iPhone 5 Tryout Reveals That Smartphone Ergonomics Need More Thought

NEWS ANALYSIS: The tale of the sad end of my brief fling with the Apple iPhone 5 illustrates the equally sad state of smartphone ergonomics where cool design trumps usability.

As I wrote in my Dec. 12 column, I went to the Apple Store and bought an unlocked Apple iPhone 5 to see what it takes to get it running on T-Mobile’s network.

A week later I went back to the Apple Store and returned it. The story of my ill-fated fling with the iPhone 5 does disprove one popular saying. You really can be too thin. In the case of the iPhone, it made the device impossible for me to hold and to type on.

But first, here’s the good news. The iPhone 5 worked perfectly on T-Mobile’s network in the DC area. The Washington, DC, metro area was one of the first to be refarmed to the 1900 MHz frequencies that the iPhone uses. And while T-Mobile supports 42M bps per second, the iPhone works at 21M bps, but it did work and worked well.

The other good news is that T-Mobile CEO John Legere told me in a phone call that the company was working to make the iPhone setup instructions easier to find and follow, and he said that the T-Mobile stores located near Apple Stores would have a greater supply of nano-SIM cards.

When I visited one of the T-Mobile stores that previously had been out of stock of nano-SIMs, this time they had a good supply. T-Mobile can clearly move very quickly when they need to. Encouraged, I took the iPhone with me when I traveled to Richmond, Va., for the weekend.

It was during the trip to Richmond that I discovered that I really couldn’t use the iPhone. During the trip I tried to use the iPhone for everything I would normally use a smartphone for. I read e-mail. I wrote e-mails. I tried to do some file editing. I used the iPhone to look up Extra Billy’s Barbecue, where you can find some of the best smoked meat in that part of Virginia. But what I couldn’t do well was type.

When I tried to type on the iPhone’s keyboard, I found that the keys are too small for my admittedly big fingers. Now you have to understand, I’m a big guy and my hands are really big. I can thumb-type on a full-size iPad. When I typed on the iPhone, the typing area and the keys were simply too small to use effectively. The results were predictably jumbled.

In all honesty, Apple’s frequently maligned auto-correct wasn’t the problem. Auto-correct was overwhelmed by the magnitude of my typing chaos. I wondered if Siri might be cowering in fear over what I might type next.

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash is a freelance writer and editor with a 35 year history covering technology. He’s a frequent speaker on business, technology issues and enterprise computing. He covers Washington and...