15 Features Apple Must Build Into iPhone OS 4

Steve Jobs

It’s almost March. In Apple land, this means that if this year is anything like the last two years, it’s almost time for another Apple event where company executives show off a new version of the iPhone operating system for developers.

So as competitors like Google Android continue to improve, what should we expect in the next version of the iPhone OS? (Which we assume will be called iPhone OS 4.)

Click here for 15 features that Apple must build into iPhone OS 4 →

For the best ideas, we asked a handful of iPhone app developers and iPhone app investors what they’re interested in working with for iPhone OS 4.

By far, the most common request was for background processing so that third-party apps could run in the background, while other apps are running in the foreground. The idea is that this will make apps more useful, ranging from Internet radio apps that can keep streaming, to messaging apps that can keep receiving messages while you’re doing other stuff.

We’ve heard that Apple is definitely interested in offering some sort of support for background processing, but it obviously hasn’t made it into the last few major updates. Perhaps this will be the year. Its competitors, including Android, Palm, and BlackBerry already support it.

In the past, Apple has said it hasn’t offered background processing for third-party apps because it wastes battery life. But perhaps Apple has made advancements in chip and battery technology over the past few years that could now make it a reality.

Steve Jobs told Walt Mossberg after the iPad unveiling that Apple’s chips in the iPad use “hardly any” power, and that the display takes up most of the battery life. So perhaps that will open the door for background apps on the iPhone and the iPad.

Other requests range from overhauls to push notifications and the App Store to deeper access to some APIs, such as Spotlight search and the iPhone’s camera. We’ve tried to stick with practical requests, but if you have anything wackier, or want to add to our list, let us know in the comments below.

As always, we hope the company has some unexpected tricks up its sleeve. Competitors like Google Android and even Microsoft are getting much better, and Apple needs to keep its lead. The next iPhone software update is supposedly an “A+” update, according to MacRumors founder Arnold Kim. We’ll see soon what that means.

Click here for 15 features that Apple must build into iPhone OS 4 →
Special thanks to the following developers for their ideas: Michael Johnston of Cloud Factory, Igor Pusenjak of Lima Sky, John Casasanta of TapTapTap, Jason and Chris Laan of Laan Labs, Tim McLaughlin of Siteworx, and several others who didn’t want their names listed.

[slideshow]
[slide
permalink=”background-processing-for-third-party-apps-1″
title=”Background processing for third-party apps”
content=”Background app processing was by far the top request from almost all of the developers we talked to.

Right now, only a few Apple apps — such as Phone, Messaging, and iPod — can run in the background, while you’re using another app or the phone is locked. This is for two main reasons: So the task you’re trying to do doesn’t get slowed down by an app that’s running in the background, and so your battery doesn’t run itself out in an hour.

But if Apple can make the processor and battery equation work, it’s a good idea to let at least some third-party apps run in the background.

It would make many apps — such as a location tracker, or a messaging app, or a streaming radio service like Pandora or MLB At Bat, or a custom alarm clock app — much more useful. And it would open the door to new apps that haven’t been created yet because they’d be useless without background processing.

Apple has gotten some of the way there with its push notifications system, and could definitely improve those. But Android, Palm’s WebOS, BlackBerry, and other competitors already have background processing, and it seems to serve those platforms fine.

Is Apple really saying it can’t make something better and more user-friendly? Or has it just not gotten there in terms of battery technology and feature priorities?”
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[slide
permalink=”music-api-for-background-audio-2″
title=”Music API for background audio”
content=”If Apple can’t enable background processing for third-party apps, the least it could do is open up a new API for background music streaming. This would let apps like Pandora or MLB At Bat continue playing their Internet radio streams while you’re reading email or using another app.”
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[slide
permalink=”ibooks-and-the-ibookstore-3″
title=”iBooks and the iBookstore”
content=”If Apple wants its iBookstore — probably designed more for the iPad than the iPhone — to take off, it needs to support the iPhone and iPod touch, too. Otherwise it’s just giving up more ground to Amazon, whose Kindle app works on the iPhone, will work on the iPad, and is coming soon for the Mac.

Apple should also add the nice feature Amazon has for the Kindle, which syncs up your furthest page read across multiple devices. This way, you can read for a few hours on the iPad, catch up on a chapter on your iPhone, and then go right back to the iPad without having to shuffle through chapters.”
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[slide
permalink=”an-amazing-mobile-ad-system-4″
title=”An amazing mobile ad system”
content=”So far, mobile ad companies like AdMob, Medialets, and others have developed decent tools for mobile ads on the iPhone. But developers complain that ad rates from ad networks are pathetically low. And everyone wants to know when we’re going to get something more interesting than a tiny banner ad.

Apple recently acquired mobile ad firm Quattro Wireless, and put this guy — its CEO Andy Miller — in charge of mobile advertising. He reports directly to Steve Jobs, so you can be sure that Apple is REALLY interested in making something great.

What would be awesome: Ad technology that only the creative geniuses at Apple could develop, that’s both user-friendly and could help media companies and other publishers make more money off their goods, whether free or paid apps. And perhaps some way to plug into networks or other ad aggregators so publishers can get the best ad rates possible.

Initially we feared that this might not be ready until iPhone OS 5, which we would expect in 2011. But several developers we talked to think it could be something for OS 4 this year.”
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[slide
permalink=”overhaul-push-notifications-5″
title=”Overhaul push notifications”
content=”People are probably using push notifications more than Apple had ever projected they might. So it’s time to overhaul the feature so it’s more useful.

To begin with, users should be able to respond to the alert more consistently. Right now, if you unlock your phone in the first few seconds after you get a new notification, it automatically boots the app responsible for the notification. This is almost never what we want to do when we get a push notification. This should stop, and you should be able to ‘Close’ or ‘View’ the app the way you can in this pictured situation, which is a message that’s been sitting there for a while.

Apple should also make a place where you can read old push notifications, because right now, they vanish if you get a new one to replace it. That makes apps that try to use push notifications to replace text messages pretty useless. If there’s no way to be guaranteed you’ll read the push notification, it can’t be relied on. And it’s hard to use even a couple apps with push notifications at the same time, as they’re replacing each other on the screen so fast.

Perhaps this could be part of the messaging app? Or a unified inbox with emails AND messages? Or a push notifications app where you can browse old messages?”
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[slide
permalink=”a-better-iphone-lock-screen-6″
title=”A better iPhone lock screen”
content=”There’s too much going on on the iPhone to keep this super-simple lock screen forever.

Maybe it’s cool to keep it as the default, but it could be so much more useful if you could put things like calendar entries, your latest text messages and push notifications, and other alerts on here. This could save an incredible amount of time.

The thing you’re looking at on the right is Intelliscreen, an app for jailbroken, or hacked iPhones, found via The Apple Blog.”
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[slide
permalink=”text-and-multimedia-messaging-from-within-an-app-7″
title=”Text and multimedia messaging from within an app”
content=”A simple request. There’s already APIs so you can create an email from within an app. How about opening it up so you can send a text message or photo/video MMS from within an app?”
image=”http://static.businessinsider.com/image/4aa00f1d31df45661561857d/image.jpg”
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[slide
permalink=”a-unified-inbox-for-all-your-email-accounts-8″
title=”A unified inbox for all your email accounts”
content=”Hard to believe this has taken Apple so long, because it’s one of the most basic features on its Mac mail application. But very simply, we’d like to be able to read all of our new mail across multiple email accounts in the same inbox.

We can’t imagine Apple is philosophically opposed to this obvious feature, so perhaps it’s just something they haven’t gotten around to yet.”
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[slide
permalink=”better-access-to-the-camera-for-augmented-reality-and-photo-apps-9″
title=”Better access to the camera for augmented reality and photo apps”
content=”Developers have already made some super-neat camera apps, including some futuristic ‘augmented reality’ apps that display data over your live camera preview, some that create an improvised video camera for the iPhone 3G, and others that add filters and neat effects to still shots.

Now they want more access to the camera. One developer tells us he wants: ‘Fast access to the camera stream. From our experiments, we know these APIs are under the hood and its going to be critical for apps to be able to quickly process raw camera data to take augmented reality to the next level’

Another says: ‘One other thing we’d love to see is low-level access to camera functionality (exposure, etc).'”
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[slide
permalink=”wireless-sync-to-itunes-10″
title=”Wireless sync to iTunes”
content=”Right now the only way to sync your iPhone up to your iTunes library is to plug your phone in via USB. In the era of super-fast wifi, that seems unnecessary. It would be awesome to be able to sync up over wifi from your living room, or even over the Internet at the office. That way you could maybe even potentially grab a song you want to hear from your home computer without having to plug in your phone.

One reason Apple might not bother to build this feature is that you probably have to plug your phone in to charge it every night anyway, so they might think it’s not really worth building a new feature just for fringe use.”
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[slide
permalink=”important-update-to-in-app-purchasing-for-virtual-goods-11″
title=”Important update to in-app purchasing for virtual goods”
content=”App makers, especially social gaming companies, LOVE Apple’s in-app purchasing system introduced with iPhone 3.0. But there’s a problem with the way it’s set up right now.

Right now, you have to get each in-app purchase asset approved on a per-app basis, and multiple apps by the same company can’t access the same in-app purchase or virtual good. Apple should make it so that multiple apps from the same company can access the same in-app purchase library.

As a practical example, if the company behind ‘Guitar Hero’ were to offer a second version of the game, it would need to have entirely new copies of their add-on tracks, avatars, or other virtual goods approved for the new game, even if they’re exact duplicates of the first game’s assets.

That’s fine if it’s one or two files. But if their library is hundreds or thousands of virtual goods — as many social gaming companies or electronic media companies are hoping to introduce — it’s a headache to keep of all those SKUs across multiple apps, get them approved, etc., not to mention that it’s totally inefficient.”
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[slide
permalink=”ways-for-apps-to-talk-to-each-other-12″
title=”Ways for apps to talk to each other”
content=”Many developers we talked to are interested in this feature. Apple might see this as potentially opening up security holes, so it might be hesitant to allow apps to access data or information inside other apps. But if there were a way to set up a secure handshake, it might work. Alternately, if there were a central place that multiple apps could access the SAME information — like they can access the folder/file system on a computer — that could be helpful. (Right now, they can access some stuff, like your pictures library, but not for custom file types.)

One developer writes, ‘One feature that I’d like to call-out though is cross application access. There have been multiple scenarios where we thought: ‘Wouldn’t it be great if these two apps could talk to each other?”

Another says, ‘We want apps to be able to share information with each other. You should be able to grab a document from one app and open it in another.'”
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[slide
permalink=”spotlight-search-within-apps-13″
title=”Spotlight search within apps”
content=”Apple added Spotlight, its search service, to the iPhone last year as the screen to the left of your home screen. It lets you search all of your apps, contacts, messages, etc. from one search box.

Developers are interested in integrating this into their apps, too — either for using it to search your phone for contacts, or to search their own assets, or to add things to the Spotlight database so you can find them from the main search screen.”
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[slide
permalink=”an-app-store-overhaul-14″
title=”An App Store overhaul”
content=”‘Despite recent improvements, the App Store could be so much better,’ one developer writes. ‘Allow us to reply to people who leave feedback about our apps. Give us insight into how many people open our store page versus how many people actually initiate a download. Open up some new ways for our apps to gain exposure, and make the existing selection processes more transparent.'”
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[slide
permalink=”support-for-more-than-one-exchange-account-15″
title=”Support for more than one Exchange account”
content=”Apple turned on support for Microsoft Exchange in iPhone 2.0 as a way to make the device more friendly for people who need to be able to access their business email, calendar, or contacts. But right now, you can only use one Exchange account at a time.

How about support for multiple accounts? Especially now that Google is using Exchange as a way to allow push Gmail on the iPhone.”
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[slide
permalink=”what-about-apples-other-big-device-launch-16″
title=”What about Apple’s other big device launch?”
content=”Click here for 10 burning questions about Apple’s iPad →
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[/slideshow]

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