Beyond 3G, Part 2: What the iPhone Still Needs
The iPhone 3G is here, sales are brisk, and new features like 3G compatibility and GPS were delivered as promised. But the iPhone is still far from perfect. Other phones, even much cheaper phones, include features the iPhone does not. Some of these shortcomings may be addressed someday with third-party applications. Others might come along as the iPhone evolves further into future generations.
Part 1 of this two-part series, published before details of the iPhone 3G were made available, discussed ways to improve the next generation of the iPhone. Now that it's here, part 2 explores what features the iPhone still needs.
Early reports indicate that the new iPhone 3G is selling faster than the first iPhone, and with all the extra hype, it's easy to think the iPhone 3G is the most complete device ever created. While customer satisfaction seems to remain high, there's definitely room in Apple's new cell phone for improvement. And if there's one thing the company's aficionados love to do, it's to imagine the next generation of their current product.
Now that the iPhone plays well with 3G data networks around the world -- and comes with a global positioning system that can locate the unit almost anywhere in the world -- what's next for Apple's iconic iPhone?
The Big, Obvious Battery Problem
"Some missing iPhone features are bound to show up in future software updates," Avi Greengart, research director of mobile devices for Current Analysis, told MacNewsWorld. Still, software updates and add-on applications can't cure all the iPhone 3G's shortcomings.
At the top of his list of should-have features is a removable battery. Unfortunately, like a sports car that runs fast but guzzles gas, the speedy 3G feature also burns the iPhone's battery, and replacing means a lot more than merely sliding off a back panel. If there's one clear complaint coming from owners, it's disappoint with battery life. Sure, the iPhone's battery is better than the one in most every other 3G smartphone, but still, more power is needed.
A removable battery would let a user replace it in times of need -- and that's a feature that many other smartphones include.
Aside from the battery life -- which is a problem in many ways only because iPhone 3G users actually use their phones often for e-mail, Web browsing, and now playing games and running applications -- is the iPhone complete?
"With the launch of iPhone 3G, iPhone OS 2.0 with enterprise integration, and App Store, iPhone arguably has more functionality now than any other mobile platform," Raven Zachary, a research director for The 451 Group, told MacNewsWorld.
"While the App Store has almost 1,000 applications for download right now, there's still plenty of innovation to occur on this platform. We are only [a few weeks] into the launch of a platform that will have a lifespan of a decade, perhaps longer," he added.
Lots of Little Quibbles
There are, however, a lot of small missing features, all of which are annoying but not necessarily deal-breakers.
Surprisingly, a cut-and-paste feature is still nonexistent. Maybe Apple hasn't figured out the right multi-touch series of taps and swipes to make it work properly. Either way, smartphones need cut and paste.
"Apple doesn't think it's critical, but I'm sick of remembering long URLs (uniform resource locators) or phone numbers since there's not a frackin' cut-n-paste feature," Sven Rafferty, technology blogger and director of Internet technology for hyperSven, told MacNewsWorld.
"CrackBerry has it. MS Windows CE devices -- Windows Mobile -- have it. ... Even free clam shell phones have it!"
It seems as though Apple could add cut-and-paste features with a software update, as well as add MMS (multimedia messaging service) and video recording, both of which, bafflingly, are also still unavailable on the iPhone 3G.
Speaking of MMS, Rafferty said he's now able to live without it, but he noted, "It always cracks me up when the 'super phone' doesn't has have 'standard phone' features."
And speaking of common features, there's still no stereo Bluetooth. That's probably not going to be an absolute must-have feature for most users, but it also seems like an obvious omission for iPhone customers who are often willing to shell out for spendy accessories like Bluetooth stereo headsets.
Upgrade the Camera Already
While the iPhone's photo application is easy enough to use, as are its photo syncing and sharing features, the camera itself is only 2.0 megapixels and not particularly fast on the snap, leaving moving subjects with nasty motion blurs.
"The camera just plain sucks," Rafferty noted.
"I look at the Nokia N95 and drool over its camera. The iPhone takes worse pictures than my silly iSight on my MacBook Pro!" he added.
In other frustrating omissions, the excellent built-in Safari browser renders some Web pages useless because of its lack of Adobe Flash support. It may be that Flash isn't yet ready for prime time in the iPhone -- from Apple's generally high standards -- but it's a feature users have been clamoring for ever since the first iPhone came out over a year ago. Adobe is reportedly working on making it happen, but as of yet, nothing's been released to the public.
Finally, the iPhone that one takes home from the store is missing a lot of software features other smartphones include out-of-the-box. These, however, might all be addressed in time by offerings from the App Store or updates from Apple -- turn-by-turn navigation, applications that can run in the background, and the synchronization of Outlook Tasks and Notes, for example.
Overall though, both generations of iPhone are remarkable devices, and the only challenge Apple faces, really, is to keep surpassing the already high bar the company consistently sets -- before consumers even realize a product is in development.
There's a slim chance some new features might hit before the holiday buying season, and a huge likelihood that Apple will deliver at its annual Macworld conference in January.