Photo: AP photo
Apple rolled out a new version of its iOS software today for the iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad — version 4.3.It includes some minor updates, such as wi-fi hotspot mode and AirPlay features for Apple TV.
Within the next month or two, we expect Apple to take the lid off the next major version of its mobile operating system, iOS 5.
What’s going to be included?
In addition to our own expectations and wish lists, we have polled more than a dozen iOS developers for the features, large and small, that they would like Apple to add to the platform. (We first published this list last week, but are re-posting it today, in context of the iOS 4.3 launch.)
They range from broadly fixing Apple’s weaknesses in cloud syncing and “social” to specific requests like better access to the iPhone’s camera data.
It's a little absurd that it's 2011 and the only way to get iTunes music onto our iPhone from our computer is through a USB cable. And that the fastest way to get a photo on our computer is to email it to ourselves.
Apple figured out early on that music should be sold and distributed over the Internet, but it has done a poor job letting users sync music they already own through the Internet. (Or even over wi-fi in your own house.)
We propose a wide-ranging set of 'cloud' features, ranging from iTunes streaming and syncing, to just-works-out-of-the-box file syncing, to a better, more accessible MobileMe service.
We'd personally love to see a subscription iTunes music service, but given how unpopular rival services from Rhapsody and Thumbplay have been, it's possible Apple doesn't want to bother with that.
We'll let Apple figure out the details, but the bottom line is that Google is going head-first with 'cloud' stuff and Apple is following. It would be nice to see some leadership from Apple here. (It would also be great if Apple could figure out a way for couples and families to share an iPad and iTunes account, so they don't have to individually 'own' books, apps, etc.)
The only caveat is that this may, for some features, require a major new version of Mac OS X or iTunes, so it might not happen until a future iOS release, if ever.
Apple's real-time 'push notifications' service is a handy way to skirt the expense of text messages. But as anyone who gets more than a couple of notifications per day knows, they aren't handled very well in the system. You can only see the most recent notification per app, and there's no 'inbox' of notifications. If you miss one, you miss one.
This needs to be re-thought, so there's a way to know 1) how many notifications you've received and 2) what they are. Google does a better job than Apple at this, and we expect Apple will improve its product.
Here's VC Fred Wilson describing why they're important.
We don't know for sure, but it seems that Apple's 'Ping' social network for sharing music has not been a big hit. That is, in part, we think, because it has been so feature-limited.
Specifically, we don't really have much interest in sharing our music purchases with our friends. But we have much interest in sharing (and learning about) other iTunes purchases, especially iOS apps, and to a lesser extent, movies.
We think Apple has broad ambitions for social networking, and it may want to compete with Facebook more than it wants to work closely with Facebook. Especially as Facebook moves deeper into mobile platforms, which would put it in closer competition with Apple.
It's possible that Ping will become a broader social network, including app sharing, iBooks sharing, photo sharing, etc. Or it's possible Apple would build a social layer directly into the OS, and each app will have its own social features, which developers could also use. Or it's possible there will be an entirely new, social, 'MobileMe' app.
Either way, we're expecting something. We're just not completely sure what it is.
Feel free to call this the 'Instapaper solution' or the 'New York Times app saviour .' The basic problem is that while Apple has made background processing work wonderfully for some apps, like Pandora and other streaming radio services, it still hasn't solved a major problem.
That is, news and information apps like the New York Times app, Instapaper, etc., don't have a way to fetch the latest updates, news stories, articles, etc., while you're not actively using their app. We'd love a solution, whether 'pull' or 'push,' that lets these apps get updates in the background.
They will be much more useful, especially in New York, where we spend a lot of time using our iOS devices underground without Internet access -- and if we've forgotten to update our apps manually before we get on the subway, we're out of luck.
One of the big new features on the iPad and iPhone will supposedly be support for near-field communication, which basically means your device will be able to communicate 1-to-1 with other NFC devices, ranging from other iPads and iPhones to payment systems, etc.
Besides whatever mobile payments system Apple is building, we'd love to see developers get access to the NFC features, too. It could be a fun way to share data like contact info, music and e-books, apps, and more.
iOS 4 brought the iPad and iPhone under the same major iOS release. And Apple just added two new content sources to Apple TV: Live streaming of MLB.TV and NBA games.
Now let's see Apple open up the iOS SDK and App Store for the Apple TV, Apple's set-top box which continues to sell well at Amazon.
There are plenty of apps we'd love to see, ranging from games and video to FaceTime.
Developers seem to be into the idea of allowing 'widgets' on your iPhone's home and unlock screens, which could tell you weather, sports scores, message updates, etc., without needing to launch any apps.
It's plausible that Apple could work out some sort of widget SDK, as Google Android has. But it might also clutter the user interface, something Apple tends to stay away from.
FaceTime over 3G, if Apple can make the video work in a way that isn't terrible.
FaceTime built into the iOS SDK, so developers can integrate it into apps.
And ideally, a smoother way to FaceTime between an iPhone/iPad and a Mac.
John Casasanta, who's behind the popular Camera+ app, sends us this wish list:
1) Access to raw, uncompressed camera data
2) The ability for 3rd-party developers to take HDR photos as the standard camera app does
3) The ability to take rapid shots with variable exposure settings as the standard Camera app does when shooting HDR
4) More control over camera functions such as shutter speed, exposure, ISO, etc
5) The ability to create groups in the photo library
6) The ability to save photos to any group in the photo library
7) The ability to delete photos in the photo library
8) The ability to edit photos in the photo library
9) A better solution for the 'feature' where users have to approve location services in 3rd-party apps, otherwise they don't have full access to the photo library
Similarly, Eric Hoffert, CTO of Thwapr, a sort of 'Instagram for video,' passes along these requests for video:
1) Adaptive Streaming Playback Optimizations -- minimize video start-up latency and adaptive video stream switching times
2) Video Compression App Controls -- enable quality slider (0 to 100) for fine grained app control of video compression settings
3) Enhanced Caching for Adaptive Video Streaming -- deploy better caching of adaptive video streams onto local device storage
4) Auto-Manage HTTP File Upload -- automatically track and restart any HTTP upload when connections are broken & restored
And Christopher and Jason Laan of Laan Labs are hoping for a 3D camera someday:
Obviously this is just over the top, but as the phone is becoming so integral into us knowing our environment (i.e. gps) and how to interact with it, a 3d camera would permit developers to make apps that could help users interact with their surroundings from simple little ways like helping people better navigate in mall where there is no gps signal, to vastly improved product recognitions, incredible AR games, facial recognition that would work from most any angle (not just front shot).
There have been some improvements made in beta testing iOS apps, thanks especially to a startup called TestFlight.
But Apple can do a much better job than it has, allowing developers to provision them more easily, and allowing testers to download and install them as easily as they would a real app from the App Store.
Developers want to get in-app access to the same voice controls that Apple has built. This way you can tell the Kindle app to 'turn the page' from the bathtub or tell Pandora to 'pause' while you're driving.
There might also be a use for a text-to-speech engine, so your phone can read to you. That could be especially useful for translating.
As consumers, we are very happy with the iPhone Maps app. Developers like Foursquare and Yelp have done a good enough job surfacing interesting stuff to do nearby that Apple probably doesn't need to bother doing that itself. (Though we'd love to be able to cache map tiles on our iPhone better when we're in foreign countries without data roaming.)
Developers want to be able to use Google Street View within their apps, and to be able to use the map tiles APIs without necessarily laying over an actual area of land. They also want to be able to use the Google Maps directions within apps. And they want an official Apple 'places' database/API, the way Foursquare and some other companies offer.
How about the ability for developers to offer a 15-minute trial to apps before you have to commit to buying them?
Or the ability to sell major updates for a fee? It's getting several years into the iOS ecosystem, and some developers aren't seeing any new revenue from their users since their first purchase.
Perhaps the new iOS subscription offering will help solve some of this.
Odds and ends: Here's an assortment of 10 more little things that developers we talked to were interested in
1) The ability to roll back the version of your app in the App Store in case of emergencies (huge bugs, etc.)
2) Drop the requirement of price parity for iOS versus competing platforms
3) Retina iPhone apps appear crisp in 2X mode on iPad instead of normally
4) Access to hardware buttons so you can take photos with the volume buttons
5) An automated validation tool to check for possible reasons that your app would be rejected
6) Official pull to refresh support
7) Text wrapping on button titles to help with localisation
8) Better control over keyboard showing or hiding
9) Pressure sensitive touch data to see how hard you're pressing
10) Better ways for apps to talk to each other
Yes, there are still a few cries for Adobe Flash to be installed on the iPhone and iPad. But it's not going to happen.
Apple has too much invested in the anti-Flash crusade. And more importantly, we still haven't seen Adobe ship a version of Flash for mobile devices that works great and has great battery life.
Even Motorola wimped out with its new Xoom tablet, which just launched without Flash support.
Daniel Joseph and team from The App Business
Kiril Savino and the team from GameChanger Media
Steven McCord and the team from Millennial Media
Eric Hoffert from Thwapr
John Casasanta from Tap Tap Tap
Walt Doyle and the team from Where
Christopher and Jason Laan from Laan Labs
Michael Johnston from Simperium
Dan Gellert and Jeff Arena from GateGuru
The app development team at Dictionary.com
Igor Pusenjak from Lima Sky
Craig Hockenberry from The Iconfactory
And others who wish to remain anonymous.
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