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Monday, April 19, 2010

lost iPhone: might not be a coincidence

An Apple employee lost an iPhone at a bar. Now, maybe it was done on purpose, but that's kind of unclear. If we assume it wasn't, I think it's quite possibly an indication that this phone is easier to lose than the current iPhone. My reason for thinking so is because of repeated observations about the way people use their iPhones and the way they use their BlackBerries.

Basically, BlackBerries aren't as thin (front-to-back) and the corners aren't as smooth, so it's harder to shove them into your pocket . Also, the buttons and scroll wheel can get caught on creases or seams in the fabric of your pants, such as the fifth pocket that most jeans have inside the front right pocket. As a result, people are way more likely to just set the BlackBerry on the bar instead of putting it in their pocket. Then they get drunk and leave it there.

This is also related to the fact that BlackBerries cultivate more addictive behavior by virtue of the push email. Sure, the iPhone has had push email capability for a year or two but I don't think most people use it. Conversely, most BlackBerry owners don't know how to turn it off (if it is even possible; I don't actually know). The consistent interruptions create behavior patterns where people are addicted, and check for new messages every few minutes (that is why they are so frequently called CrackBerries by people who have had them for a while). Combine this with the chore of shifting your weight so you can dig it out of your pocket and you have a device that people can't help losing, all the time.

The new iPhone looks like it might be significantly boxier, and somewhat harder to shove into your jeans while seated at a bar stool. Also the buttons look like they might have a bigger profile (so they can get caught on the fabric). The result may be a phone that people are bound to lose.

This could be a really big problem. iPhone owners are often social people (one of the strengths of the iPhone is the simplicity with which you can manage contact lists that stretch into the thousands). They are also typically people who have a few extra bucks to spend at the bar. If this is indeed a characteristic of this new phone, it will rear it's head many many times.

Losing phones has become extremely common, and I have always felt that the iPhone is a great phone to lose because if you are even remotely responsible about connecting it to your computer, and have told it to sync with your address book, you don't miss a beat. You plug in your new phone and it has everything including the history of your text conversations. If you use MobileMe and have push notifications enabled, you can also erase the data on the iPhone you lost. There is no need to respond to every text with "Who is this? I lost my numbers" and no need to make a BS facebook group begging your friends to take the time to have pity and send over their numbers.

I don't blame Apple for giving people reasons to get new iPhones. However, traditionally, they have been positive reasons that people could feel good about. Losing a phone that costs $500 to replace is a relatively negative experience for many of the young people who adore their iPhones. I understand that a bigger enclosure facilitates better computing, but at what cost? I trust Apple to find the right trade-off here but I just wanted to add this note of warning because the thin profile is one of the things I love most about my phone. What can I say, I wear tight pants sometimes! And I like shoving it in my pocket while web pages are loading so I'm hands free and ready for action, not standing around like a tool.

There is probably a better design coming for the next iPhone, but what do I know about that? I just hope it works for my needs.