What will we get in iPhone 4.0?
Tomorrow at 10pm PT, 1pm ET, Steve Jobs puts sneaker to stage and, along with SVP of iPhone software, Scott Forstall, gives us a sneak preview of the highly anticipated iPhone 4.0. No one outside Apple knows exactly what new features and paradigms iPhone 4.0 will offer. However, tradition demands we make our best guesses and ask you to do the same.
This isn't what we want, mind you. We told Apple what we want back on December 25, 2009: multitasking, better notifications, widgets for the home screen, instant access to important settings, themes, gestures like pervasive pull-down-to-refresh, system-wide "back" implementation, orientation lock, and resolution independence, along with a ton of great reader suggestions in the comments. We've also asked for a Finder app, like the Photo but to store document files.
This is what we think we'll actually get, given the rumors and the direction Apple looks to be going. This is us, TiPb staff and TiPb readers reading the tea leaves...
iPhone 3.2 (aka iPad) features
This is the most obvious, really (and we've written about it before). All the little tweaks and enhancements Apple has made to the underlying OS, like adding "replace" to cut, copy, and paste, adding spell check to auto-correct, adding dictionary lookup to text select, etc. Wallpaper for the Home Screen, week view in Calendar and the other, sometimes small but still important, chance to the built-in apps, should be there as well. So should Bluetooth keyboard support. Oh, and iBooks.
Better Mail handling
Steve Jobs himself reportedly responded to an email saying a "universal inbox" was coming. That means, like Mac Mail but unlike current iPhone Mail, users with multiple accounts would have the option of seeing all their new messages in one place and not have to tap into and out of multiple folders every time they wanted to check every new message in every account. (Yes that sentence was crafted to feel as laborious as the current process!). Whether we'll see more than that -- IMAP IDLE, multiple exchange accounts, "synergy"-like messaging integration, etc. is unknown.
Multitasking (of a sort)
We've been hearing this for a while now -- that Apple will offer some level of multitasking in iPhone 4.0. We've even seen it in the shadows. The three use-cases that it could cover are background tasks (listening to streaming internet radio while you browse Safari, keeping navigation running while you check Mail), fast task switching (going from Notes to Contacts and back), and multi-window workflow (dragging data from one application space into another).
While the "Pandora" model could easily be handled by allowing streaming accounts to be entered inside iPod (which already has background access going back to iPhone 1.0), the navigation model won't be solved unless there's a more universal background implementation. However, Apple has always put stability and mainstream user friendliness ahead of power-user functionality. A compromise seems most like -- full background access for a highly limited number of applications.
Fast task switching was accomplished in large part by the speed of iPhone 3GS. What remains missing is the consistent saving of state by apps on exit (if you leave a twitter client or a race game and then go back it should be at exactly the place you left it), and a more elegant way to quickly move between apps -- swiping between two apps 11 screens apart isn't very Apple. The rumor here is for a Mac OS X-style Exposé implementation where a double-click of the Home Button would cause the current screen to fly out and a grid of active (background) apps to fly in. That sounds much more Apple.
Multi-window drag-and-drop may not be obvious given the small size of the iPhone, but given how Palm's webOS Cards view presents apps -- and how the iPhone Safari Pages view does likewise -- is remains a tease. Still, we don't expect it. Not yet.
New home screen (SpringBoard)
SpringBoard is the internal name of Apple's Home Screen UI, which right now consists of an 11 page-wide application launcher grid with SpotLight search bolted on to the right. Rumors have persisted since before iPhone 3.0 that Apple has a new SpringBoard experience waiting in the wings. Again, there are several elements that could be at play: better organization, glance-able information, themes.
We're not wishing here, so no grandiose "Apple will re-invent the metaphor for home screens with some ingenious new approach". We're looking at what Apple has already done for clues as to where they're going. Stacks, then, where groups of similar apps are combined together until a tap expands them into a grid-launcher would be reasonable. Likewise, Dashboard where useful, glance-able information is always just a tap (or swipe) away. Dashboard could even integrate SpotLight, allowing it to replace a singletasker with a multitasker (how fitting). It could function similarly on the Lock Screen, for ultimate glance-ability.
We don't see themes, however. Though they'd be a boon to users and designers/developers alike, they don't seem very Apple (beyond the home screen wallpaper already mentioned).
Improved notification handling
We've beaten this one to death -- if you get a constant stream of SMS, IM, game challenges, or any heavy amount of notifications each new one obliterates the one before meaning all but the most recent functionally never existed and hence never notified you of anything. Both Android and Palm webOS do this more functionally, though developers have complained to us that it may be too complex for the mainstream market Apple is targeting (too much management for mom). Could Apple create a more robust yet still drop-dead-simple notification system for the iPhone? Sure, and given how fast and far push notification has been adopted, we think it's likely they will.
The simplest solution would be a Notification app (please, no smiley face logo) that listed all new notifications. When you've received multiple notifications, the dialog would show the most recent but also inform you of how many others you've missed, and an option to "see all" would be presented.
But that would likely make no one happy. This more than multitasking might be the most difficult nut to crack, and may end up being part of that new Home Screen mentioned above. That's closer to guess work than we're comfortable with for this post, however, so we'll just leave it there for now.
"iAd" was rumored to be shown off on April 7, and April 8 is just a day later. Apple's mobile advertising platform could certainly be part of the iPhone 4.0 SDK feature set unveiled for developers. Gossip says Steve Jobs wants to do for mobile advertising what iTunes did for digital music -- make it not suck. We certainly hope so. Punch-the-monkey with push notifications is certainly not the new Home Screen experience we want.
It's fairly certain iTunes is moving to the cloud and becoming something akin to iTunes.com. We'd love to see streaming video from Apple, MobileMe "whispersync" to keep our place between iPhone and iPad, and other great, media-centric features. But Apple typically saves those for September to coincide with the new iPod touch and lately, new iTunes releases.
We put this here just for Chad. We still think Mobile iChat (text and audio/video) is coming but not until the 4th generation iPhone is revealed at WWDC 2010. Apple usually holds a few new OS features back to show off the new hardware (like Compass, VoiceControl, etc. last year). Patience, Chad!
Beyond "whispersync" MobileMe has fallen so far behind Google services, DropBox and others that Apple really has to up its game here. Photo sync, cloud backup, and other features have gone from nice-to-have to must-have. Again, however, that feels more like a WWDC 2010 Phil Schiller announcement to us.
One more thing...?
That's what we think is most likely to come with iPhone 4.0 tomorrow, but Apple has shown they can always surprise us (who expected the long, long list of previously missing features rattled off at the iPhone 3.0 event?). What are you expecting to see?