The iPhone’s most controversial feature, the omission of a physical keyboard in favor of a virtual keyboard on the screen, turned out in our tests to be a nonissue, despite our deep initial skepticism. After five days of use, Walt — who did most of the testing for this review — was able to type on it as quickly and accurately as he could on the Palm Treo he has used for years. This was partly because of smart software that corrects typing errors on the fly.
Touch-screen interface: To go through long lists of emails, contacts, or songs, you just “flick” with your finger. To select items, you tap. To enlarge photos, you “pinch” them by placing two fingers on their corners and dragging them in or out. To zoom in on portions of Web pages, you double-tap with your fingers. You cannot use a stylus for any of this. In the Web browser and photo program, if you turn the phone from a vertical to a horizontal position, the image on the screen turns as well and resizes itself to fit.
In general, we found this interface, called “multi-touch,” to be effective, practical and fun. But there’s no overall search on the iPhone (except Web searching), and no quick way to move to the top or bottom of pages (except in the Web browser). The only aid is an alphabetical scale on the right in tiny type.
Keyboard: The virtual keys are large and get larger as you touch them. Software tries to guess what you’re typing, and fix errors. Overall, it works. But the error-correction system didn’t seem as clever as the one on the BlackBerry, and you have to switch to a different keyboard view to insert a period or comma, which is annoying.
The iPhone’s “multi-touch” UI, in the upcoming days and months, will potentially establish a whole new set of gestures.
Will the broader market accept these gestures? This remains one of the the most key questions in the future that the iPhone is leading us into.