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The iPhone Throws Away Usability for Cool Factor

We usually don’t write about technology usability issues or ergonomics in this blog, but from time to time a technology or ergonomics issue comes across our desk that seems so blindingly, obviously stupid, we have to write. The Economist published this love letter to Apple and we just couldn’t stand it any longer. Take this meaningless passage:

Apple illustrates the importance of designing new products around the needs of the user, not the demands of the technology. […] the iPhone is not the first mobile phone to incorporate a music-player, web browser or e-mail software. But most existing “smartphones” require you to be pretty smart to use them.

Ahh, the Apple iPhone, that pantheon of “Apple design” and hype, slated for release later this month.

This pocket phone/Internet device has been all the rage amongst the technology elite who can’t wait to get their hands on one. But as a phone or texting device, it fails the primary usability need of most users — to use the phone without having to look at it.

[…] The iPhone is a response to the failure of Apple’s original music phone, produced in conjunction with Motorola.

So a response to this failure is to throw out the design book on cell phones and existing battery technology, on usability and ergonomics, and to create a new super-expensive phone that will be challenging for people to use?

I’m sorry, but if I have to look at a keypad in order to make a phone call, then I can’t use your phone. The reasons we have standards (and the reasons touch-screens have never caught on with the public) is, besides smudges decreasing readibility (wash your hands before and after use!), there’s no tactile feel.

Now, maybe Apple engineers misunderstood or underestimated the importance of tactile feel. After all, these same engineers produced many lines and versions of iPods, all of which pay homage to the importance of tactile cues in their controls. Why did engineers working for the same company abandon these same important tactile cues for the iPhone?

I can’t stress how annoying the lack of such cues are on any handheld device meant to manipulated by one hand. Fingertips have a high concentration of nerve endings for a reason — they are very sensitive, even to the slightest indentations or the like. All of which are lost upon the Apple iPhone, which depends on only one of your five sense — your eyes — to operate.

Apple iPhone

And yes, battery life will suffer as well, since that twice-as-large backlit screen will have to be constantly on in order to actually use the device. What’s battery life got to do with usability? Well, battery life is a component many hardware manufacturers don’t often relate to usability, but it is. I can’t use a device if I constantly have to recharge it, or am always anxious about using it for fear of not being around a charging receptacle. How is that “good design?”

This is also not a device, obviously, for the blind. (Yes, blind people use cell phones too, Apple.)

I’m sorry, but the iPhone will likely go down with the Lisa as one of Apple’s blunders in design and marketing. It is a poorly conceived device made exclusively for the digital elite.

See also: Does the iPhone shaft the blind?

The iPhone Throws Away Usability for Cool Factor

John M. Grohol, Psy.D.

Dr. John Grohol is the founder of Psych Central. He is a psychologist, author, researcher, and expert in mental health online, and has been writing about online behavior, mental health and psychology issues since 1995. Dr. Grohol has a Master's degree and doctorate in clinical psychology from Nova Southeastern University. Dr. Grohol sits on the editorial board of the journal Computers in Human Behavior and is a founding board member of the Society for Participatory Medicine. You can learn more about Dr. John Grohol here.

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APA Reference
Grohol, J. (2018). The iPhone Throws Away Usability for Cool Factor. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 1, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 9 Jun 2007)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.