What’s Next for the iPhone?

I have a note on my iPhone, written nearly a year ago, listing phone features that I cared about that the iPhone lacked. Here it is (handily provided via OS 3.0’s copy and paste):

Send a contact
Save text message
Forward text message
Search email

All of these have been rectified by OS 3.0 (Well, not quite save text message – but being able to delete all but one is the same thing) So what’s next? I’ve got some intelligent guesses, some speculative guesses, and finally a few wild guesses.

DEFINITE

Unified inbox – This one’s easy. Users are asking for it and Apple has no philosophical problem with it (exhibit A: the unified inbox in Apple’s own Mail.app). I think this one might even come in a 3.X release.

Week view – Again, users want it and Apple has no issue with it (see iCal). This one I think is more likely because the Pre has shown that it can be done and done well. Plus, Apple could have it be landscape-only, and they seem to like showing off the rotate screen functionality.

Invites with MobileMe – With the appointment of Eddy Cue, formerly in charge of the well-run iTunes store, to head of Internet services – and thus MobileMe – there should be a faster rollout of new MobileMe features. Since they’ve touted MobileMe as “Exchange for the rest of us,” I anticipate that they will work to bring it to feature parity with Exchange. Considering 3.0 added support for invites in conjunction with Exchange, MobileMe can’t be far behind.

Shared Calenders – As the previous item, this would really be a MobileMe improvement, and one that mimicked features of Exchange. But a number of pieces are in place. Apple knows how the backend architecture should work given their investment in both Exchange support and their own calendar server software, iCal now has the ability to support it with the improvements in Snow Leopard, and MobileMe has a number of hooks for it (what about those family pack accounts that are nothing more than a discount currently?). And don’t forget that deal Apple recently closed to build a huge data center in North Carolina. We don’t know if it’s going to be used for expansion of MobileMe and Apple’s cloud services, but I wouldn’t be surprised.

MAYBE

Finder – In the announcement of the iPhone, Steve Jobs said it ran the same OS X that runs on Macs. That was somewhat misleading, but Apple likes to emphasize the connection, so a good place to look for future features is in what’s missing from the mobile version of OS X. The Finder is probably the most glaring omission. It’s the core of the desktop OS and yet does not exist (as viewed by the user) on iPhone. That Apple will eventually include some sort of local file management is guaranteed, in my opinion. That they will do it soon is less sure. That they would expose the entire OS in the same way they do on the Mac is far-fetched. In fact, if I had to choose, I would say it’s more likely that Apple would take the Mac OS in the closed direction of the iPhone than vice-versa. So if they do add file management capabilities, I think it is likely to be in the same manner they have implemented contacts and photos – a system-wide store of data that applications are allowed to read and write. The actual file system running behind the scenes will continue to be inaccessible. However, this solution would be enough for the functionality the average user is looking for: allowing the same files to be accessed by multiple apps without any confusing workarounds. It would certainly enhance email capabilities: incoming email attachments could be saved, and outgoing emails could have attachments.

Search body of message – This feels like it should be a definite, but then why wasn’t it in the 3.0 release? If there are technical reasons or hardware limitations why Apple hasn’t enabled searching the body of emails, then it may be a while before we see this implemented.

FAR-FETCHED

Exposé – This feels obvious, though I haven’t seen anyone else talk about it. Again, I’m looking to the desktop. OS X has had Exposé, a feature that allows the user to see all their open windows quickly, for several years now. I think Apple will implement a variant of it on the iPhone that will really wow people. Apple likes to wait to implement features until they can do them in an impressive way. I would argue that they accomplished that with copy and paste. How better to answer the multitasking critics (who will only get louder as time goes on) than with a beautiful, functional approach to multitasking. That’s why I think when Apple adopts multitasking (and it is just a question of when) they will implement it with Exposé. Obviously it won’t work exactly like Exposé on the Mac, but I imagine it will do some of the same impressive live scaling. The Palm Pre already operates much like I would envision Apple’s implementation of Exposé, taking away a little of the potential wow factor, but I bet Apple would do it with more flair and a surprise or two.

Speech-to-text – Apple has filed a number of patents for this in the last few years, so it may not be as distant as I think. However, speech recognition software is hard and the interface to support it (allowing easy correction of misspelled words and replacement of incorrect words) is also a difficult problem. But the concept is pretty great. Want to send an email or text message? Just say the message and the phone will write it for you. If they do implement it, I hope to see a live demonstration where the software dutifully types out Steve Jobs saying “Boom!”.

Voice control API – This is the most unlikely, but it sure would be great. What if developers could hook into the voice control features that Apple put into 3.0? This would allow you to do a lot more than just call someone or play music with voice control. Developers could register keywords and associated actions with the API, allowing you to, for example, start Pandora without looking at the screen, or start a navigation app with a specific destination without your eyes leaving the road.

THE DISTANT FUTURE

iPhone Invisa (see also Apple’s loyalty program)

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On App Approval

There’s been some chatter recently about the whole concept of the app store (as opposed to the ongoing chorus about the failings of the app store), or more specifically, about the concept of reviewing apps. A post by Joe Hewitt, the Facebook app developer, has spurred the conversation. The crux of his argument is that Apple assumes a “guilty until proven innocent” stance on apps. He questions what the internet would look like if every webpage and every update had to be approved. The implication is that the internet doesn’t need approval, so the app store shouldn’t either. There are also some inferences one can make about the state of the internet if everything had to be approved first – less creativity, less content, less dynamism.

There are two flaws with this argument. First, the assumption that the no approval model “works” for the internet. Or, I suppose the flaw is in not defining “works”. Is it true that there are millions of websites out there that provide useful or entertaining content without harming the user’s computer? Yes. Is it true that if the web where to work on the approval model it would stifle creativity, innovation, and quantity of content? Yes, most likely.

But is it also true that there are thousands of websites that are malicious, that surreptitiously install malware, viruses, and trojans on users’ computers? Yes. Are there thousands of websites that do a bait-and-switch, promising users one type of content but then providing something else entirely? Yes. Are there thousands of websites that are designed for the explicit purpose of obtaining your personal information in order to steal your money? Yes.

In a sense, the web no-approval model works because there is no one company responsible for the internet. When the dangerous websites I’ve outlined are talked about, they are not associated with any specific company. It’s just “the internet”. But Apple is explicitly responsible for the app store. Even if they stopped approving apps, the app store in its current form (an applicaton preinstalled on the iPhone, integrated with iTunes, etc.) would declare “I am an Apple product and what you find on here is, directly or indirectly, associated with Apple.” Imagine the PR fallout if users started downloading apps that searched your iPhone for personal information and sent it to a third-party website. Or apps that said they were unit converters but were actually porn. Or apps that infected your iPhone and used your cellular connection to send thousands of spam messages. The response wouldn’t be, “Well, it’s the internet and you’ve got to be careful.” The response would be, “Apple is crap. Apple ruined my phone. Apple stole my information.” That’s a strong argument for an approval process.

However, Joe doesn’t seem to be entirely against Apple controlling what’s in the App store, he just wants it to be an “innocent until proven guilty” system. He suggests a system whereby bad apps, after being discovered, would be removed. But by what means are they discovered? By a user having his data deleted? By a user discovering his personal information was stolen? In other words, by a user having a bad experience? For Apple, a company intensely focused on user experience, that is anathema. Even worse, what if the bad experience affects hundreds or thousands of users, which is then brought to everyone’s attention by a story repeated every two hours on CNN Headline News? No company wants that, but the danger intensifies for Apple because of the media spotlight they have on them.

As a user that follows tech news and is familiar with technology, I would probably benefit from a completely open App Store. I could discern between good and bad apps myself with little effort before downloading them, thus avoiding the bad apps. And the good apps would probably be even better. But Apple has a much larger market than people like me. When you understand that, it becomes very clear why Apple has an approval process.

Planet Earth Questions

I’ve been watching Planet Earth on Blu-ray since Ashley got it for my birthday, and it’s amazing. The only downside is that, since it takes on such a huge topic (the entire earth) there isn’t as much depth and I’m left with a lot of questions.

What I’ve been really curious about is the group dynamics of some of the huge herds/flocks/packs that they showcase. There’s one scene where tens of thousands of geese are shown taking flight from a lake, and I thought, who decides when it’s time to go? Is it like the slow clap where one starts and everyone follows? Does the not-very-cool goose try to get everyone to take off with him but then returns to his spot after circling a minute or two and pretends he just wanted to stretch his wings?