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It’s very pretty, but… the iPhone 4 is bad design

Hello, new friend. iPhone 4!!!I really don’t think one can argue, in terms of usability as a phone, that the iPhone 4 is well-designed or in any way a masterpiece. It’s simply plagued by too many design flaws for this to be true.

Whoever thought “Hey, let’s make a phone that has a solid glass front and a solid glass back!” should be fired. It’s the single most stupid design choice in any mobile phone that I’ve seen and I’m somewhat flabbergasted that Apple is the one behind the choice. It’s a device which begs to be dropped and broken.

What’s more, although the iPhone 4 is lighter than the iPhone 3GS, the iPhone 3G, and the original iPhone, that lighter weight is packed into a thinner, smaller package, making the iPhone 4 much more dense than its siblings. Many reviews have painted this as a positive, describing the iPhone 4’s feel as sturdy and solid and, in comparison, making its predecessors feel like flimsy toys.

There are two problems with this:

First, it makes one think, however subconsciously, that the iPhone 4 is actually sturdier than it is. All those flimsy toy feeling predecessors could be dropped multiple times without breaking (provided that the iPhone didn’t land flat on its face on an non-flat surface with no give). As we’ve all seen the multiple cracked screens and backs on the iPhone 4, it simply isn’t sturdier than its predecessors. It is more easily rendered totally useless by a simple 4 foot, dropped out of the pocket or knocked off the desk, type of common drop. And since it feels sturdier, you’re subconsciously going to treat it less gingerly than you probably should. Again: double glass surface = idiotic design flaw.

Secondly: the density of the design makes the iPhone 4 feel heavier than it actually is and the squared edges feel more uncomfortable if you’re holding the iPhone 4 in any single hand for any extended period of time. That being said, holding it two-handed in landscape mode for game playing actually provides an improved grip over its predecessors.

The other major design-flaw is one that will only affect left-handed users who happen to naturally hold their phones in a certain way. I, it just so happens, am both left-handed and predisposed to hold my iPhone in this way. Yes, previous model iPhones also suffered from dropped signal when held this way, however, the iPhone 4 is the only phone I have ever owned which consistently always drops the call entirely when I hold it the same way I have held phones my entire life. I don’t think Apple would be eating as much crow about the so-called “death grip” issue if they hadn’t made such a big deal at the iPhone 4’s unveiling of the amazing design of their antenna. However, they did and there’s a small percentage of users out there, like myself, who this issue actually affects, while there’s a lot of people who haven’t had any dropped calls but just hold the phone and go “Oy! Look the bars dropped!” Unfortunately, Apple looks to be addressing the concerns of the latter group, rather than helping the ones, like myself, who they have actually screwed with this horrible design choice.

Of course, there is a simple solution for both the highly breakable double-glass design and the dropped signal (which I refer to as the call kill switch): get a case (which I reluctantly did). Unfortunately, it seems the vast majority of people covering this issue online think that that means that these are not huge design flaws. Those people are simply wrong.

Getting a case kind of begs the question: why on earth did Apple decide to favor appearance over functionality in the design of the iPhone 4 when the only solution to the bad design is to cover the iPhone 4 with a case, which in effect renders the beauty of this useless-without-a-case device moot? I don’t have a good answer for that.

Now, there are definite positives to the iPhone 4. The double cameras with improved quality and the ability to record video in 720p HD is a *great* set of added functionality to the iPhone 4. Likewise, the new “retina display” is very nice. But, mark my words, when the iPhone 5 or iPhone 4G, or whatever it will be called when it arrives next summer, comes out, it will have these features and a new non-double glassed design and the amazing all metal band antenna will have gone the way of the dodo. I’m 99% certain in this prediction.

Also, two things to munch on: While the retina display is very pretty and nice, I think the main reason Apple spun this display improvement so much is so that they could get App developers making iPhone apps that look better on the iPad’s large screen when pixel-doubled. Also, a certain percentage of the “improved reading” that you get out of the retina display is owed to the new font being used and the way it’s being rendered on the screen by iOS 4 complete with more RAM than any other iOS device.

Also, total aside here: iOS 4 is buggy as hell. I can’t wait for the first update. Any emails sent from any app other than Mail.app end up stuck in my Outbox folder until I send them from there. I’ve done a full restore and this still happens. I’ve had multiple apps crash when I’m using the new app switching features of the OS. Also, I recorded fireworks in HD the other night using the video camera and it was actually showing up nicely. Unfortunately, the video is lost, because my iPhone 4 decided to warn me that it was running out of room too late and I could effectively do nothing with the video or my iPhone until I deleted the video. It went into a really crashy state. Also, iMovie for iPhone 4 fails to export movies that are predominantly slideshows of images. I made a movie of my son’s Christening and it is currently permanently stuck on the phone with no way to export it. Every time I try it crashes.