Perfecting the iPhone

The Apple iPhone is possibly the most near-perfect mobile phone product I’ve used. But it does lack some features that I feel are key. Some of them would be challenging to implement while others really should be there and I’m confused that they aren’t. That said, the iPhone also gets flack for missing some things that I honestly couldn’t care less about.

The competition is heating up for Apple in the phone space. Most of the touch-phone products that claim to compete with the iPhone are rubbish, but Palm recently unveiled its Pre, complete with new operating system WebOS and implementation of some of the features, like copy and paste, that the iPhone doesn’t have.

Apple was recently awarded a patent for multi-touch however, and it may be able to use this to block the Pre from going to market. I hope that doesn’t happen because competition is a good thing.

Herewith my list of must-have features that the iPhone lacks. With these features the iPhone would be the perfect smartphone for me:

  • Copy and Paste: This is something you either need or you don’t. And I do. I use my iPhone for Twitter, Facebook and a range of other services where it would be incredibly handy to use copy and paste – for example, for snipping a URL and pasting it into a Twitter message. It would also help getting around the fact that you can’t forward contacts from your address book, which brings me to my next salient quibble:
  • Forwarding contacts from Address Book: On just about every other phone I have owned (even the really old ones) it has been possible to forward contacts from my Address Book as SMS messages. The iPhone just doesn’t do it. Perhaps the whole question of what format to send the contact details in has put Apple off, but vcard is a widely accepted standard, and I would even settle for just plain text with a name and number. It could even ask which number I wanted to send if more than one is saved for a contact.
  • Forwarding text messages: The iPhone also does not allow users to forward SMS messages from their inbox – another feature most other phones support. I personally wouldn’t use this feature much, but I feel it should be there.
  • Flagging email: I use the iPhone’s email client extensively. I think it rocks. Using an IMAP connection to my Gmail account means I am always up to date on my Macbook, phone and anything else I choose to view my mail with. But I can’t flag mail on the phone – and I wish I could.
  • Trial applications: The App Store is the best thing about the iPhone and the prices are more than reasonable for the most part. But I really need to try out applications before I buy them, especially for the more expensive products. Sure there are ratings, but just because 10 other people thought this was a four-star application doesn’t make it the right one for me. Even a 24-hour trial would be OK – but I must be able to try before I buy.
  • Respect for South African users: This is my biggest gripe. We can’t use Google Maps for navigation or directions in South Africa because Google doesn’t have good data for our road network. There are no games in the South African App Store because Apple refuses to pay the relevant licensing costs to make them available in the country. The podcast directory is also blocked to South African store accounts – there is no reason for this, it is just an error that Apple can’t be bothered to fix. And yet I have it on good authority that Vodacom has sold almost 50 000 iPhones in the country and the iPod does better in SA than it does in some European territories. I’m tired of being treated like a second-rate citizen because Apple can’t get its act together in developing markets. Apple: we love your products and we buy them en mass. It’s high-time you gave us some love. And while you’re at it, can we please have music in the iTunes Store too?

My only other gripe is with iPhone application developers who don’t use notification and push services to keep the apps on my phone up to date. This is a brilliant solution that Apple has offered developers, unless I’m missing something. The Facebook application, for example, could receive updates from my account and push these down to my device where I would be notified, instead of me having to open the application to see if I have new notifications. Perhaps any app developers reading this could explain to me why nobody uses the service? Fring? TwitterFon?

It’s only fair to also include a list of things I DON’T miss. Some people complain about these, but I regard them as non-issues:

  • MMS: Get over it kids – you don’t need MMS. You might think you do, but you don’t. If you take a picture with your phone I’d rather that you email it to me. The iPhone has a great email application and I can’t understand why you would want to use MMS instead. MMS is a horrible standard that hardly ever works properly and is used to send annoying adverts from network operators. Not only do I not miss it, I don’t want it. And if your phone can’t do email then it’s time for an upgrade anyway.
  • Better camera: As cellphone cameras go, the iPhone’s is good. Megapixels don’t mean much if you have a crap lens and the 2 megapixel camera on the iPhone will take better pictures than many other phones with 3.2 or even 5 megapixel cameras that have shoddy lenses. The lack of a flash doesn’t bother me either as I am yet to see a decent implementation of a flash on a phone – they’re usually little LED lights that achieve very little besides perhaps giving snipers something to aim at.
  • Persistent applications: There isn’t much to say here. I don’t really need to run more than one application at the same time – but I do need iPhone app developers to start using notification and push services from Apple that would allow for notifications to be provided even if the application isn’t running. Windows Mobile phones let you run more than one app at a time, as does Symbian – and it’s messy. Memory is constantly full, it makes the phone run slower and remembering to terminate applications which otherwise stay resident is a ballache.

I’ll be at the Mobile World Conference in Barcelona next month and look forward to hunting down the Palm Pre and comparing it to the iPhone. For now, however, I’ll stick with Apple. I love BlackBerry devices and the Nokia E71 is one of the hottest phones I have ever used, but the iPhone still reigns supreme in my universe. Each to their own.

I'm a writer and broadcaster who also designs apps and strategies for disruptive startups in the financial world. Find out more on my about page.