September 9, 2012

Applesauce Special Feature: iPhone 5 Wishlist

Tradition is a powerful force, no? After all, what are the holidays without Egg Nog, tacky sweaters and It’s A Wonderful Life? What’s the Fourth of July without fireworks? What’s the Internet without pictures of kittens and neckbeards correcting the President’s grammar? So, it’s with this spirit that I humbly submit what has become a beloved tradition in the days leading up to a new iPhone launch: The “Next” iPhone Wish List.

Already, we “know” (quotes quite intentional) so much about the next iPhone already. We “know” it will have a 4-inch screen, we “know” it will have a new dock connector, and we “know” it will have that cutting-edge, slim lined in-cell display. Furthermore, we know (lack of quotes also intentional) that this phone will launch with Apple’s latest mobile OS, iOS 6, which will bring Apple’s very own Maps app, a new Passbook App to store all of our digital pocket trash, and a smarter, more sophisticated Siri, who not only knows how to get us to and from our favorite places, she also knows the score to last night’s game. The iPhone is already the best phone on the market, in my humble opinion. Therefore, any improvement is simply icing on the cake. Beautiful, rich, butter creme icing. If I’m honest, I also know that other consumers are going to be expecting much more from Apple on Wednesday. We “know” too much already, and a surprise from Apple, any surprise, could get us excited about the iPhone again.

Starting from the basics, here are a list of improvements I’d personally like to see come to the iPhone.

The Beginning
I’ll begin with the usual list of improvements which no one would turn down or deny. Every smartphone owner in every part of the world wants these three things:

  • Better, faster camera
  • Faster Processor
  • Better Battery

The iPhone already excels in each of these areas. The difference between the iPhone 4 and 4S camera was massive. Not only were the pictures noticeably and astoundingly better, (the iPhone 4 already takes great shots) the speed at which it takes these pictures is really something special. I remember picking up my iPhone 4S on the day it arrived and simply walking around my house, snap snap snap snap, quick as I pleased, taking pictures of nothing: The walls, my turntable, the cat, whatever was near me. I was amazed.

The Processor
This speed was, of course, delivered by the new (at the time) A5 processor, (a dual core, 1 GHz get up) which debuted in the last of the numerically named iPad 2. I can only dream of what other speed enhancements might be made with the addition of a quad-core processor. Ah, but when you start talking about faster processors, you open up a can of worms. Apple will always ALWAYS choose better user experience over speeds and feeds. As such, a faster processor might (might) make apps load a little snappier and take pictures with lighting fast speed, but there’s also the possibility that this speed could come at the expense of the battery.

The Battery
During an average 2 days, I can usually get about a day and a half on a single charge from my now 1-year old iPhone 4S. This isn’t bad at all, and many iPhone users I’ve spoken with have the same results. Of course, battery life is completely relative and, depending on how you use your phone, your mileage will vary. That said, I’d be happy to get the same battery life and be able to use my phone a bit more. I don’t go out of my way NOT to use it, but it would be nice to have to think about my battery less than I do, and I think that’s what any of us want, really…to never have to think about charging another battery again.

The Camera
Like a delicious pastry, no one will ever turn down an improved camera. The iPhone 4S has its users spoiled: The pictures taken with this iPhone are incredible, especially considering the small size and extreme pocket-ability of the thing. Sure, you don’t have much control of the camera, such as resolution or shutter speed and, as such, these pictures tend to be grainy in times of low light.

But consider this: If the iPhone 5 makes the same leap made from the iPhone 4 to the 4S, we could be in for one hell of a device, as well as higher definition Instagram pictures in our feeds.

The camera on the 4S was a huge selling point for me as I use this feature more than I use the actual phone feature. An improved camera will not only send me looking for new inspiration, I’ll also head into the holiday’s knowing every picture I take will be exceptional and exceptionally easy to send to my family after the festivities have drawn to a close.

It’s this kind of functionality that Apple loves to preserve in their devices. I think it’s a safe bet that we’ll see an improved camera of some sort, perhaps something in the 10 megapixel range with some further tweaks to the software and lenses.

The 4G LTE
As iPhones have traditionally followed iPads, (well, at least since the first iPad emerged in 2010) it’s safe to say the next iPhone will have 4G LTE radios built in. I’d even venture to say the absence of these radios could be a huge mistake for Apple. Often slow to adopt new technologies, they famously released their first iPhone on EDGE instead of 3G. Last year was their last “EDGE year,” in my opinion.

Apple was able to get away with only supporting EDGE on the first iPhone, mostly due to the fact that 3G wasn’t widely available, and Apple needed as many people to be able to use the phone as possible. Now, today’s 4G is more widespread than 2007s 3G, giving Apple no good reason to omit the next-generation wireless radios in their next iPhone. After all, nearly every new Android Smartphone works on 4G waves and, not to be that guy, Apple can’t give potential switchers such a huge reason to choose an Android at this point in the race.

While I’m telling Apple what they should do, they should also take a close look at the way they advertise this 4G if it won’t be immediately available in all countries, like Australia, China or the UK.

You know, just saying.

The 128 GB
The notion of a larger capacity iPhone has been a stalwart of the rumor mills for a few years now. While I’ve yet to hear any chatter about it this year, I’m still holding out for a 128GB model.

With the introduction of iTunes Match last year, I thought I’d get away with buying the cheapest 16GB model, save on the space and still had the option of streaming songs from my 180GB iTunes library. Then we found out that iTunes Match doesn’t stream music, it downloads it. That’s when I became an instant fan of Spotify.

Sure, I’ve relied on iTunes Match once or twice this year. For instance, I upgraded to a new MacBook Pro, and being able to start with a clean slate and pull music from the cloud was easy enough. I’ve also used it on my iPod Touch to have quick access to songs I suddenly remember and can’t get out of my brain.

However, I’ve also had numerous problems with this service and can’t help but think a larger, 128GB iPhone would solve a number of my first-world problems.

The iOS 6
Other items on my wish list are mostly iOS specific. For instance, why can’t we delete that damned Newsstand app? I’m doubtful we’ll be allowed to do this in iOS 6, but a man can dream, can’t he? Like many who are also tormented by this empty app-thats-also-a-folder, I’ve banished it to a life of solitary existence on my third screen. I never see it, but in my darker times, I know it’s there…and it keeps me awake at night.

Another mind-grating feature of iOS 5: those incredibly tiny “x” buttons in Notification Center. I’m not a small man, and I take personal offense to the fact that Apple expects me to be able to accurately hit this minuscule button to delete a notification. Why not just let us swipe to delete these notifications, you know, similar to how we swipe to delete almost everything native to the iPhone?

On the same note, I’d like a better way (or at least a faster way) to delete music from the Music app. Sure, swiping is fine, but this gesture only gives you a few options. You can delete entire artists, entire albums, or individual songs. There’s such a huge gap in between entire albums and individual songs. In the Mail or Photos app, you’re given the option to tap one button, then select numerous emails or images with which to move, copy or delete.

For someone who is trying to balance a hefty music collection on a device with only 16GB, continually swiping, then waiting a beat for the phone to move on, can be irritating, especially when a better solution exists everywhere else on the phone.

I’d also like a way to remove myself from group texts. I have several friends who have been keeping a running “chat” of sorts since Christmas. It was a blast at first, all of us laughing, using emojis as entendres, oh, how we laughed! Since then it’s turned into a place where the same three people send memes back and forth to a group of 8 or more recipients. The easy solution, of course, is to ask them to leave me off the list, but that’s too easy. No, I’d rather complain to a company and ask them to fix my problem for me, rather than act like a grown human adult.

The Hair Brained Calls
Here are the audibles, the wild-ass calls that have almost no likelihood of ever appearing on this iPhone or maybe even any future Apple smartphone. These are my pie-in-the-sky ideas which I would love to carry in my pocket at any given point in time.

The Launch Center Pro/Universal Search Screen
Occasionally, an app developer comes across an idea that’s so good, so very well thought out, you have to wonder why it’s not actually built into the operating system. Launch Center Pro is that kind of app. This app (from the fine folks at App Cubby) is meant to sit in your dock and be a shortcut to your most used apps and actions. At it’s basic functionality, the app displays apps on a larger grid. Tap an app, and you’re taken there. This most simplistic functionality is fine, but the magic happens when you start adding extra actions to this grid. For the sake of brevity, I’ll say that I’ve got my LCP set up to turn on the flashlight, open Hipstamatic, send a text to my wife and schedule events with the tap of a button.

(A quick Google search can tell you all you want to know about how this app works and what you can do.)

I’m sure the developers at App Cubby are fine people, and I don’t wish any ill will against them. However, wouldn’t it be great if this sort of app was built into the search screen? Instead of swiping right and being presented with a simple search box and a keyboard, you could be presented with this same grid, stocked with options and shortcuts, such as create a new context in OmniFocus, call the person you call most, create a new contact, even start a favorite Pandora station. App Cubby, of course, have their own workarounds to make this happen, but if Apple had it built in and required all developers to write this functionality into their apps, this feature could work across the board. They could even leave a universal search shortcut on this screen by making it a standard icon on the grid. Apple wants to make sure their phone is simple to use, an ethos I can get behind. I also believe that only those users who want to know about the swiping right to universal search ever use it. As such, this sort of shortcut screen could be of use to those nerds and power users who want the functionality, yet out of the way for users who only want to see their basic home screen.

The Thunderbolt connection
I’d also like to see Thunderbolt on an iPhone. I know, I know, Apple wants to push over the air technology: Over the air updates, AirPlay, Wi-Fi syncing, etc. But, combined with a vastly improved camera, Thunderbolt could be a great way to bring ultra high def movies and pictures to the Mac for quick editing, or even allow the phone to be used as a live camera, quickly dumping all of its data to a Mac or hard drive.

Again, this will probably never happen, as Apple is positioning the iPhone and the iPad as “Post-PC” devices, giving them the ability to operate largely on their own without the help of those older “trucks” of machines.

Furthermore, I’m not entirely certain this could even be possible, given the technology needed to power Thunderbolt.

The Switch
Finally, I’d like to see Tim Cook channel a bit of Steve Jobs and pull a complete switch.

The anticipation of the months, weeks and days leading up to an iPhone event used to be half of the fun of the rumor cycle. We’d hear all sorts of crazy conjectures and postulations, but no one knew for certain what would be released (not even Apple executives) until Jobs took the stage day of.

Even when the iPhone 4 was stolen and molested over at Gizmodo, most of us were still uncertain of what the next iPhone would look like until it was revealed.

This year, we’ve seen so many “leaked” images of front plates, back plates and all points in between. We “know” about the dock connector, the 4-inch screen, everything.

If Apple were to release exactly what we know, there’d be an even larger than usual backlash from the press for not releasing anything “better” or “more.”

We expect the next iPhone, and I, for one, want to be surprised, dammit.

I want all of these images to be completely leaked by Apple themselves, lulling us into a false sense of knowing and then completely shocking us with something we’ve never seen.

Sure, it could still have a new dock connector, 4-inch screen and 4G, but think of all the other surprises Cook and crew could have for us.

Brand new design, no more bezel, crazy thin display, NFC, the works!
I’m sure there’s no good reason for Apple to pull this kind of stunt. I know they’d earn the ire of many Chinese third-party case manufacturers, but for me, it’d be worth it to sit their with my mouth agape in utter shock, hands in the air, exclaiming “They just did that!”

In the end, I’m ready for this new iPhone, be it the 5 or something else entirely.

And there’s always backlash after an Apple event. There will always be the set of analysts and journalists and all those Apple watchers who cry “foul” after Apple concludes their announcement. In their minds, they’re waiting for that “One last thing” moment which invariably never comes, hoping for Apple to say something ridiculous like “Oh, and it’s completely transparent, projects a keyboard on your desk and lasts for 8 weeks on a single charge!”

In the end, it’s important to remember that, at this point in the Great Smartphone Wars, battles are won by inches, not miles. Besides, the only improvements Android phones have been selling lately are unbridled processors and laughably large screens. These manufacturers then have to continue to improve on the sluggish camera and laggy response for several cycles. Apple is fighting a battle of inches as well, only they’re starting with features that work more often than their competitors.

On the other hand, I do believe they need something to surprise us, something to shock us all. If they keep with their 2-year major improvement pattern, (3G to 3GS, 4 to 4S) they’ll have to work extra hard to impress us all when the iPhone 6 or whatever is released in 2014.

What will this surprise be? NFC would have been nice, maybe a strong push towards Passbook or AirPlay? A streaming service? A new Siri which actually works from time to time? I have no idea, but I hope Apple does. I’ll be cautiously optimistic when Cook takes the stage on Wednesday.

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