Only a few weeks remain of 2009, and thus begins the task of defining new year's resolutions—in this case, we'll be making a list for Apple and the iPhone. Even though the iPhone had a banner year, we still have some ideas for change in 2010.
But first, let's reflect on this year's iPhone-related accomplishments. There's simply no denying that the iPhone had an enormous year. Some of the highlights: the hugely successful debut of iPhone 3.0 and iPhone 3GS, Apple's record-breaking earnings, and the App Store hitting the 100,000 app milestone.
Next year looks like another big year for Apple, too. Market researcher IDC predicts the App Store will surpass 300,000 apps and that Apple will indeed deliver its much-rumored, superbly-hyped Apple tablet. Moreover, IDC foresees the number of mobile devices connected to the Internet hitting one billion, which comes tantalizingly close to the 1.3 billion PCs that currently tap the Internet.
"It will be a watershed year for the ascension of mobile devices," said IDC analyst Frank Gens.
The iPhone ignited this ascension, of course, and now Apple sits in the driver's seat. But a few bad maneuvers could derail the movement, which leads us to the first of five things we'd like to see from Apple next year regarding the iPhone.
Hello, Hello, Hello—Verizon!
As iPhone owners gobble up bandwidth, as much as five times more than other mobile users, AT&T's overtaxed data network has led to a shoddy customer experience. If this continues, AT&T poses the biggest risk to the iPhone's ongoing success. After all, Apple bills the iPhone as the best mobile customer experience in the world.
Much of the onus to fix this problem rests on AT&T. To its credit, AT&T has spent a fortune, investing nearly $65 million since 2008 to improve its 3G wireless network in the San Francisco Bay Area alone. The exclusive carrier of the iPhone is also rolling out HSPA 7.2 technology nationwide with completion expected in 2011.
But if next year is truly mobile devices' watershed year, AT&T's efforts may be too late. AT&T received the lowest score among wireless carriers with a below average rating in a recent Consumer Reports customer satisfaction survey. Verizon earned above average marks, while T-Mobile and Sprint received average scores.
With AT&T's exclusive hold on the iPhone set to expire mid-2010, we're hoping Apple heeds the pleas of iPhone customers and wannabe customers and opens the iPhone to other carriers. Even though Verizon has slammed AT&T and, indirectly, the iPhone, in its "Map for That" ads, Verizon is still the iPhone carrier of choice for the future.
I Want My iTablet (or Whatever It's Called)
Apple sure loves playing the hype game. Nothing in tech has more mystery and hype surrounding it than the rumored Apple tablet. But this strategy is a double-edged sword: Apple now needs to deliver the tablet next year—can we really go through another year of rumor and innuendo?—and the product had better live up to sky-high expectations.
Apple also better make the tablet affordable. "The rumor has Apple coming out with an $800 tablet," says Manish Rathi, co-founder of Retrevo, a consumer electronics shopping site. Yet Rathi is quick to add that Apple would be wise to get to a $600 or less price point.
We're hoping the tablet will be a fully capable media device, not just an e-reader like the Kindle.
Nevertheless, the emerging e-reader market will be key to the Apple tablet's success. Here again, the need to deliver a tablet next year is critical. More e-readers are coming to market seemingly every quarter. So if Apple doesn't come out with the tablet next year, Apple might miss the e-reader opportunity and have to play catch up in a saturated market.
Improve the iPhone Battery
The third item on our wish list: improve the much-maligned iPhone battery. There seems to be no end to the line of customers crying foul about poor battery life. Tips to save battery life by, say, disabling power-hungry features or forking out $80 for a battery pack don't sit well with consumers.
The battery of the iPhone 3GS was supposed to be a great improvement, delivering nine hours of use on Wi-Fi, 10 hours of video playback and 30 hours of music on a single charge—about a 30 percent upgrade to the iPhone 3G.
From the consumer's perspective, though, the improved battery life is a myth. Part of the problem is that the iPhone 3GS's cool features coupled with more powerful apps available on the App Store drains more of the battery. Thus the consumer doesn't feel like there's more juice.
The other problem is that the battery life of the iPhone 3GS seems to vary widely from unit to unit. This has led to a backlash of sorts about an iPhone lemon. Apple has put in battery testing procedures and systems at Apple Stores to weed out and replace these lemons.
Apple is working hard at improving the iPhone battery, sources tell me. We can only hope that next year's iPhone will have made strides in the battery life issue.
On a related note, we're also hoping Apple lets the iPhone support Adobe Flash. Apple has said that Flash taxes the battery, which is why it won't support it. (We're not talking about a camera flash, either—although, come to think of it, that would be nice, too.)
Transparent App Approval? We Approve!
In a year and a half, the App Store has grown to more than 100,000 apps on its virtual shelves. No one could have predicted its success, including, it seems, Apple. There simply wasn't a very good process to approve apps.
This resulted in inconsistency and frustrating subjectivity, from why apps were approved or not to how long before an app appeared on the App Store. It's been rumored that there were only a handful of folks at Apple in charge of the process, and they quickly became overwhelmed.
Some apps that didn't seem to violate Apple's ethical policies weren't approved and, later, approved. Other apps like Baby Shaker were first approved and then removed. Then there's apps that Apple didn't want on its store apparently for competitive reasons, like Google Voice.
Apple, of course, has every right to decide what goes on its App Store or not. But the App Store has quickly become the great differentiator among smartphones, as iPhone rivals like the Motorola Droid hit the market.
Apple has been streamlining the app approval process, including giving app developers insight into timelines for app approvals, but we'd like to see more next year—namely, transparency. How are apps approved? Why are some apps given the hook?
Given Apple's penchant for secrecy, the idea of transparency amounts to wishful thinking. Yet Apple should shed at least some light on the app approval process to appease developers. After all, the App Store is no longer the only game in town. With the arrival of the Droid and others, developers now have platform choices.
Give IT Staffs a Little Help
When Apple came out with iPhone 3.1 a few months ago, people with older iPhones suddenly could no longer access Outlook email. Tech support would have to jump through hoops to allow them to get Outlook email again. Only those with iPhone 3GS were unaffected, although they were forced to created a password to unlock the iPhone and get Outlook email.
Technical reasons aside, iPhone 3.1 caused chaos in the corporate environment overnight. Executives were no doubt annoyed. IT staffs that were caught off guard—which is to say, all of them—had to scramble to fix the problem. And employees using the iPhone to access corporate email even though their companies didn't support the device were simply out of luck.
Apple notoriously doesn't give IT staffs a heads up on anything, from new OS versions to new machines. Yet Apple's products, most notably the iPhone, enter companies through the back door. CIOs and IT staffs often find themselves on the short end of Apple secrecy.
We're hoping Apple gives IT staffs a little more help with managing the iPhone next year. We're also hoping for world peace.