Apple's Upgraded iPhone Is OK, But Here's What iOS 4 Is Missing

Compared to most cell-phone software upgrades, Apple’s updates to its iOS (née iPhone OS) are low on suspense and uncertainty. You don’t need to sit around wondering if your device will run iOS 4, and when your carrier might make it available–if you’ve got any iPhone or iPod Touch except the first-generation models, you can do the upgrade yourself. Now. It’s a major advantage of the fact that Apple controls its own hardware, software, and mechanism for delivering OS updates.

Compared to most phone upgrades, though–including previous iPhone ones–iOS 4 is also more the beginning of a process than a self-contained leap forward. Thanks to Apple’s Benjamin Button school of software design, it adds numerous features that feel like bare necessities even though we haven’t had them until now. (My two favorites: the integrated multi-account Mail inbox and the ability to organize apps into Folders.) Apple is finally done feeling in major holes, I think–although you may feel free to disagree.

But here’s why iOS 4 feels like the start of something rather than a conclusion: Its flagship feature is unquestionably multitasking, which provides major benefits only when developers enable it by updating their applications. And the OS includes a dizzying 1500 new APIs that provide developers with new capabilities. So about 75 percent of my excitement over iOS 4 involves its potential as a platform, not the features that are available right now. I’m pleased that a Pandora that can play in the background is already here, for instance…but I’ll be more enthused when Slacker can do the same.

In the meantime, my mind is already racing ahead to the features I’d like to see in iOS 5, and I thought I’d record some of them here–and ask you to list the stuff you’re still waiting for. (But let’s not talk about Flash. I’m tired of talking about Flash on the iPhone.)

What I’m looking for here are features that don’t require new hardware, and which you can envision Apple actually deciding to implement. Such as…

  • Full-text search of Mail messages, whether they’re stored locally or on the server. (Mail still searches only header info.)
  • The ability to store more than 200 messages on an iPhone (some of us might devote the majority of the space on a 32GB iPhone to our inboxes if it were possible to do so).
  • A Notes app that looks less silly, or which at least let you opt for a non-comical skin (the new syncing feature is very nice, though).
  • A user-configurable delay before the phone locks itself.
  • Third-party widgets (iOS 4 takes a baby step in this direction with its music player controls that work with third-party apps such as Pandora).
  • Widgets that can display when the phone is locked–so that I can glance at my next calendar appointment, for instance.
  • The ability to make an iPhone behave like a MiFi mobile hotspot (I figure this will be standard smartphone behavior by the time the iPhone 5 comes out…which doesn’t mean that Apple and AT&T will enable it).
  • Swype. And voice recognition input everywhere–at least via an API that would let a company like Dragon provide it.

Okay, that’s enough from me. For now, at least. What iOS features are you still waiting for?

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