iPhone: Two Hands or None?

Will the antenna problem with the iPhone 4 derail Apple or is it just a speed-bump

Two Handed Phone

Most cell phone users have a short list of regulars on “speed dial”.

My list includes my home, office, wife’s cell, and a few close friends.

I suppose I should add my mom to the list also — luckily not many of my mom’s friends are likely to read this …

On my (former) BlackBerry, calling these numbers was as simple as pressing and holding a button on the keyboard however things are a little more tricky with a touch-screen based device such as Android or iPhone.

This loss of a keyboard for placing calls quickly was one of my chief concerns before taking the plunge and unplugging myself from my BlackBerry. How do I make calls to the regulars?

I,and perhaps you, have become very dependent upon speed-dial. So much so that memorizing numbers really wasn’t something that crossed my mind, interestingly enough.

And I am not really a big fan of voice-activated dialing. Some voice recognition implementations are better than others. I have a friend who owns a voice-activated GPS system that “wakes up” when you mention its name. His kids have learned that the GPS unit also wakes up to the phrase: “I’m Smellin”. I guess that sounds like Magellan?

I consider the iPhone, and most Android devices for that matter, to be two-handed devices because of their lack of a keyboard and their penchant for swipe this way and that. I made that remark to one of the iPhone zealots in my office and his response was a cool, “I have two hands, so that is not a problem”.

OK, so I made little progress with him and to be fair, after living with my Nexus One Android device for a couple of months now, I have learned to be more proficient than I anticipated without a physical keyboard. As a brief aside, I certainly send fewer emails because tapping out an email is such a painful experience but I have made some progress with shortcuts on the home screen and the like.

No hands?

One thing that certainly never crossed my mind was the idea that holding the phone a certain way would destroy call quality — such as is faced by the iPhone 4.0 early adopters.

Yes, of course, holding the phone under my tinfoil hat does impair the call quality a bit, but day to day usage of a phone should not be impaired because you are holding it in a certain manner with your bare hands. All the more so if the form factor of a touch screen device makes the majority of usage performed with “two hands”.

Depending on you speak with, the problem ranges from a easy-to-reproduce defect to a non-issue.

So, just how big a deal is this problem? Even the usually silent folks at Apple have had to own up to it — sort of. Everything is spun by Apple — their response is basically an attempt to tell users the “right way” to hold the phone! Funny, the earlier versions of iPhone didn’t need the “right way” to hold the phone to have clear call quality? Must be an upgrade experience! Feels a little like the Emperor and his lack of clothes story to me.

Can it be patched?

There are some rumors of Apple releasing a software patch to address the physical problem. And of course there is no shortage of comments on the ‘Net about how Steve Jobs is going to turn this into cash flow:

  • The iPatch — a software download available for Mobile Me subscribers to improve call quality. A great way to drive subscription sales.
  • The iCase — because real iPhone users are too cool to actually hold their phones any longer.
  • E. T the app — A new app in the App Store named E.T., complete with a bag of Reese’s Pieces and an old bike. You can make calls in half-duplex.
  • The iPad — because everyone knows the call quality on smart-phones stinks and it makes more sense to use a candy bar/feature phone and have an iPad/tablet for data purposes anyway.

The iPhone 4 Patch
The iPhone 4 Patch (Source: iphonesavior.com)

This kind of feels like the Toyota acceleration problem, only Apple should fare better in the end than Toyota. That is until the U.S. Government decides to take over Google like they did Government Motors. Until then, my guess is that Apple will be fine, even if they wind up repairing/replacing millions of iPhones.

Hopefully for the early adopters the iPhone 4.0 can be mentioned in the same breath as the Hubble Telescope — the successful recipient of an in the field upgrade to rectify some reception problems.

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