iPhaults: How to Make a Better iPhone

I’ve often come across a perception that because I own an iPhone I must think it’s the most perfect gadget in the world.  While sleeping with my iPhone under my pillow isn’t far off, I sure would like to get some of my gripes with this seemingly untouchable (no pun intended) device off my chest.  If we can put aside the pretty horrendous service we receive from AT&T, which I’ve written about before, there are still some issues with this device.  So here, in no particular order, are a few (some quite simple) things that should be incorporated into the iPhone right out of the box.

1. Universal Landscape

This one seems simple.  Using the iPhone in landscape mode dramatically increases it’s functionality as a word processing device for many users.  When using an app in landscape mode, and calling up the MultiTasking interface to switch to another app, suddenly your choices are sideways.  And you either have to turn the phone or navigate through them sideways.  This is just kind of silly, and frankly seems lazy.  We could keep the interface on the side of the screen, but at least turn the app icons so they’re right side up.  The iPad allows for a sideways home screen; in fact when the iPad was introduced one of the big features was that the thing could be held in any way and still display what you needed to see.

This should be true of iPhone too.

Additionally, I’ve come across several apps that seem like they would be great in landscape, but the functionality is not offered.  Perhaps it’d be too much for Apple for force developers to add this feature into their app.  But I sure am disappointed when I turn that phone and sit there waiting only to find myself staring at an app sideways.

Finally, I think the little turning transition that occurs when switching from landscape to portrait, or vice versa, animation should be done away with.  It’s cute, but it lags nearly EVERY time in EVERY situation.  It seems like an instant pop to landscape would be better.  At least give us the option to turn off the animation, the way we can change minimizing on the Mac.  I actually envy Blackberry users because of this ‘pop to landscape’ feature.  Imagine that.

2. Folders in Folders

Another simple idea.  For clearing up screen real estate, and storing apps we don’t use a ton, we should be able to drag folders into folders.  It doesn’t get much simpler than that.  Apple has this way of creating features on their platforms that you may not know about.  One day you try something out and it ‘just works’.  It’s delightful when that happens, but a real bummer when it doesn’t work.  Dragging folders into folders was that way for me – I got excited when I thought about doing it, gave it a try and – nope.  No dice.  I don’t know what the interface would look like for accessing these things, but I’m sure they could come up with something, because jail breakers already have.

3. True Screen Customization

Similar to the Folders in Folders idea, this has to do with a simple feature that doesn’t seem to make sense to leave out.  When moving app icons, or folders, around the screen, it is impossible to place them in such a way that they don’t ‘stick’ against one another.  It would be great to separate apps and folders by empty spaces, empty rows, empty columns, or however you want, but Apple doesn’t allow this.

Another annoying side effect of this feature is that when moving apps around they jump all over the place in a very odd way.  Anyone with an iPhone can attest to this – especially when apps jump from screen to screen.  Sometimes moving one app icon through a space you didn’t even intend for it to be in can move several apps to several different screens forcing you to move each one of them back one by one.  All of this could be avoided if app placement wasn’t ‘sticky’ and allowed for you to full customize where the icons lived.

4. Phone Book

So you know the name of the business, but you don’t know the phone number.  Open the Google Maps app, search the business, tap the pin that drops, tap the phone number.  Easy right?

No.  It’s not.  I should not have to go into a maps application to look up a phone number!  Apple needs to come up with a way to incorporate Google search results into a Phone Book app.  I think there are 3rd party apps that do things like this – but c’mon this is a top of the line phone.  We should have a built-in Google Search phone book!

I’ve seen people with iPhones search a phone number via Google search on their laptop and then dial the number on their iPhone.  This is inexcusable.

5. Location Manager

All these location apps are not living up to their full potential.  I’ve considered writing a post dedicated just to this, and perhaps I will.  The problem with Location is the check-in format.  It’s archaic, annoying and painstaking.  While certain functionalities certainly work better within the check-in format, on the whole I think the industry wants a persistent location service that’s easily manageable within the device.

Imagine a functionality – let’s call it iLocation.  What iLocation does is constantly push your location out of your device to whomever you are willing to share it with.  Such a functionality could be incorporated into the Google Maps App.  Or maybe not -maybe Apple builds its own map interface.  The point is, it could be a core functionality that allows you to instantly view a map and see where your friends are.  Anytime.

Now let’s go further.  Suppose you wanted to check in to Facebook, Foursquare, Gowalla or any one of those.  Well iLocation allows you to check in to all these services.  Isn’t that great?  A core, persistent location service is desperately needed on the iPhone.  It’s what the iPhone is all about – staying connected, and using the advanced hardware and software to be as connected as possible.  Yet somehow this location paradigm has been lost.  The privacy issues are easy to overcome.  Apple could ship the phones with this service OFF, forcing the user to turn it ON and specify how, where, when and with whom location would be shared with.

I can hear you say ‘It will drain the battery!’  Battery shmattery.  If a functionality like this can be possible, it needs to be offered.  If the user is willing to sacrifice battery power for a functionality like this, or even a bit more time managing the functionality (turning it on and off a various points to conserve power) – they will!  For example, the brightest setting for the screen on the iPhone 4 is ridiculously bright; I don’t think I’ve ever turned it up that far except perhaps in VERY direct sunlight for only a minute or two.  Would you tell Apple to scale down the max brightness of the display because it eats up more battery power than almost any other function of the phone?  Of course not.  Max brightness is, and should be, max brightness, regardless of how economical it is.  Same with iLocation.

6. Notification Management

I’m sorry but the Push Notification system is not all it’s cracked up to be.  When Push first arrived ont he iPhone it was so exciting.  But in the end, it just doesn’t work as well as it should for me.  Why?  I’ve got too many apps with too many badges and pop up windows all over the place.  Sure I could go into the Push Notification Settings and carefully select which apps can push which kinds of notifications to me.  But I have a better idea.

There needs to be a universal notification management system.  I should be able to look in one spot on my phone and see all the Push Notifications from various apps, and even small details about them, right there.  Sound familiar?  Facebook has been doing something a lot like this for a while now.  Wether you get private message, someone comments on your wall post, tags you in a photo; all of these events find their way to ONE unified place where they can be browsed easily.  I want this on my iPhone for the various apps that send me Push Notifications.  And I want it now.

To conclude, the biggest problems with the iPhone stem from lack of universal user control.  All of these items, Universal Landscape, a Phonebook, App Icon Customization, Folders in Folders, Persistent Manageable Location and revamped Push Notifications relate to the idea of universal user control.  Many of these ideas are already possible, and have been accessible to users of jail-broken iPhones for quite some time.

I worry that Apple cares more about form than function when I start listing my complaints like this.  Their goal seems to be more about making a unified experience, rather than making the best possible experience.  They seem to take pride in limiting their own products, and hold back functionality from their users at the expense of a more consistent, unified experience.


About Justin A. Watson
Rowing Coach, Recording Engineer/Instructor, and tech enthusiast from central Connecticut, USA. I am interested not in just technology alone, but its impact on, and place within our culture. This presence is the result of my ranting mind, the product of my itchy fingers, and the answer to questions oft asked by peers, family and colleagues.

2 Responses to iPhaults: How to Make a Better iPhone

  1. jrivera4 says:

    While, my wife works for AT&T, I don’t own an i phone…my phone only needs to talk and text, but I did find your post very informative..tech info is always interesting to me…weird?

  2. lhellum says:

    I feel the exact same way on the first two. Apple, being their stubborn selves (but I still love them), probably just does that for the “sake of the customer”. Honestly, I think they should incoporate a feature that turns on Professional mode, allowing tech geeks like us to finagle the system to maximize its power. This would allow for these seemingly advanced features to be turned in a snap. (I have a similar idea with “Work mode”, which basically saves and turns off any games, facebook, and other time wasters.) However, the branding part of me says that this would be unnecessary line extension, which in a sense, it is.

    For number four, I think just googling something thru search is simple enough. But that feature would be nice.

    For number five, I think Google Latitude already takes up part of this market. And that was just intro’d to the App Store.

    For six, I think this could be replaced by “The Hub”, which basically takes Mail, FB, LinkedIn, Twitter, Game Center, SMS, all your notifications, RSS feeds, and breaking news and becomes a home for all these constantly updated services.

    Great blog! Check mine at lukehellum.com, home to The Digital Cheat Sheet. Basically advanced tech for the masses.

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