Wednesday, January 27, 2010

“13 Things We Want to See in iPhone OS 4.0” ↦

Ken Fisher from Ars Technica outlines 131 things the Ars Technica folks would like to see in the next version of the iPhone OS:

Splash screen improvements: We think it’s just about crazy to not PIN-protect a smartphone. But when you do this with an iPhone, you put a big barrier between you and your notifications. We’d like to see (at a minimum) message count and SMS count indicators on the home screen. We shouldn’t have to slide to unlock and enter a pin just to see how many new messages there are (or are not). Check out our simple mockup on the right. Surely this is doable. And of course Apple could tone it down and put indicators in the status bar up top rather than cover your precious wallpaper.

I agree about the basics but I would like to see a more flexible architecture. Ideally, I think the splash/unlock screen should support Dashboard-style widgets; some would be notifications, others might be weather, upcoming appointments, etc.

Custom sound notifications: In its infinite wisdom, Apple lets you customize your ring tone, SMS tone, and if you want, (on/off) sound notifications for events like e-mail, voicemail, or calendar alerts. Give us more sounds—and the ability to customize the sounds for every alert type. It’s annoying when nine people are in a meeting, a “ding” rings out, and seven people press their home screen buttons to see if it was their phone.

I would like to chose my email sound but custom sounds are not terribly important to me. In the absence of custom notification sounds, however, I insist on better built-in alternatives than the current “Chime”, “Glass”, “Horn”, “Bell” and “Electronic”. Everyone sticks with “Tri-tone” for SMS notifications because it is the only choice that sounds good.

Notification scheduling: Once a week I hear about someone missing a call or ignoring a text due to their audible alerts being turned off because they silence their phone at night or in morning classes and forget to turn the ringer back on.


Diverse vibrate options: When your phone is in vibrate mode, aside from receiving a voice call, most of the other notifications which trigger vibration all trigger the exact same kind of vibration. Let us assign custom vibrations for different kinds of alerts. Three short bursts repeated twice for SMS, or two long buzzes for e-mail.

If we can get notification widgets on the splash/unlock screen, I wouldn’t really care about this. At most, I think all I would want is a vibrate scheme that matches my notification sound.

SMS alerts: Let me set the number of times I will be alerted to missed SMS messages.

Again, notifications widgets on the splash/unlock screen would help here. In any case, the current double notification works for me so this is not a priority for me.

Special alerts: Let me set a special alert for when a high priority e-mail is received, and let me set alerts for e-mails from specific people or specific headlines, e.g., “The boss is e-mailing you,” or “Brett Favre has retired for the 14th time.”

I would rather see an expanded “Favorites” feature that enables custom SMS and email sounds for certain individuals in addition to the ringtone. Setting it up to scan messages for specific text is not a feature I would use often, if at all.

Power scheduling: A great feature found on many smartphones and implemented best on the BlackBerry lets me set a schedule when the phone and/or its antenna is active. Hey, we’re all supposed to be conserving energy, right? Well, on weekdays I don’t need my phone on from midnight to 6am. Let me automate that.


Advanced e-mail scheduling for accounts, push: Push is one of the things that makes the Blackberry experience so delicious. Apple, let us specify what hours our e-mail accounts are in Push versus Fetch mode. Second, let us schedule when accounts check e-mail at all. Some of my friends say they wish they could tell their phone not to check work e-mail at night or on weekends.


Unified inbox support and/or better inbox switching: If you have more than one mail account, you know what a pain it is to switch between accounts. Currently it takes a minimum of four taps to switch from one inbox to another. Allow unification, or make it easy to switch between accounts. Or how about both?

I’m not convinced a unified, full-fledged inbox is really such a great idea (see more below). Easier account switching would be very beneficial, however.

Full e-mail storage and synchronization: Unlike the BlackBerry and other smartphones, the iPhone does not synchronize folders until you go into them (if you have Exchange, you do have the option of pushing all of your folders). If you have a sizable sent folder, for instance, if you pop into it looking for a message you sent today, the phone will proceed to download in chronological order everything in your sent inbox. This makes using any folder but the inbox a general pain. But it also greatly limits the effectiveness of the search.

Meh. There’s a reason Apple doesn’t do this: most people (including myself) have email accounts so large that even just storing the headers and first few kilobytes of each message would consume an inordinate amount of the iPhone’s limited resources. A better solution would be a standardized protocol for submitting searches to the email server and sending the results back to the iPhone but Apple is not likely to be able to pull that off. In the mean time, I use GMail’s web interface to search my email on my iPhone.

Allow actions from within search: It’s great to be able to search e-mail on the iPhone, but it’s lame that you can’t do much with the search results. Once you have your results, you cannot delete or move those items into other folders. And expand it! Currently you can only search in the folder you are in, which isn’t much help if you’re not sure which folder something is in.

Um, you do realize that this is just a mobile device, right? Some of these features might be handy once in a great while but if you are trying to do heavy-duty email organization, you’re much better off going to your laptop/desktop.

Running apps in the background: When I’m on the road, I find I am opening and closing Mail constantly because I can’t run other apps in the background. Need to check my calendar? Need to see something on the Web? Open, close, open, close, open. Both Palm and Google have managed to pull this off, and we know it can be done on jailbroken iPhones.

Meh. When apps open and close as quickly as most iPhone apps do, return you to the last screen used and consume the entire screen when running, there’s little functional difference between serially running apps and switching between simultaneously running apps except for the resources consumed.

Standard data conduit protocol: Palm mastered this, and there’s no reason Apple can’t (we just suspect they don’t want to). We need a standardized conduit protocol for third-party apps to synchronize data between the phone and a desktop. Lots of people have come up with clever solutions, typically using Bonjour autodiscovery, but there are all sorts of problems on the desktop side, such as a proliferation of background processes, open ports, and firewall hassles.

On this point, I couldn’t agree more. In addition to the Bonjour technique mentioned above, I’ve seen apps use online WebDav files for synchronization. Not only does that add complexity and (usually) expense to what should be dead simple, it is painfully slow without Wi-Fi.

There is only one thing (at the moment) that I would add to the list: a universal notification inbox. I would like to be able to open a single view which lists all the new things my iPhone knows about (text messages, emails, calendar alerts, etc.) so that I can quickly scan them, mark them as not new and, if I so desire, launch into the appropriate app for further options. Notifications should also be less obtrusive; I should never have to dismiss a notification in order to continue doing what I was doing. In other words, I want something very similar to Palm’s notification system. (This would be my preferred alternative to a unified inbox.)

  1. The original list has only 12 numbered items but item 12 is clearly two items that have been inadvertently combined. Also, the URL indicates only 5 items so the list has evidently expanded over time.