25 Features iPhone OS Still Needs

In which I offer Apple some suggestions for OS 3.1 and beyond.

By  |  Wednesday, June 17, 2009 at 12:39 am

14. Window-spawning control in Safari. Safari’s ability to keep up to eight pages open at once is mighty handy–but it becomes a hassle when your capacity is maxed out, and a link is trying to spawn a new window and can’t until you close an existing one. Given a choice, I might tell the browser to always open a new page in the same window unless I specify otherwise–possibly by tapping the link and holding.

15. Hooks to allow the embedding of additional video players in Safari. Apple’s deal with YouTube means that you can play YouTube videos that show up on pages in Safari. Sites such as Joost and TV.com already have iPhone apps. How about letting them (and other sites such as Viddler and Vimeo) them enable Safari integration through some sort of API that permits their embedded videos to launch their apps for playback?

16. A Genius feature for the App Store. I’m shamelessly swiping this from TechCrunch’s MG Siegler–the App Store should analyze the programs you’ve installed and kept, and recommend others you might like. It might be tough to implement well (the fact you’ve downloaded one Twitter client doesn’t mean you’ll want half a dozen more), but it would be a boon for games, productivity apps, and other general categories where many of the store’s 50,000 apps languish in undeserved obscurity.

17. The ability to use any song as a ringtone. I guess Apple is still hoping we’ll repurchase all our music from the iTunes Store in ringtone form–although for reasons unknown, it does offer the ability to create custom ringtones from any track in Garage Band. Me, I sometimes want my phone to ring to a song that Apple won’t sell me at any price–like Don Ho’s version of “These Boots Are Made for Walking.”

18. Automatic backup to the cloud. Which is something the Palm Pre does, helping to eliminate the need to connect the phone to a computer; if you ever need to recover an old version of your phone’s data, it can grab your backup across the Net and restore itself. Again, I’m in favor of anything that helps the iPhone behave like a stand-alone computer, not a computer perihperal.

19. Syncing plug-ins for third-party apps. As long as the iPhone does assume that you’ll frequently connect it to your computer and shuttle data back and forth, how about allowing any application to move data during the sync, as Palm’s old desktop software has done for ages? DataViz had to go as far as to write its own Mac and Windows document-syncing utility for Documents to Go, which is kind of silly.

20. Energy Saver. On OS X, you can quickly adjust settings for longer battery life or better performance. How about an iPhone equivalent that lets you choose a low-power mode (dim screen, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi shut off, fast power off) or a more power-hungr, less restrictive one with a single click?

21. 2G phone mode. I’m not sure if OS 3.0 solves this, but there are places where my iPhone 3G is unusable as a phone in 3G mode, and just fine in 2G mode–yes, I’m looking at you, Courtyard Marriott on Second St. in San Francisco. I’m still unclear on the virtue of making voice calls in 3G mode, so I’d like to have the opportunity to put the phone in 2G mode for voice while leaving it in 3G mode for data.

22. Information on how much memory stuff takes up. If you try to download a piece of software from the App Store and don’t have enough space, your iPhone will politely tell you to delete some items to make room. What it won’t do is tell you how much space you need to clear, or how much your songs, videos, and programs eat up. Maybe it can display this information when you press and hold an application’s icon on the Home screen to go into delete/rearrange mode?

23. Sensible settings. There’s no consistency among third-party apps as to whether they put their settings in the app itself, or tuck them away in the phone’s Settings screen. And even Apple’s own settings are a bit of a jumble, with some options sitting behind a “General” menu item and others out in the open. Which means I never remember where to look for what. It’s an odd aberration in an OS that’s wonderfully logical and consistent. I’d like to see Apple clarify how settings should be handled–I’m okay with almost any scenario as well as most applications do it the same way.

24. iChat. At this point, I’m assuming that Apple is happy with third-party instant messaging clients–it’s invited both AOL and Meebo on stage at events to demo their wares–but it would still be good news if an iPhone version of OS X’s iChat showed up. Especially if it were integrated with the Messages application and offered (on the iPhone 3G S, at least) some form of video chat.

25. GPS-based Wi-Fi. Okay, maybe this one is idiosyncratic. Maybe I’m the only one who wants it. But I like to use my iPhone’s Wi-Fi whnen I’m at home and within easy access to my recharging cable and to shut it off when I’m out and about and concerned about battery drain. My iPhone can use GPS to determine when I’m hanging around the house. Why not let it use that knowledge to turn Wi-Fi on when I’m there, and then shut it off when I hit the road?

Okay, I’m done. Once you get your hands on iPhone 3.0, lemme know what you think–especially if you discover any ways to accomplish any of the above via workarounds, third-party apps, or features I simply don’t know about. And I’d love to hear your to-do list for Apple’s next OS upgrade.



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28 Comments For This Post

  1. air phloo Says:

    How about the ability to flag messages in Mail?

  2. Monsta P Says:

    I need t9 keyboard majorly!

  3. ediedi Says:

    Mobile Safari needs :
    – the possibility to open a link in a new page (which you already mentioned), and
    – the possibility to search for text within a page

  4. Verbal_Kint Says:

    Re: 25: It would probably take more power to constantly gps than to leave wi-fi in standby..

    I just want the iPod to remember what was playing after a sync.

  5. Wendy Sheehan Donnell Says:

    This relates to #5: I’d like to be able to use the Home key to hang up a call or snap a picture. After two years of using an iPhone, it’s still my first instinct to hit the physical button to hang up, which brings me back to my home screen while my call continues. Also, framing a shot would be much easier if you didn’t have to manipulate an on-screen button.

  6. Chris Says:

    Why not switch to an Android based phone. Either the G1 or the others that will come out later this year. A lot of these things Android based phones already do. Want to listen to Last.fm, type a text message but respond to a chat in the middle of the text with no interruptions or having to close anything? No Problem. That’s just one. You may not like the G1 but other Android phones are due out this year. And if you get one on T-Mobile its way cheaper than ATT.

  7. Backlin Says:

    I would also like a more useful lock-screen. Maybe one screen full of data from different sources (like you suggested) and a swipe away is a dial pad.

  8. DavidP Says:

    You can already use arbitrary sound clips as ringtones. Take your mp3 and use whatever tools you have to cut it down to the part you want to use as your ring tone. (e.g. CoolEdit on Windows XP). Load your new small mp3 into Itunes and use it to convert it to AAC (m4a) (change your importing preferences to encode as AAC). Now you’ve got an m4a file of your ringtone. Rename the file from filename.m4a to filename.m4r and drag the m4r file back into itunes. It’ll show up as an available Ringtone.

  9. JAWS Says:


  10. Eyhk Says:

    The whole point about computing though is so that the user doesn’t have to. Why go through all that trouble when the hardware is more than capable of accomplishing it automatically?

    And to JAWS, your post reminds me of a recent Burn Notice episode. I can’t remember the exact dialogue but here goes. “I WANT A MANSION FILLED WITH MODELS IN BIKINIS BUT WANTING IT JUST DOESN’T MAKE IT SO!” The more mature response would be, because Apple wants complete control over hardware and data on the device. Introducing a file system with data that Apple has no control over, can and will be used to corrupt the system for which they regard so dearingly.

    If Apple allowed hooks into the actual OS, a lot of these problems would have been solved by 3rd party apps, but Apple is just afraid of dumb programmers messing up their pretty OS. I don’t see Apple ever changing this stance of completely separating apps from the OS.

    One idea:
    1) Shared directory. Create an API for allowing all apps (Apple or 3rd party) to access so that information can be shared, kind of like My Documents with default folders for certain types of files like ringtones, documents (for downloading, editing, attaching to email), calendar events, contacts, etc so that 3rd party apps can fill in the space where Apple is lacking or has no time to do.

    2) Designated thread. Create a designated thread(s) with limited cpu time (enough to play music) that the user can attach an app to run in the background. Apple can restrict the amount of cpu(power) it sucks up so that it won’t drain resources too fast. It will still be a pain handling which ones you want in the background, kind of like the Safari limit to 8 pages, but it will definitely take care of the majority of gripes concerning background. Pre’s card method is a pretty cool UI for sending apps to the background. There could be a fixed number of cards you can use and a fixed amount of resources (CPU cycles, memory, network activity) per card. As long as the app developer develops a “background mode” where the app is confined to the pre-set limit on resources and CPU cycles, any app should be able to be sent to the background. The Apple designated hard limit and restrictions to running in the background should satisfy most issues while still allowing Apple the “control” it so desperately clings to.

  11. Sean Says:

    Check out the App “To-Do’s”. It is a free app that may fill your need for a decent to-do list. There are others like “do.it” that have a nice theme based interphase but cost .99 cents.

    Hope this helps.

  12. Sean Says:

    OK, I did some more research and found over 100 Notes, Lists and To-Do apps. Some of them offering quite powerful features. Go to iTunes and search for “notes”. It will take you weeks to try them all out.

    This is why I love the iPhone. Apps, apps, and more apps.

  13. John Baxter Says:

    There never was a Mac OS 3.0. In those days, the “System” had a version and the Finder had a version, and more often than not they were out of sync. None of which reduces the meaning of the article.

  14. Don Says:

    And it should also pay my taxes, pay alimony to my ex-, wash my windows, and finally, give bl*w jobs.

    You’re NEVER going to be happy by focusing on what you don’t have. Why not focus on what IS there?

  15. Harry McCracken Says:

    @don: Not sure what you’re talking about, but A) I am happy; and B) thinking about possible new iPhone features in specific adds to my happiness rather than detracting from it. One of the best things about the platform is its potential…


  16. AmyT of www.diabetesmine.com Says:

    Thanks for the shout-out. As a further example of where Apple could go with Human Interface Device (HID) support, see the winning entry in this year’s $10,000 DiabetesMine Design Challenge:


    — the iPhone takes over as glucose meter + insulin pump controller – why use a bunch of disparate devices?

  17. todd Says:

    where is the 3.0 OS???? I have been checking since midnight?

  18. Carl Gundel Says:

    How about a preference to tell the iPhone not to pop up that annoying Wifi hotspot chooser? If I want to connect to Wifi there should be a little icon at the top of the screen I can touch to bring up the list of hotspots.

  19. ajgago Says:

    i think the iphone needs a home screen similar to that of the HTC Touch Diamond and Pro, where it shows useful info such as a weather forecast, notifications for email, texts, and apps like Facebook and Twitter, and of course, the time. This info could also be on the unlock screen.

  20. Harry McCracken Says:

    This is a test. Please ignore it!


  21. Emily Says:

    All of these apps are amazing. I especially like the HID and how useful that would be to have!

  22. Jenn Says:

    Your number 2 & 11 are my top requests. Since mail has shifted to landscape I even keep it that way and move to safari or other landscape apps without flipping it around.

  23. Carl Gundel Says:

    I really want to be able to set my own limit to the number of email messages to be stored in my iPhone. I have 7GB of storage and I should be able to fill it up if I like.

    Also, Spotlight should be called Penlight. Not having the ability to search email message bodies for text is a huge disappointment for me.

  24. Eric Says:

    Meh. Your suggestions are banal.

  25. SquidgeyBall Says:

    You can already open a link in a new page?!?

    Just hold down your finger on the link!

  26. Slippy Says:

    MULTIPLE SIGNATURES!!!!! I would love to be able to send a message from my business account with my company signature…and send a personal email with my personal signature… just like in Mac Mail… 3rd party apps are too clumsy…

  27. Jordan Clennell Says:

    I Would like to see carriers making apps for iPhone, for example, Vodafone NZ has a great music store function called Musicstation, $2.50 a week and access to over a million songs (they stream to your phone) you can’t use this because they don’t have an application for iPhone. Another example is vodafone have a thing called Sky Mobile TV. this is the same, $2.50 a week, and you can watch Cable TV channels Over The Air but as the same, they don’t have an app for iPhone to enable this

  28. Noah James Says:

    i used to watch Burn Notice on our Cable TV but unfortunately they did not play the next season;`:

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