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Dear Apple: What we want to see for iPhone 4.0, part 1

A week ago we asked you, the TUAW reader, to help us tell Apple what you want in the next iPhone: the OS, the apps, the hardware. Within two hours, I had over two hundred emails in my inbox. Within four days, the email total topped 1,100. As I was shifting and sorting through all your suggestions, one thing became clear: you love the iPhone, but you want to see it better, more intuitive, and more versatile – and you know how the iPhone can accomplish those goals.

This is the first of a series of letters to Apple on your behalf, telling the gang in Cupertino what would make their wonder-phone even more wondrous. This letter strictly focuses on the iPhone OS in general – the home screen, navigation, and settings. Future letters will deal with hardware and applications.

There were so many suggestions, I needed to whittle them down. To do that, I tabulated how many times a feature request was made. If more than 50% of you mentioned it, it made it into the letter. If you guys want to see the others (most were one-offs or had less that 15% of you requesting it), perhaps I'll add an extra letter onto the series at the end of its run.



Remember, if you made suggestions about any of Apple's built-in apps (Mail, Maps, Stocks, Calendar, etc) or hardware, you won't see those here, but in an upcoming letter dealing specifically with those areas.

I hope Apple is listening, because the readers of TUAW have spoken, and this is what they have to say:

Dear Apple,

While it's clear the iPhone is the best smartphone on the market right now, you have a lot of
competition creeping up. We want to help you blow them out of the water with the iPhone OS 4.0. Here are our suggestions:

1. The lock screen needs to change.

90% of us want a new lock screen. We think the current screen that only shows the date and time, and only the most recent missed call or SMS, is not particularly helpful. If you get a text message, then a calendar alert, and then a push notification, the only one you see is the push notification message. Being able to swipe through them or have a table list would be far more useful. But even then, we still have to enter our four-digit unlock code to see if we've received any new emails. From the new lock screen we want to see all the calls we've missed and the number of new emails and texts we have. We want to see which apps have sent us push notifications, and what appointments are coming up. We want a brief overview of all the new data we've received to be presented to us before we have to enter our unlock code.

Let's extend the features of that new lock screen to ...

2. A new home screen. The iPhone is the smartest phone on the market. Make it smarter. Introduce a location-aware home screen.

Over 90% of us also want a new home screen – and we want it location aware. Let's say we live in London, but travel to continental Europe many times a month. We'd love to turn on our iPhones in the country we just landed in and see the local weather, currency, transit maps, and news displayed right on our home screens. Not only would it save us time and money, it would save something just as valuable to an iPhone owner – battery life. If all these things were displayed on the home screen the first time you turn on your phone, you wouldn't have to open five different applications to get what you want.

Imagine a 'Genius Location' feature as well: the iPhone would show you (through an app like Yelp – or a new Apple-branded app) what restaurants or businesses are around based on your 'likes' in your home town. We know you were granted a 'Transitional Data Sets' patent for a location-based home screen back in February 2008 - let's hope this sees the light of day in iPhone OS 4.0.


3. That new home screen? Let us access it by vertically swiping.


Imagine this: no matter what home screen page you're on, if you swipe up you are presented with a 'feeds screen' that works much like an RSS page. This feeds screen could be set based on in-app preferences so we could fully customize it. Ours might show our latest Facebook posts, last five emails received, our To Do notes, our Mint.com balance, missed calls, text messages, and upcoming iCal events. The guys at teehan+lax have a pretty cool mock-up of this feeds screen, but the killer feature would be how you could access it from any app page – by vertically swiping.

4. Overhaul app navigation.

85% of us think it takes too long to swipe through all our pages of apps. Even though iTunes 9 made a step in the right direction by allowing the user to organize apps and home screen pages visually, there has got to be a better way. Swiping through ten screens to get to the last apps page is tedious.

Wouldn't it be cool if you could press the home button and see all the home pages on one screen? The guys at Ocean Observations think so. Check out this concept video of what this feature would look like (their 'Cover Flow Multitasking' concept is quite cool as well). Don't want to do it their way? Give us stacks, give us folders, give us App Store-like category views. Just give us something that makes it easier to get around our deluge of apps.

5. 85% of us want multitasking and 3rd party background apps (but not at the cost of battery life).

There's not much more to say on this matter, but Palm does it, and if you can find a way around their battery drain, we want it!

6. Almost 80% of us want Flash, even if it's a bad idea.

No, not camera flash (we do, but that's for the next letter). We want Adobe's Flash Player, though Flash on the Mac is a giant performance and stability headache. Get your heads together with Adobe and make it happen (and fix the Mac version while you're about it, please).

7. We love that you introduced landscape mode across virtually all apps in iPhone OS 3.0, but 70% of us want the ability to selectively turn it off.

Give us a setting to switch off the automatic "turn to landscape mode" when the device is turning. Why? When we lay in bed on our side we can't read our mail. The app is always turning and that's really annoying. A system-wide 'ignore orientation' switch would be a good start; app-by-app options would be better.

8. When we leave an app, we want it to remember where we were.

If we click on a link in an app that takes us to Safari or if we switch apps to copy/paste, 70% of us want the app to remember where we were in it when we come back to it. Some apps do this, some don't. Make this an OS-level feature so they all do it.

9. 65% of us want the ability to remove Apple-branded apps.

That Stocks app? Cute, but the Yahoo! Finance [iTunes] app is so much better. We don't need both on our phones.

10. 60% of us want a universal "documents" folder.

We want one location, accessible to all apps, to store documents on the iPhone. Whether we need to send that PDF via IM through Nimbuzz or via email through the built-in Mail app, it's no problem. Either one can do it because the docs are all stored in one place, accessible to all apps. (We realize this breaks the sandboxing model that prevents one app from blowing away data belonging to another one, but we have every confidence you can make it work.)

11. Better Support for Codecs and Add-ons.

It's not just Flash, you know. WMV and AVI still rule on lots of sites. Let us see them (60%).

12. The iPhone is a hard drive with a screen, so....

Give us Disk mode in the OS. 50% of us want to use our iPhone as an external USB/Wi-Fi hard drive.

FYI, Apple, this is just the start. We've got so many more thoughts to share with you about the next iPhone's hardware and apps. So get ready, and thanks for listening. You'll soon be hearing from us again.

Sincerely,

The loyal readers and iPhone owners of TUAW.

TUAW Readers: The next letter will be published one week from today on Sunday 1/17. We'll be telling Apple what we want from the next iPhone's hardware. Want a different enclosure? Camera flash? RFID? OLED? Email me at tuawiphone [at] me dot com (by mid-day, Friday, January 15th at the latest)!

A big thanks to the 1100+ of you who contributed to this article. iPhone homepage sketch by reader 'Fab.'

NOTE: A lot of you have emailed asking if the first picture is a jail-broken iPhone or a mock-up. It's a beautiful mock-up done by the former VP of Design for Griffin Technology, Robert Donovan.



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Features iPhone

A week ago we asked you, the TUAW reader, to help us tell Apple what you want in the next iPhone: the OS, the apps, the hardware. Within...