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Sarin to Jobs: your sneakers stink and your GUI sucks

Playground taunts

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Vodafone chief Arun Sarin is relishing a fight with Apple's Steve Jobs - and he aims to wound. But it's a throwaway remark the Financial Times published on Monday that caught the attention. It was surely designed to create maximum personal offence.

The iPhone offers the user a "a pretty poor experience", said the boss of the world's biggest phone network.

Can this be right? Jobs regards himself as a Prophet of the user experience, whose wisdom is then perverted by charlatans. Apple's multitouch UI for the iPhone has been described as the biggest advance in usability since the Mac.

It's hard to see what Sarin could have said that was more calculated to offend. Well, he could have said that Jobs didn't appreciate the beauty of good typography, or that the Mac had always had too many buttons: but these are easily refutable.

So the corporate dick-measuring contest between Vodafone, the world's biggest mobile phone operator, and Apple, gets personal.

(After this metaphor, dear reader, count yourselves lucky that we don't employ the kind of extremely literal-minded art director employed by one US business weekly. The magazine illustrated its story about the wheels coming off the iPhone bandwagon last week with an picture of an iPhone. With wheels. That were coming off.)

But does Sarin have a point?

It's unthinkable to American iPhone fans, where silent sobriety rules, and iPhones are contemplated in the Zen-like silence their inventor surely intended. But he might just be onto something.

Having used both implementations of multitouch on the market - the iPhone and the iPod Touch - I can safely say that the breakthrough UI suits the "viewing device" much better than the phone. The Touch is quite sensational - how could a simple music player be any better?*

Why does the iPhone then not do so well, on a device that's essentially the same? It's in how you use it. Europeans and Japanese users simply do a lot more texting than Americans - where few people over 25 have ever got into the habit. And entering text - which is rarely needed on the Touch - is the iPhone's Achilles Heel (tipping the iPhone into landscape model may fix this - a larger keyboard should appear here in landscape mode, but doesn't. Entering text in landscape on the Nokia N800's "huge"-sized keyboard really isn't a chore).

Nor is that the full story. A PoP (Plain Old Phone) is simply better in what we might call "adverse situations" - such as making a phone call from a tree while trying to rescue a cat, while driving... or being bladdered.

The coming few weeks will tell.

Britons spend December in a foggy cloud of Christmas Parties, work booze-ups - and then into the final straight of the holiday break itself: family get togethers in which reality is best tempered by even more alcohol. The whole country, I noticed when I returned for my first British December in years, looks like a bouncy castle.

Trying to text with an iPhone in such situations makes you want to chuck it against a wall. It isn't a fatal flaw. But it's splendidly ironic that Californians have designed a device based around "motion" - that requires the human to be perfectly upright and still.

Round here, what are the chances of that happening? ®

Slurred words to the author here please.

*Bootnote With internal stereo speakers, of course. The only practical Touch drawback.

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