My iPhone Wish List: A 4.0 Tally

By  |  Thursday, April 8, 2010 at 3:45 pm

The day Apple released iPhone OS 3.0 last June, I compiled a list of features I was hoping to see in version 4.0. I went over it again earlier this week when Apple said it was about to preview 4.0. And here’s one last look at my June 2009 list–with both my annotations from earlier this week and a reality check [IN CAPS] of whether Steve Jobs and friends mentioned the feature today.

A bunch of things I hoped for are in 4.0; others weren’t mentioned today, but are subtle enough that I’m still holding out hope that they’ll be among the 100 new features Apple is touting.  And the update will include far more full-fledged multitasking capabilities than I had the guts to hope for next year, plus other new features I didn’t ask for but am looking forward to (such as an integrated e-mail inbox).

More thoughts on iPhone 4.0 later. Here’s the 2009 story, plus additional thoughts…


I’m not sure how operating-system version numbers translate into human years, but this I know: 3.0 is still well short of adulthood. Windows 3.0 was the first version that was recognizable as Windows at all; Mac OS 3.0 came along so long ago that I don’t remember anything about it.

So it’s no knock on version 3.0 of the iPhone software to say that even though it contains 100 new features–some of which are a big deal–there are plenty more it could benefit from. What follows is a highly personal list of stuff I think this OS needs–and as far as I know, none of it is in OS 3.0. If we see some of it in OS 3.1, and more in 4.0, and a sizable chunk by 5.0, I’ll be a contented man.

I said the list is personal, but I tried to be realistic. It contains nothing that I can’t see Apple enabling, or which would require new hardware. I also didn’t include multitasking or Flash support on this list. They’ve been covered to death, and my gut tells me neither is coming to the iPhone soon. Consider them features #26 and #27 if you like, though–and I do suggest some things that might lessen the need for them.

Ready to celebrate the release of OS 3.0 (which is due later today) by being dissatisfied, nitpicky, and generally unreasonable? Here we go.

iPhone OS still needs…

1. Home screen folders. The iPhone desktop is made up of a super-wide, horizontally-scrolling workspace, so it’s possible to sort different sorts of apps into their own screens. But moving them around is a hassle, and you can’t jump directly from any screen to any other one. I want something that the old Palm OS had eons ago: The ability to easily organize apps into folders. [2010 thought: The iPad really needs this.] [IN 4.0]

2. A Home screen that flips into landscape mode. Most of OS 3.0’s apps now let you work with the nice, wide keyboard enabled by rotating the phone 90 degrees. I’d like to be able to use the phone almost continuously in landscape format if I felt like it–which I guess means that the settings screens and App Store should flip as well as the desktop. [2010 thought: the iPad already has this] [NOT MENTIONED TODAY]

3. A roomier dock. Quick access to four apps isn’t enough. If the OS let you optionally turn on a second row of icons (or even a third or fourth one) we could get to more of our most-used programs without having to slip-slide our way around the Home screen. [NOT MENTIONED TODAY]

4. Help for third-party apps that want to support landscape mode. I’m not an expert on what Apple’s SDK does to assist programmers create apps that work in both portrait and landscape form, but I take the fact that relatively few do as a sign that it’s not a cakewalk. My old AT&T Tilt phone ran Windows Mobile, and just about every application that should have supported both orientations did. I’m assuming that Apple’s OS will need to go resolution-independent at some point to support new devices with different screens, so the time to make it easy is now. [2010 thought: I think the OS actually does assist with this, though I wish more developers took advantage of it.]

5. A more programmable Home button. In iPhone 3.0, double-clicking it can reportedly launch Search, your phone’s Favorites, the camera application, or the iPod features. Shouldn’t it be able to launch any app on the phone–Apple or third party? [2010 thought: Supposedly, the rumored new multitasking feature in iPhone OS 4.0 lets you tap the Home button repeatedly to cycle through apps.] [TWO PRESSES OF THE HOME BUTTON NOW LET YOU GET TO ALL RUNNING APPS]

6. The ability to delay Slide to Unlock. Whenever the iPhone is shut off–either because you turned it off yourself or it timed out–you must Slide to Unlock to get back to the Home screen. That makes it hard to pocket dial the phone, but it’s annoying if the phone just turned itself off right before you wanted to do something. I’d like to see the ability to delay the autolocking by a user-specified amount of time. And hey, why not let us disable it altogether if we feel like it? [NOT MENTIONED TODAY]

7. Access to attachments by third-party applications. No iPhone office suite will be truly satisfying until it’s possible for it to open, edit, and save attachments directly from the Mail app. The OS still sandboxes all data so apps can only touch their own files, but Apple can and should make an exception in this case. [2010 thought: It does for photos, but I’d like to see it open up a lot more broadly. The iPad has a similar, useful feature: third-party apps can sync files via iTunes.] [IN 4.0]

8. A better Notes application. iPhone 3.0 gives Notes the ability to sync with Macs and Windows PCs. It still features a lined-paper-and-marker interface that embarrasses me slightly every time I use it, though–at the very least, you should be able to switch to something more mundane and professional. I’d also like to see the ability to attach photos to a note. Maybe Apple thinks the existence of powerful third-party note-takers like Evernote eliminates the need for it to beef up Notes, but I’d still like to see something more substantial. [2010 thought: The iPad has the same wacky Notes app.] [NOT MENTIONED TODAY]

9. A to-do list. It startles me that Apple has done ambitious, enterprisey things like make the iPhone work with Microsoft’s Exchange server, but that the phone still doesn’t ship with a task manager. I use and like Remember the Milk, but still find it odd that OS X’s iCal has a to-do list that doesn’t talk to the iPhone at all. [NOT MENTIONED TODAY]

10. Human Interface Device support. The OS now lets third-party applications talk to peripherals through the dock connector–such as Johnson & Johnson’s glucose meter–but as far as I know, there’s still no way to create the one iPhone add-on I most want to buy. Which is a folding keyboard along the lines of the lovable and useful Stowaway. If Apple baked support for the Human Interface Device (HID) standard into the OS, you’d be able to use a physical keyboard anywhere where the on-screen one was available. [2010 thought: The iPad supports keyboards, so I assume/hope there’s an excellent chance that the iPhone will, too.] [IN 4.0]

11. A useful Slide to Unlock screen. You can choose an image to show up when you turn on your phone but haven’t slide to unlock yet, and that’s very pleasant. But how about providing the option of putting information there that might help us avoid having to unlock the phone at all? It would be a nifty place to put appointment details, headers for recently-received e-mails, and the like. Bonus points if there’s an API that lets third-party apps funnel information to the display, too. [2010 thought: The iPad has feature sort of along these lines–you can peek at whatever app is open without unlocking the device.] [A LITTLE BIT OF IMPROVEMENT HERE: THIRD-PARTY MUSIC APPS CAN LET YOU CONTROL THEM FROM THE SLIDE TO UNLOCK SCREEN]

12. Background music for third-party apps. Once you’ve used the Palm Pre version of Pandora and streamed music in the background while doing something else useful or entertaining in the foreground, it’s hard to go back to the iPhone–where every music app except for Apple’s own iPod stops playing the moment you launch a different application. If Apple doesn’t want to offer full-blown multitasking, how about providing hooks that let any audio app–Pandora, Last.FM, Slacker, AOL Radio–keep playing music in the background even after you close them? Seems pretty simple to me, and it wouldn’t cause stability problems. [2010 thought: Of course, full-blown multitasking–which is rumored to be in OS 4.0–would be better still.] [4.0 HAS MANY MULTITASKING FEATURES]

13. The ability to subscribe to podcasts and sync them directly on the phone. As far as I can figure, you can snag individual episodes of podcasts you originally subscribed to via iTunes on a Mac or PC. But you can’t subscribe to them so they arrive on your phone whether or not you’ve synced with a computer. I’m in favor of the notion of iPhones being as autonomous as possible, and this would be a significant step in that direction. [2010 thought: This is available through third-party apps.] [NOT MENTIONED TODAY]



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4 Comments For This Post

  1. Juha Says:

    2G phone mode – this is most likely a network feature, depending on if your carrier runs a 2G (GSM/GPRS) and a 3G service. On Vodafone NZ the iPhone switches between 2G (900MHz) and 3G (2100MHz); incoming calls sometimes switch the phone out of 3G into 2G.

    Telecom NZ on the other hand operates a 3G WCDMA network in the 850MHz band, so the iPhone on that carrier stays in 3G all the time.

    As far as I know, you can’t run 2G and 3G at the same time, for voice and data and you probably wouldn’t want to do that either. 3G provides better voice quality through CODECs like AMR, simultaneous data/voice transmission, somewhat lower power usage, etc.

    Whether or not your carrier has all this set up in its network though, that’s another matter.

  2. John Baxter Says:

    There was no Mac OS 3.0. In those days, the System file had a version and the Finder had a version, and frustratingly they were usually out of sync.

  3. LonelyBob Says:

    Regarding 21. 2G Phone Mode, 2G/3G network has nothing to do with voice calls, 3G is only used for Data connections.
    If you’re in an area where there’s clearly no 3G network you can set the iPhone to stop scanning for 3G network, that will save some battery. Setting is at Settings -> General -> Network -> Enable 3G then turn it Off. The setting has been there since the iPhone 3G came out.

  4. Venski Says:

    Regarding item number 6 I’m not sure if I understand correctly what you mean, but my iPhone never locks itself. If I want it locked, I have to do it myself. You can check Setting->General->Auto lock and choose the number of minutes after which the phone locks, or you can choose “Never”.

    Once again, not sure if that’s what you mean, but just thought I’d point it out.


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    […] Once Apple had previewed iPhone OS 4.0 (later known as iOS 4.0) I compared it to my personal wish list. […]