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Businesspeople Face Steep Learning Curve With iPhone

Most participants complained that their fingers were too large for the iPhone touch keyboard, and more than half preferred the feel of an actual key, a new survey reveals.

Businesspeople and others who use their phones regularly for text messaging are likely to experience lots of frustration in using the Apple iPhone, at least in the short term, a research firm said Thursday.

A usability study conducted by research and consulting firm User Centric found that people who use QWERTY phone keyboards, a favorite among BlackBerry and Treo smartphone users, took twice as long to type the same message on an iPhone. People use to the multi-tap system on a conventional mobile phone, where a user taps a key multiple times to get the correct letter, weren't significantly faster on the iPhone.

"The device (iPhone) itself has innovative and interesting technology, but that does not necessarily mean that the touchpad is innovative," Gavin Lew, general manager of User Centric told InformationWeek. "It's a feature for business users and those who send text messages frequently that at the end of the day is just a touchpad."

The touchpad has been around for a longtime in consumer electronics, so the 20 participants in the study were familiar with the interface. The frustration came over the sensitivity of the iPhone keypad, which resulted in 11 errors per message versus 3 errors when the same message was created on the participants' phones. Ten of the participants owned phones with QWERTY keyboards, and 10 had phones with multi-tap systems. None of the participants had ever used an iPhone.

Most participants also complained that their fingers were too large for the iPhone touch keyboard, and more than half preferred the feel of an actual key, which they claimed helped them type faster. Only seven of the participants figured out how to use the predictive and/or corrective text features on the iPhone during the 30 minutes they worked with the device.

The study required each person to create a total of 12 messages -- six on the iPhone and six on their phones -- of 104 to 106 characters, including spaces. Six of the messages contained eight to 10 instances of proper capitalization and punctuation, the rest didn't.

The study did not give any indication whether the participants could get faster on the iPhone over time. The purpose of the research was to determine how steep the initial learning curve would be. Lew said users of multi-tap phones, which are inherently inefficient, had the best chance of eventually finding the iPhone faster. For QWERTY keyboard users, however, it would take another study to see if they could save time with the pricey gadget.

"We found that QWERTY users will have a period of adjustment," Lew said. "They may overcome (the issues) or they may not."

The study was not User Centric's first on the iPhone. Research conducted shortly after the iPhone was released at the end of June showed that buyers found text entry and e-mail difficult on the device. The participants, however, liked the iPhone's music playing capabilities.

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