Elliot Jay Stocks is a designer, speaker, and author. He is the Creative Director of Adobe Typekit, the founder of typography magazine 8 Faces, one half of Viewport Industries, and an electronic musician.

The iPhone can make you a better person

Posted on 30 November 2007 15 comments

Article illustration for The iPhone can make you a better person

Well… perhaps.

If you’ll forgive the intentionally sensationalist title, there’s actually a semi-serious point behind it; namely, that the iPhone – or more specifically a more readily-available mobile web – is changing the way that we communicate. Ok, nothing earth-shatteringly profound about that, I admit, but in just a week’s use of the iPhone, I’m finding myself responding to more e-mails, replying straight away instead of waiting several hours (or days, or weeks), and just generally getting a bit better at staying in touch.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m crap at replying promptly to friends’ e-mails. I think several of my friends have pretty much given up on me because of it and I don’t blame them at all. But now I’m making a conscious effort to change (after all, I used to be good) and the iPhone is letting me do that, simply by giving me easier access to my e-mail and the web at large. Well, this is nothing new, I hear you say. Mobile e-mail has been around for ages and the Blackberry is testament to its popularity, but the difference is that the Blackberry is largely confined to business users, where as the iPhone is more of a consumer device. Plus the fact that it’s so much nicer to use, of course! But I won’t go into that here…

Now, at this point I should probably admit that the mobile web (at least in the UK) is – let’s face it – not much more than a pipe dream. EDGE coverage is shoddy (and raising a worryingly bad connectivity problem) and access to the country-wide WiFi network The Cloud (which O2 customers are meant to get as part of the tariff) is even worse. In a week, I’ve only been able to access The Cloud twice: in a pub and a train station in different parts of the country.

However, I’ve still found myself getting better at replying to e-mails, even if I’ve had to compose a message on a train and wait until I get into a station to send it. The O2 iPhone plans are some of the first in the country to offer unlimited data at a decent price, and this is quite clearly going to pave the way for others; the mobile web – even in its infancy – is now becoming more of a viable opportunity for the average user. I’m also thankful for the huge number of iPhone-specific web apps such as Hahlo or iphone.facebook.com. At first I was very much against segregating browsers, but with the data connectivity in its current state, I’m quite happy to be served up a ‘lite’ version of my most-visited sites.

Some of you might rightfully be saying that if I wanted to keep in touch with my friends more effectively, I should just call them. Well, yes, there is that, but it’s also not practical for the majority of of the time. Like me, most of my friends find e-mail (plus Facebook messages and the like) the most effective form of contact, especially over distance.

So what about you guys? Have you found a similar pattern with your own iPhone usage? I’d like to hear from some of my American chums who’ve had the device for almost 6 months: has anything changed over this time period? What about Canadian users? Data plans have always been extortionately high in Canada as well as the UK, so I’d be interested to hear if anything’s changed. Share your thoughts!

15 comments

  1. Malarkey

    Malarkey

    30 November 2007 @ 04:00PM #

    Strange. Apart from one or two hours of non-service, I’ve found EDGE to be pretty good, even up here in North Wales.

    But I agree, my iPhone has already paid for itself and has made me keep my Inbox at zero easier than ever before.

    Andy

  2. Replete

    Replete

    30 November 2007 @ 04:15PM #

    I suppose nobody uses the internet, let alone the mobile internet, it in our fake country! :)

    It’s about time we had flat-rate DATA plans, the costs are ridiculous. If coverage was at all dependable, voip would be an option when mobile as well.

    What on earth are the networks going to do when people realise they can voip with their iphone on an unlimited plan?

  3. Syrion

    Syrion

    30 November 2007 @ 05:04PM #

    I’m using internet on my pocketpc’s for years now. Granted: not EDGE, but GPRS. But using it mostly for e-mail, IRC and instant messengers you don’t need much bandwidth.

    The first phones with email already appeared in the nineties. I think because a big/cool company steps in a lot of new people will enter the pocketpc/smartphone-market, even though the technology has been around for years.

  4. Tim Van Damme

    Tim Van Damme

    30 November 2007 @ 05:37PM #

    I love my iPhone for the fact that it’s some kind of “node” for my Mac. It gives me a lite version of everything I have on my working station. I now tend to shut down my computer an hour earlier, and spend more time with my girlfriend (you CAN watch TV and check mails/surf at the same time). I also watch more Podcasts now, as they are automagically downloaded and synced with the phone!

    I’ve been using it for 3 months now (I live in Belgium, we don’t have decent data-plans over here…)

  5. Antoine

    Antoine

    30 November 2007 @ 05:50PM #

    Clearly love my iPhone too, only waiting for a decent data pack here in Belgium since the iPhone hasn’t been released here yet ;-)

  6. Josh Stodola

    Josh Stodola

    30 November 2007 @ 08:36PM #

    Apparently the iPhone can also make you a poster boy.

  7. Matt Munsey

    Matt Munsey

    30 November 2007 @ 09:02PM #

    I’ve had mine since August, and I completely understand what you are talking about Elliot.

    Probably the biggest thing for me was it helped me to remain connected with clients. The quality of support I was able to give jumped a lot just because I was able to keep in touch no matter where I was. If a client had a problem with their site, they could zip me an e-mail and I would get it more quickly and I was able to reply more promptly. I think it is a great little business tool.

    My level of communication with friends and family also increased quite a bit as well. The freedom of having all my communication needs packed into this handy dandy device is well worth it.

  8. Hamish M

    Hamish M

    30 November 2007 @ 09:18PM #

    I don’t have an iPhone. But I think what you’re saying can be applied, at least to a certain extent, to the whole mobile paradigm as a whole — it’s being able to do things on the move, things that you would normally have to do while sitting at a computer, or with a laptop (which is portable, yes, but not exactly something you pull out of your pocket)

    I recently bought a new cell phone, and a data plan (which is all stupidly expensive here in Canada) but I’ve already found it very handy. I can use the Gmail application to read and reply to emails on the go, and Opera Mini proves to be a very capable replacement of my phone’s rather lame built in browser. It’s great to be able to check Wikipedia on the fly when you’re not sure about something. I guess my only qualm is the slowness of the EDGE network (though coverage here in Montreal is quite good)

    I hope the market continues to develop with better speeds and coverage, and I really hope that carriers — especially here in Canada — will lower their prices.

  9. Luke Smith

    Luke Smith

    30 November 2007 @ 09:25PM #

    Hi have a number and a letter for you folks – 3G. This is the main reason I haven’t bought an iPhone.

    I use the GMail application on my phone with Opera as the web browser and with 3G it is lighting fast – much much quicker than even the best EDGE connection. I also have a fantastic data package as part of my Orange contract (which I have had for well over a year) and it works a out great deal cheaper than the very poor iPhone packages offered by O2.

    I still have much iPhone lust though and when they do a 3G version on a descent network I’ll be the first in the queue!

  10. Mike Tomasello

    Mike Tomasello

    02 December 2007 @ 05:26PM #

    I’ve found GPRS more than adequate for e-mail on my iPhone (I actually get more Wifi coverage than I do EDGE around here). Loading sites can be slow on ‘heavy’ web-sites, but for e-mail there’s no problem.

    @Luke Smith: That’s wonderful. I use the GMail IMAP on my iPhone and it is lightning fast – much much quicker than even the best Ajax interface with a T3 connection.

    Maybe it’s because I don’t exactly get immense volumes of e-mail, but 3G for e-mail seems overkill.

    My last phone was 3G and I used Opera Mini on it for browsing web-sites. It was a vast improvement over previous mobile web offerings but as slow as O2’s data network can get it’s worth it just for MobileSafari.

  11. David

    David

    03 December 2007 @ 12:40AM #

    I live in San Francisco, and I’ve had an iPhone for only a couple of weeks. The user interface is a pleasure to use, and I agree with you that it is making me much more responsive to my email. I’m generally averse to actually calling people, but the iPhone makes it easy to send text messages. It almost feels like a mobile IM client. My old phone had SMS capability, but it was a pain in the ass. So I rarely used it. Really, I think the interface is key to the phone. I had a Palm Pilot several years ago, and I returned to using pen and paper to manage my schedule because the interface was so bad. Apple’s attention to the user experience had definitely gained me as a customer. I’ll be moving to a mac with my next laptop.

  12. Anup

    Anup

    03 December 2007 @ 05:57PM #

    I haven’t tried an iPhone but have to admit I’m tempted- and that’s coming from someone who generally dispises anything Steve Jobs is involved with.

    From what I’ve seen I don’t think it’s as revolutionary as the ever enthusiastic Apple fans seem to claim it is. There’s nothing that hasn’t been done before and there are many better devices for people who are serious about e-mail and web (Blackberry). I can’t ever imagine writing an email or even dialling a number being quicker or easier with a touchscreen compared to something with a Qwerty keypad.

    But it looks so darn good I can’t help but find myself wanting one.

    On a different note- I’m really pleased to see you’re doing so well for yourself and doing something you love (and are clearly talented at) for a living.

  13. Elliot Jay Stocks

    Elliot Jay Stocks

    04 December 2007 @ 01:02AM #

    Thanks for all your thoughts, guys!

    @ Tim Van Damme: I think you summed my own feelings up perfectly. Although it could be argued that having the iPhone in my hand while Sam and I are snuggling up in front of the TV might actually be a nuissance, it does mean I can escape from the computer more often… and that ultimately leads to more quality time together.

    @ Anup: I’m really glad you got in touch – it’s great to hear from you after all this time! I really appreciate the kind words, too. A proper e-mail will be on its way to you soon.

    To everyone who mentioned Opera Mini: I agree that it’s a great browser. I used it on my Sony Ericsson k800i right up until I got the iPhone, and it’s certainly nicer than the default one shipped with the handset.

  14. John Stephen Jones

    John Stephen Jones

    08 December 2007 @ 02:44PM #

    One thing I am finding when browsing the web on the iPhone, is that it becomes difficult when the page has links all over the page and close together. It becomes a bit of a nightmare when trying to scroll down the page on the touchscreen. One mis-placed digit and you go to a different page. Fixed width sites seem to display the best as there is white space to the left and right which makes it easier to scroll without touching a link by mistake.

    To Echo Andy:
    “Strange. Apart from one or two hours of non-service, I’ve found EDGE to be pretty good, even up here in North Wales.”

    My edge connection is great. A pub 100 yards up the road comes under the cloud, so the connection from my house is ace. Had no problems whatsoever with Edge connections, even here in South Wales.

  15. Andrew Lewis

    Andrew Lewis

    05 January 2008 @ 01:10AM #

    I’m a canadian iPhone user, and I’ve only recently been able to use my EDGE connection, due to the insanity of mobile data costs in Canada. It seems like some of the providers are starting to get a clue and offer unlimited access, and if they keep going that way I think it will really change the mobile internet in North America. We might actually catch up with the rest of the world. I can’t wait!

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