By Harry McCracken | Tuesday, April 6, 2010 at 10:48 am
When Apple started inviting journalists to a press event this Thursday to discuss the future of the iPhone OS, I made a mental note to publish a list of features I’d like to see. Then I remembered: I already composed a wish list back in June of last year, on the day iPhone OS 3.0 was released. It’s not precisely the inventory of desires I’d come up with today, after spending many months with an iPhone 3GS and trying out competitors such as the Droid. And if I were asking for new iPhone OS features today, I’d be just as likely to request ones that were iPad-related.
Overall, though, my iPhone OS requests from last June are a lot like the ones I still have. So (after the jump) here’s my original story, with “2010 thoughts” embedded where appropriate. After Thursday’s news, I’ll take a look at how closely Apple’s list of Necessary iPhone OS Improvements mirrored mine.
What would you like to see in iPhone OS 4.0 and beyond?
I’m not sure how operating-system version numbers translate into human years, but this I know: 3.0 is still well short of adulthood. Windows 3.0 was the first version that was recognizable as Windows at all; Mac OS 3.0 came along so long ago that I don’t remember anything about it.
So it’s no knock on version 3.0 of the iPhone software to say that even though it contains 100 new features–some of which are a big deal–there are plenty more it could benefit from. What follows is a highly personal list of stuff I think this OS needs–and as far as I know, none of it is in OS 3.0. If we see some of it in OS 3.1, and more in 4.0, and a sizable chunk by 5.0, I’ll be a contented man.
I said the list is personal, but I tried to be realistic. It contains nothing that I can’t see Apple enabling, or which would require new hardware. I also didn’t include multitasking or Flash support on this list. They’ve been covered to death, and my gut tells me neither is coming to the iPhone soon. Consider them features #26 and #27 if you like, though–and I do suggest some things that might lessen the need for them.
Ready to celebrate the release of OS 3.0 (which is due later today) by being dissatisfied, nitpicky, and generally unreasonable? Here we go.
iPhone OS still needs…
1. Home screen folders. The iPhone desktop is made up of a super-wide, horizontally-scrolling workspace, so it’s possible to sort different sorts of apps into their own screens. But moving them around is a hassle, and you can’t jump directly from any screen to any other one. I want something that the old Palm OS had eons ago: The ability to easily organize apps into folders. [2010 thought: The iPad really needs this.]
2. A Home screen that flips into landscape mode. Most of OS 3.0’s apps now let you work with the nice, wide keyboard enabled by rotating the phone 90 degrees. I’d like to be able to use the phone almost continuously in landscape format if I felt like it–which I guess means that the settings screens and App Store should flip as well as the desktop. [2010 thought: the iPad already has this]
3. A roomier dock. Quick access to four apps isn’t enough. If the OS let you optionally turn on a second row of icons (or even a third or fourth one) we could get to more of our most-used programs without having to slip-slide our way around the Home screen.
4. Help for third-party apps that want to support landscape mode. I’m not an expert on what Apple’s SDK does to assist programmers create apps that work in both portrait and landscape form, but I take the fact that relatively few do as a sign that it’s not a cakewalk. My old AT&T Tilt phone ran Windows Mobile, and just about every application that should have supported both orientations did. I’m assuming that Apple’s OS will need to go resolution-independent at some point to support new devices with different screens, so the time to make it easy is now. [2010 thought: I think the OS actually does assist with this, though I wish more developers took advantage of it.]
5. A more programmable Home button. In iPhone 3.0, double-clicking it can reportedly launch Search, your phone’s Favorites, the camera application, or the iPod features. Shouldn’t it be able to launch any app on the phone–Apple or third party? [2010 thought: Supposedly, the rumored new multitasking feature in iPhone OS 4.0 lets you tap the Home button repeatedly to cycle through apps.]
6. The ability to delay Slide to Unlock. Whenever the iPhone is shut off–either because you turned it off yourself or it timed out–you must Slide to Unlock to get back to the Home screen. That makes it hard to pocket dial the phone, but it’s annoying if the phone just turned itself off right before you wanted to do something. I’d like to see the ability to delay the autolocking by a user-specified amount of time. And hey, why not let us disable it altogether if we feel like it?
7. Access to attachments by third-party applications. No iPhone office suite will be truly satisfying until it’s possible for it to open, edit, and save attachments directly from the Mail app. The OS still sandboxes all data so apps can only touch their own files, but Apple can and should make an exception in this case. [2010 thought: It does for photos, but I’d like to see it open up a lot more broadly. The iPad has a similar, useful feature: third-party apps can sync files via iTunes.]
8. A better Notes application. iPhone 3.0 gives Notes the ability to sync with Macs and Windows PCs. It still features a lined-paper-and-marker interface that embarrasses me slightly every time I use it, though–at the very least, you should be able to switch to something more mundane and professional. I’d also like to see the ability to attach photos to a note. Maybe Apple thinks the existence of powerful third-party note-takers like Evernote eliminates the need for it to beef up Notes, but I’d still like to see something more substantial. [2010 thought: The iPad has the same wacky Notes app.]
9. A to-do list. It startles me that Apple has done ambitious, enterprisey things like make the iPhone work with Microsoft’s Exchange server, but that the phone still doesn’t ship with a task manager. I use and like Remember the Milk, but still find it odd that OS X’s iCal has a to-do list that doesn’t talk to the iPhone at all.
10. Human Interface Device support. The OS now lets third-party applications talk to peripherals through the dock connector–such as Johnson & Johnson’s glucose meter–but as far as I know, there’s still no way to create the one iPhone add-on I most want to buy. Which is a folding keyboard along the lines of the lovable and useful Stowaway. If Apple baked support for the Human Interface Device (HID) standard into the OS, you’d be able to use a physical keyboard anywhere where the on-screen one was available. [2010 thought: The iPad supports keyboards, so I assume/hope there’s an excellent chance that the iPhone will, too.]
11. A useful Slide to Unlock screen. You can choose an image to show up when you turn on your phone but haven’t slide to unlock yet, and that’s very pleasant. But how about providing the option of putting information there that might help us avoid having to unlock the phone at all? It would be a nifty place to put appointment details, headers for recently-received e-mails, and the like. Bonus points if there’s an API that lets third-party apps funnel information to the display, too. [2010 thought: The iPad has feature sort of along these lines–you can peek at whatever app is open without unlocking the device.]
12. Background music for third-party apps. Once you’ve used the Palm Pre version of Pandora and streamed music in the background while doing something else useful or entertaining in the foreground, it’s hard to go back to the iPhone–where every music app except for Apple’s own iPod stops playing the moment you launch a different application. If Apple doesn’t want to offer full-blown multitasking, how about providing hooks that let any audio app–Pandora, Last.FM, Slacker, AOL Radio–keep playing music in the background even after you close them? Seems pretty simple to me, and it wouldn’t cause stability problems. [2010 thought: Of course, full-blown multitasking–which is rumored to be in OS 4.0–would be better still.]
13. The ability to subscribe to podcasts and sync them directly on the phone. As far as I can figure, you can snag individual episodes of podcasts you originally subscribed to via iTunes on a Mac or PC. But you can’t subscribe to them so they arrive on your phone whether or not you’ve synced with a computer. I’m in favor of the notion of iPhones being as autonomous as possible, and this would be a significant step in that direction. [2010 thought: This is available through third-party apps.]