it is classified as a Windows Mobile “Smart Phone.” After playing with the iPhone a few times in Apple Stores, I can say with much certainty that the iPhone is more of a “smart phone” than my Q will ever be.

    That aside, my so-called “smart phone” doesn’t have any semblance of a copy/paste function without 3rd party software (Which most users are unaware of, or don’t use.) Therefore, while I agree that Apple *should* have included the functionality, they are on par with the vast majority of offerings in this arena.

  13. Khoi, I was thinking about your .Mac syncing thing. It sounded great to me at first. And it still sounds like a “duh” feature that ought to be simple to implement. But, after thinking about it, I wonder how useful it really is. Consider the use cases:

    I add a contact on the road. That contact needs to get into my home computer(s). It could go over the network via .Mac and be there on my computer when I get home. Or, I could dock the phone when I get home and it would be on my computer. Either way, it’s basically on my computer when I get home. I guess the .Mac syncing thing saves you a few minutes, but not much.

    And, going the other way: I’m on the road with my phone. i’m obviously then NOT at my home computer, so I can’t add a contact (or bookmark, or whatever) there. So, my iPhone should be the latest-and-greatest copy of my data. .Mac syncing is no help in this case, either.

    There is ONE use case I can see it being really beneficial for. I have an iMac and a MacBook, plus an iPhone.I sync my iPhone with my iMac. But when I go on the road, I take my MacBook and iPhone. It would be nice to have those two in sync on the road, even though I won’t be connecting up my iPhone to my iMac.

    So, while I do think there’s some utility there, and I hope they add the feature, the more I think about it, the more I do think it probably should have never been very high on their priority list. When you consider the number of people that really gain something from it (people who have at least two Macs, one or more of which is a laptop, and have an iPhone, and have a .Mac account, and elect to sync their iPhone with a desktop computer instead of one of their laptops), I can see why they didn’t go there.

    Yet, anyway. 🙂

  14. Agree with the .Mac omission, but if I remember correctly from the last Steve Keynote this will be coming with an update that it timed with Leopard. Jobs pretty much laid out the Personal InfoCloud around the update to .Mac.

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