The murmur of the snarkmatrix…

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Phone solo

Noted layabout Jason Kottke writes about one of the unexpected virtues of the iPhone; it’s easy to use with one hand.

People carry things. Coffee, shopping bags, books, bags, babies, small dogs, hot dogs, water bottles, coats, etc. It’s nice to be able to not put all that crap down just to quickly Google for the closest public restroom (aka Starbucks)…

My wife spends about five hours a day breastfeeding our daughter and has only one hand available for non-feeding activities. That hand is frequently occupied by her iPhone; it helps her keep abreast (hey’o!) of current events, stay connected with pals through Twitter & email, track feeding/sleeping/diaper changing times, keep notes (she plans meals and grocery “shops” at 3am), and alert her layabout husband via SMS to come and get the damned baby already.

I think it’s fairly easy to dial and answer any cell phone with one hand. It’s the fact that you can almost perfectly use smartphone functions with a single hand that set the iPhone apart. I used to have a Blackberry Bold — it bit the dust around the same time my arm did — and while I really liked a lot of things about the hardware, you really couldn’t use it well with one hand. In particular, the virtues of fast thumb-typing on a mechanical QWERTY keyboard seem a lot smaller when that particular grip is impossible for you to pull off.

Now I’ve got an iPhone, and the ability to use the thing one-handed is one of several features that makes it the perfect phone for me. (Let me also say, after my venture into Blackberry land — if you primarily use a Mac, it’s silly to have another smartphone. If you’re on Windows, do what you feel.)

Jason mentions my recently broken arm in his post, along with a tweet I wrote: “They should have an ad — ‘If you’ve got a broken arm, this is the perfect phone for you!'” Jason also points out that many folks have disabilities more permanent than mine which make it hard for them to use both arms/hands; this observation really touches me, since I have a relative with a congenital upper limb difference whose left hand is prosthetic. Also, several of my good friends from rehab have had spinal injuries that greatly limit the full use of their limbs.

Generally, I would say that while I was actually pretty conscious of accessibility issues before my injury, I have a completely different understanding of it now, as I’m navigating the world in a wheelchair, trying to both capture and manage the attention of random passers-by, totally aware of just how much function I have, and that (unlike my friends) I’ll be hanging up the wheelchair in just a few weeks. (Rehabbing the arm will take a while longer.) Your cheerfulness about the situation varies almost directly with your autonomy — and the iPhone is GREAT at making you feel autonomous. Innovation in interface design isn’t just about creating a cooler experience. It’s about giving more and more people a shot at that experience to begin with.

One comment

The iPhone is great one-handed computer, and mine never leaves my pocket because you never know how it could come in handy. Being able to play Scrabble while walking the dog is foolish, but in other settings, it’s good to have something so small, unobtrusive, and quiet. The absence of clicky buttons or other moving parts makes it feel less like technology and more like an extension of my arm.

When my young child had trouble sleeping, I’d often have to get up and rock her to sleep. That process sometimes took a while, so being able to go through Google Reader with my free hand on a low brightness setting saved my sanity. Similarly, it’s great to have access to Kindle books in bed. The white-text-on-black-background is easier on my eyes and doesn’t wake my sleeping partner.

There are only two remaining “problems” to solve, but I think they’re tricky: headphones and battery life.

I wish something could be done about the mess that is headphones. Wireless headsets are pricey and don’t work well. Conventional earbuds are a tangled pile of junk and get caught on things. They look silly, too.

Battery life is the one area where the Kindle tops the iPhone. The Kindle can soldier on for days without a charge. The iPhone only lasts more than a day if I refrain from actually doing anything with it.

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