iPhone, therefore iTap and tap and...

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Ah, morning—time to check the overnight e-mail that came in over the iPhone. Let’s get to work!

Press the iPhone’s power button. Tap the screen (that’s screen tap #1) and drag the unlock slider. Press the Home button to get back to the main screen from whatever app I was using last on the iPhone. Tap (#2) the Mail icon. Oops, I left the iPhone reading a message the last time I was in Mail. Tap three times (#3, #4, #5) to get back to the list of accounts.

It’s on this screen where you’ll notice a big change from OS X’s Mail program. In OS X’s Mail application, the top-level folder is the global Inbox, and then within that folder, each of your accounts is listed separately, letting you easily view all of your new e-mail at once by just selecting the top level Inbox folder. On the iPhone, however, there is no global Inbox. Instead, the main Mail screen just shows a list of your accounts. You have to open each account to see the Inbox (and Trash and any other folders associated with that account).

After the iPhone has retrieved the new e-mail, it’s time to check the new messages in the first account. Tap (#6) the account name, tap (#7) the Inbox in the list of folders associated with that account, and then tap (#8) into and (#9) out of each new message. Want to mark all of them read at once (say, if they’re all spam)? Sorry, can’t do that. You have to open each e-mail to change its status. OK, done with that account, so I’m looking at its list of messages. Tap (#10) Inbox to go back to the list of folders for that account, then tap (#11) Accounts to go back to the list of accounts.

Time for the second e-mail account. Three taps (#12 through #15) to get into the account and then into a new message, then three taps (#16 through #18) to get back to the account list. Without counting the taps to read each e-mail, that’s six taps to dive into a given account, read one message, and then jump back up to the account list. So far, I’ve used 18 taps to check two e-mail accounts. But there are three left to go, so add another 18 taps to check those three. That makes a total of 36 taps (perhaps as “few” as 33 if I hadn’t left Mail reading a message on my last use) to check the new messages in five e-mail accounts. Any way you count it, that’s a whole lot of tapping!

Much of this could be avoided if the iPhone featured OS X Mail’s unified Inbox view. By adding a new “All Inboxes” box on the list of accounts, for instance, I would be able to check all of my e-mail with only about 10 taps (only counting the taps required to open the first new message, of course, not all of them).

There are other tap-heavy aspects of the iPhone’s interface: deleting a contact requires four taps (after the two or three taps required to get to your contact list). Dialing someone’s phone number requires at best two taps, but perhaps four or five, depending on where you were and where the number you wish to call can be found. This isn’t necessarily bad, of course—it’s a direct result of the iPhone’s lack of physical buttons. On my Treo, there are six hardware buttons that can be used regardless of which program you’re running. On the iPhone, there’s just one (the Home button). While this keeps the design clean and reduces the learning curve, it definitely leads to (tap… tap… tap…) more work to accomplish certain things.

Now pardon me (tap… tap… tap…) while I go off to surf the Web for a bit.

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