iPhone 3.0

I’ve just finished reading an article purporting to reveal what Apple needs to “fix” to keep the iPhone competitive. The correct answer is, of course, whatever it’s currently doing is just fine. It’s like asking what Honda needs to do to remain competitive. The iPhone is going to be “competitive” for quite a while even if Apple does nothing because nothing its competitors have produced or demoed but not yet actually produced can actually face off against the iPhone as it is right now.

The Good

Copy and paste does seem overdue. I don’t think anyone would argue that.

Faster CPU. If we can have a faster CPU without losing battery life (or better yet, while gaining battery life) then definitely.

Faster GPU. See Faster CPU, above.

The Bad… er Difficult

Search. Not being able to search emails, notes, appointments etc. is hugely annoying. This is why I use gmail (in Safari) over the built-in mail program (by the way, it works brilliantly on the iPhone — great example of an iPhone web app) — it lets me search my mail server-side. Apple could provide this kind of functionality via the built-in mail program for MobileMe and gmail customers, but not for arbitrary IMAP back-ends since it isn’t downloading your entire mailbox.

Video. This seems like a no-brainer — except that the microphone points the wrong way, so audio is going to suck.

The Stupid

Multimedia text messaging. OK, I’m not a big SMS user so I’m not really one to judge this, but my guess is that Apple is hoping that iPhone users will realize that the correct answer is email. The reason we can’t use email the way we use SMS is purely a UI issue. Being able to attach video clips to SMS messages is just retarded.

3.5MP camera. It’s not the megapixels, it’s the sensor size, lens, and the image processing.

Being able to run background apps is supposedly a killer feature. Even Guy Kawasaki thinks so! Well, let’s find out what people think of the Palm Pre’s battery life when apps run in the background before we decide the iPhone must have this feature. It seems to me that gaming performance and battery life are stupendously more important than running background apps to most users. I’d suggest that just possibly providing apps with a very limited ability to keep a lightweight background process running (or handle certain events) might be a good idea, but actually background apps is just stupid.

Thinking Outside the Box

OK, ignoring engadget, here’s some of my thoughts as to what Apple should be doing with iPhone 3.0 (or 4.0 or whatever).

I’d like to see a Message Center app on the iPhone that unifies SMS, email, phone calls and voicemails, to dos, and calendar reminders. (I’m surprised this wasn’t part of iPhone 1.0 as it seems like the whole point of the iPhone.) You could simply filter it as you saw fit. You could reply to an email with an SMS, or phone a person who just sent you email, or email someone you have an appointment to see. This would be clever and innovative (and useful). It would also reduce the number of app icons you’d need to bother with.

I’d like to see more flexible lists, and UI innovation in general. If you make a lists vertical, then you can only list 8-10 items. But if you use grids you can list 32-40 items. Or 28-36 items + a single line display to show more information about whichever item you tap. Some more flexible UI elements could make more efficient use of screen real estate where appropriate.

Here’s a simple thing — do a better job of picking which keys to make available by default on the on-screen keyboard. E.g. it would be really nice to have “@” and “.” available on any keyboard inside a web form. Oh and I’d like the autocomplete popup to be made about 50% bigger so I can actually tap on it reliably.

I’d like to see some standardized on-screen game controls that would transparently be mapped to hardware controls if and when available. (I always thought Apple shot itself in the foot by not giving the original Mac a standard game controller (joystick, etc.) that developers could build against.) This lets game developers use standardized controls (e.g. virtual joysticks, 4-way and 8-way controllers, etc.) and gives Apple the option of creating or licensing hardware game controllers (either built-in or as accessories) in the future.

And finally, a Modest Proposal

I’d like to see Apple allow Macs to run iPhone software. Apple could obviously do this (the dev kit lets you do it). Suddenly, there are more games for the Mac than there are for the XBox 360, PS3, PSP, Wii, and DS.

I’d like to see Apple allow the AppleTV to run iPhone software. Again, since AppleTVs are in fact low-end single-core Macs, see previous item. Suddenly, Apple has a credible set-top box.

Note that these last two suffer from the problem of Macs (and AppleTVs) lacking multitouch. So it’s not quite so simple. My standardized game controllers idea is something of a prerequisite… or the alternative which is providing an iPhone-like multitouch controller for Macs.

  • Michael Case

    Multitouch may not be such a problem for the AppleTV if the rumours of the Wii-style “magic wand” are true.
    http://www.appleinsider.com/articles/09/03/12/apple_exploring_magic_wand_controller_for_next_gen_apple_tv.html

    Of course, Apple already make two multitouch devices that, in theory, could be used as game controllers. Not entirely out of character for them to expect you to own either an iPhone or iPod Touch to get the full benefit of the platform. (Personally, I’ve been hoping for a version of the Wireless keyboard with a multitouch trackpad in place of the numeric keypad. Which isn’t on the wireless keyboard anymore, anyway. And it wouldn’t be that great as a game controller. It would, however, be good for managing a media centre from the sofa.)

    As for iPhone 3.0, I would kind of like to see background apps. I realise this would most likely compromise performance, and would definitely be a battery suck. I’d live without it if they allow tethering. It’s a bit frustrating that I’m not allowed to use my iPhone in certain ways because of restrictions put in place by AT&T.

  • Tethering would be a huge win. (Of course the obvious problem from AT&T’s point of view is that you tether it to a Netbook running Skype.) Personally I’d like to see Apple notebooks feature an iPhone “socket” that made the notebook cellular, and docked and recharged the iPhone.

    Wouldn’t it be nice if one of the phone companies tried to compete by changing its business model to suit the way the technology actually works, instead of continuing to enforce bizarre rules such that this bunch of data packets is way more expensive than that one.