iPhone OS 4: What's still missing
Yesterday's iPhone OS 4 sneak preview event gave us 7 new "tent-pole" features, 1500 new APIs for developers, and once again took Apple's mobile OS a step closer to feature parity and a step further towards elegant functionality... but we didn't get everything we wanted. And no matter how hard we tried, we found we didn't even get everything we needed. In other words, iPhone 4.0 is still missing out in some key areas. Even though we got some good stuff, this is what we didn't get:
No new Home Screen/SpringBoard. We understand that Apple has 85,000,000 legacy users now trained on the iPhone Home Screen system (aka the same app launcher metaphor going back to the days of PalmOS). We knew when Apple said as much during the iPad announcements that they weren't going to confuse that "already trained" customer base. It's the price of being an established OS, after all. So Apple didn't radically re-invent the Home Screen. They did make it layered -- it can lift up to show you multitasking apps and slit open to show you apps inside folders -- but that's it. And part of "that's it" means...
No themes. You get wallpaper and that's where your customization ends. You still can't remove built-in apps (though you can hide them in a folder so they take less space). You can't chance the look of icons. There's no animated backgrounds to be had. More disappointingly, however...
No widgets. Want to know the latest weather, Facebook or Twitter updates, or stick a big clock on the screen? There's an app for all of that, sure, but you have to go into and out of each individual app and the Home Page remains a giant grid of uninformative icons. Android and Nokia have had widgets for a while now, webOS lets you flick between live Cards, and Windows Phone 7 will have live tiles. iPhone... will be waiting on 5.0? More's the pity too because...
No new notification system. We got local notifications, so there's some measure of offline alerts, but they're trapped in the same single, modal, popup hell that's existed since iPhone 3.0. (And it's particularly ludicrous on the iPad!). Again, still, if you get a couple SMS, a few Twitter DMs, a game challenge or two, and calendar reminder, and then an IM, you'll only ever know that IM existed -- everything else is completely and utterly destroyed in terms of notifications, and while some apps will badge with a number for unread items, you have to go find them and that's "pull", not "push". Maybe this is also a 5.0 feature...
A lot of other stuff failed to put in an appearance as well.
- Apps can now embed SMS, but why isn't that a system-wide, OS level, quick-reply API included in the alerts?
- Calendar still has no week view. iPad calendar rotates to landscape, why can't iPhone?
- Photos gets Faces and Places, but no MobileMe or other syncing abilities. It's 2010, isn't it?
- Weather is still 1.0. Even stocks has been updated. Compared to HTC's weather, it's in the dust.
- Settings are still bound to an app. You can't tap the title bar to quickly toggle Wi-Fi or Bluetooth or any of a half-dozen other useful things.
- Mail gets universal inbox, threaded messages, and fast switching, but still no IMAP IDLE (at least GoogleSync can now be used alongside ActiveSync, but still...)
- Safari still lacks Flash, Java, or any other plugin and likely always will. But it should really have gotten in-page text string search.
- iPad gets orientation lock via a hardware switch where the iPhone's mute switch is located. How about at least a software gesture?
- What about a universal "back" gesture while we're at it as well? Tapping the title bar auto-scrolls a list to top, couldn't swiping from right to left take us back to the previous screen, in every app?
iPhone 4.0 was full of functional goodness, no doubt about it. Perhaps we'll even see one or two more come WWDC in June (Mobile iChat video?) Even given Apple's size, there are limitations of time and resources that mean they have to choose what features get done now and what get left for later. You can't have everything immediately. Did doing multitasking come at the expense of doing notifications this time around? (or did iAd?) Maybe. But that's for Apple to decide and for us, the users, to take them to task over.
And, oh yeah, there's still no built in task app (or sync).
Anything else missing from iPhone 4.0 that really ought to have been in there?