How Apple Gets It, part 94: user interfaces

In the middle of a whole bunch of Enterprisey nonsense in the Steve Jobs keynote just now, I noticed a new feature in the latest version of the iPhone software: a better way of typing in passwords.

On a normal computer, when you type in a password, whatever you type is replaced by asterisks. That's fine, because you're using a standard keyboard that you presumably know how to use accurately. On the iPhone, though, you're using a more clumsy virtual keyboard that, if you're not 100% accurate or you have fat fingers, can easily result in you pressing the wrong "key" by mistake. As someone who has had to type in passwords on an iPhone (e.g. to authenticate a wireless network), it's frustrating to think that any of the characters you entered could be wrong, and you don't know.

The new iPhone software has a wonderfully elegant solution: everything other than the most recent character you typed is replaced by an asterisk. The most recent character, however, is displayed normally. If someone shoulder-surfs you somehow, the only thing they get is the last character you entered. You, on the other hand, know immediately if you mis-keyed part of the password and can immediately correct it.