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Nine features Apple should steal for iPhone in 2019

"Great artists steal". The fuller phrase is "good artists copy, great artists steal". It's one of the most commonly used — and misunderstood — Steve Jobs quotes in tech. I'll spare you the etymology, because they're many and varied, but the gist is this: Copying by itself, just taking someone else's work and using it as your own, is lazy and limited. But stealing something, making it yours, and most importantly — making it new and different and better — now that's art, and that benefits everyone.

So, in that sprit, as we head into 2019, I want to offer a list of 9 things I think the artists at Apple would do well to steal in 2019 — and how I think Apple could improve on them and take then to the next level in the next year.

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1. Google's Night Sight

Computational photography is the future, at least for now. Since it's not convenient to strap big hunks of glass to our phones, we're not using artificially intelligent bits to accomplish far more than the lens and sensor atoms are actually capable of.

We've already got Portrait Mode for depth effect, Portrait Lighting for studio effects, and even Portrait Backgrounds in the Clips app for that green screen effect. But what Google's done with Night Sight adds a whole new level to the, capturing more light for longer than is usually possible, and using machine learning to do everything from removing motion blur to achieving as natural a white balance as possible. And it can literally turn night into day.

Now, with Night Sight, as with its single camera portrait mode, Google is willing to apply these processes as after effects. Apple, currently, is not. Everything on the iPhone camera has to also work in preview and in real time. Even the new lens models and depth effect dynamic aperture controls.

There have also been some photographers who've wanted something in between: A way to capture better low light images that still look like low-light images. In other words, turn night into evening, not daylight.

If Apple could add something like Night Vision, even in post, it'd be a win. If Apple could add something like Night Vision, even in simulated real time, and with an adjustable light effect like the adjustable depth effect, it'd be, I don't know, like winning the battle royal.

2. Viv's voice interface

Viv was created by many of the same people who created Siri. And, yeah, it was bought by Samsung and is being folded in Bixby, but that's so messy right now I want to stick with the original Viv. Which, on Earth 616 or some alternate timeline, stayed with Apple or was acquired instead by Apple.

Anyway, what excited me so much about Viv was its potential to take voice interface to a whole new level.

Right now, voice interface is mostly used to respond to requests but it should really be able to do anything a visual interface can do. I mean, a key part of being a conversational interface is being an interface.

It would be an incredible upgrade for accessibility but the kind of accessibility that's for everyone.

Siri, take a selfie, post it on Instagram, and caption it, happy new year! Siri, launch Pokemon Go, drop a lucky egg, show or tell me everything I can evolve. Siri, share this web page with mom and tell her this is the cake I'm making for Sunday. Siri, log me out of Facebook and delete the app.

No one's doing this yet outside of JARVIS or FRIDAY in the Marvel movies, but it's a goal I'm very much hoping Apple is racing towards.

3. LG's wide angle cameras

There are a few phones out there with wide angle cameras but I have a soft spot here for LG because they've been titling at this particular windmill longer and harder than anyone. So, I'm using them as an example, especially because they've now shipped a phone with a wide angle on both the front and the back.

The biggest thing I miss when using an iPhone XR instead of X or XS is the second, telephoto camera. I love being able to hit that button, zoom in, and get an entirely different look to my photos, closer, more intimate, less distorted. And I'd love it ever more if I could hit that button the other way, zoom out, and get yet another entirely different look, further way, more expansive, almost verging on fish-eyed. Almost.

On the back it would capture far more of the landscape, scene, or room. On the front, it would turn selfies into, I dunno, groupies? Squadies? Help me out here kids.

I don't know whether or not it would open up even greater computational possibilities, but it would open up significantly more photographic ones. And, hey, if Apple can add a third virtual lens model of portrait widies — still looking for lingo here — so much the better.

4. Huawei's battery

I'm going to start sounding like a broken record — wait, no one knows vinyl any more — broken stream? But we're no longer simply using our phones to check email and surf for news on the web. We're using them for bloated, often badly coded web apps, for Instagram and Twitter and Snapchat, and yeah, somehow some people still Facebook, sucking down location and media and messaging, and games that just keep everything firing all the time.

And it was just crushing batteries. Until Apple got better with the power management, more efficient with the chips, and even knocked the roof over its usual 10-hours target with iPhone XR, which gets like one and a half times that, albeit at the expense of screen resolution.

Huawei, though, has knocked the battery socks off of pretty much every reviewer in the business with a battery that, at full on flagship specs, still keeps going and going and going.

I get that battery is a balancing act and Apple wants to keep things as light as possible, maybe with a case you can throw on when you really have to.

But the iPhones load isn't going to be getting any lighter or less important, and that means it's going to need all the power Apple can give it up front as well.

5. iPhone XR's colors

For a long, long time now, Apple has kept its high end simple and sophisticated when it's come to color palette. Silver or white, almost always black or space gray now as well, and more often than not these days, some variant of gold as well. A rosey one if you're lucky.

But, for the mid-range, they get full-on Apple-chromatic. Product Red, yellow, something pink or coral, sometimes even blue or green.

Some people love them enough to go down to the iPhone 5c or XR just to get them. And that always gets me wondering just how hot it would be if Apple did a couple different ones every year on the flagship as well.

We've gotten Product Red, though not for an X-style iPhone just yet. But metallic blue? Purple? There have been some absolutely gorgeous phones in those colors lately, and I'd just love to see what Apple's ID colorist could do with that palette.

6. RED's modular camera system

The RED Hydrogen One was one of the most audacious phone projects in recent memory. And… it kinda crashed and burned at launch. Now, I could do a whole video about eccentric millionaires and billionaires having great angles for phones that really hit their core competencies like shopping or photography, but then not being able to get out of their own heads and ways and just sucking the launch out of them with dumb display tech. But not now and not this one.

Instead, I want to focus on the audacious part, the interesting part — the idea that a phone could become the core, the brain of a far greater imaging system. RED is going to RED and let you, maybe, if they can get their act together and salvage this whole thing, strap real lenses onto the phone body. Like really real lenses. Your favorite fast 50 or whatever.

I don't think Apple could or would go that far, but with rumors of the Smart Battery Case returning, like I said in that video, it'd be super interesting to see a Smart Camera Case.

Not quite what Moment or olloclip do, but something that marries a few, carefully chosen, Apple extended lenses with the image signal processor and neural engine inside the iPhone, to turn it into… something new.

Apple is really good at ecosystem, integration, and cameras. Having an integrated camera system would make for one hell of an ecosystem play.

7. Samsung's Pen support

The Galaxy Note has always been my favorite Samsung Mobile product because it was, essentially, a tiny Wacom tablet that you could take anywhere and use to doodle or markup anything.

As someone who used Wacom for a decade, I can say Apple has much better tech in the Pencil and iPad Pro, but it doesn't really matter at this point because it doesn't work on the iPhone. At least outside Apple's labs.

But, having a version of the Apple Pencil 2 that could clip to the iPhone's side and draw on the iPhone's screen, in 120hrz promotion glory, would be a roving artist and maybe even note-takers dream come true. Especially if Apple surfaced the OCR for more than just search.

I freely admit, this is one of those things that's super easy to say when I'm not the one who'd have to figure out charging without killing the iPhone's battery, or handling pressure without colliding with 3D or Haptic Touch, but I want it so much I'm kinda just going to keep on saying it.

8. Everyone's USB-C

There are a bunch of reasons why iPhone doesn't have USB-C. It wasn't ready until a couple of years after Lightning there was no way Apple could or would keep the giant 30-pin dock connector any longer. It's thicker than Lightning, and Apple doesn't have to wait on any standards body to make changes. And now, of course, there are just so many Lightning accessories out there that a lot of people would get a lot of pissed if Apple tried to change it on them again.

iPad Pro USB-C

iPad Pro USB-C (Image credit: iMore)

At least that's what I thought up until this year, when Apple switched iPad Pro to USB-C and showed, with iPhone XR, that it wasn't religiously opposed to misaligning a port if it had to just to fit everything in.

A lot of people think that, rather than switch, Apple will instead simply ditch the charging and data port entirely. Apple's already tested that model with Apple Watch and, most recently, Apple TV. There are rumors Google's been prototyping phones like that as well. But you really need your remote restore game to be rock solid before that can be a reality on something as important as someone's phone.

But wireless is kind of like web apps: As fast and as convenient as it gets, it'll always be a step behind, in this case the cable. And, as phones increasingly become primary computing devices, a case can be made that a primary computing hardline will only become increasingly vital.

9. Razer's glowing logo

Yeah, this is totally tongue in cheek. As my colleague, Georgia Dow, is fond of saying, Apple doesn't even do glowing logos on the Mac any more, so all her iPhone dreams have literally gone out.

But, if Apple ever wanted another iPhone upgrade super-cycle like the one they had with the big and bigger iPhone 6, a glowing Apple logo is one of the few features left that could totally do it.

And more!

There's a bunch of other stuff that could easily make this list, like multi-window multitasking, iPad style, or the new Springboard / Homescreen redesign rumored for iOS 13. There's stuff like Top Shot to always get the best photos and Lens and AR maps to layer data over the real world. There's people-centric rather than app centric communications, and the list goes on and on and on and on.

And I'm totally cognizant that each and every item gets us ever closer to the phone equivalent of Homer Simpsons car, but I do think there's a balance that can be reached here.

And these, well, these are the 9 that are topmost in my mind, at least today. Now I'd love to know what's topmost in yours.

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Rene Ritchie
Rene Ritchie

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.

12 Comments
  • There's a lot to like here. My personal ones would be increasing battery capacity through losing the race to be thinnest and increase the case size to match the lens depth. That also means the lens isn't exposed. I too would like to see the computational photography augmented, they've down what they can do on the Xr, so build that out.
  • The Google Pixel call screening feature is at the top of my list. I'm surprised it did not make it to this list.
  • Pencil support for the iPhone would be great. Make a pencil mini for mobile usage.
  • I want this, I've wanted the ability to draw diagrams and things like that on my phone. There's no reason not to have it really, plus there's a fair amount of screen space on the XS Max and Plus models (especially when I used to draw on a Nintendo DS screen)
  • But in reality, Apple will put in the Apple A13 chip, add slight upgrades to the cameras, and charge everyone $1100 to upgrade to the basic 64GB model and everyone will rave on how it's the "best iPhone ever" even though it's a slight upgrade from the last model.
  • Apple's after hours trading today do not push that narrative...
  • Indeed, I think the changes are going to have to be much more significant, with a lower price as well.
  • I'm going to save this as an evergreen post.
  • What I'd prefer to see are mostly software based changes.
    1: The ability to change fonts system wide. 2: Pin-to-top in iMessage. 3: Single threaded call logs
    4: No notch even if it means giving back some screen real estate. 5: Flush camera lens even if it means a slightly thicker device, 5S design like on new iPad pros.
  • Apple needs more tech and lower pricing. Stop with the animoji and emoji BS! give the phone some real improvements. Bring Siri up to date, improve gestures, BB mastered this over a decade ago, add a notification light so I dont need to touch my phone to see whats going on, add a real Dark Mode, have something similar to The Hub so we can see all notifications in a single location, for gods sake fix your email app so email works like email should. Apple, if you were doing such a great job, stock wouldn't be tanking.
  • Emojis technically aren't something Apple manage themselves, they're published by the Unicode Consortium, but Apple does like to be one of the first to implement them. I don't mind this though, I find Emojis useful for communication, but I agree with you on Animojis, these are more just for a bit of fun. The reason why Siri is behind is because Apple is trying to do all the processing on the device itself, as opposed to using a cloud server which would be much more powerful. Apple can improve Siri a lot, but really it requires them to take processing off the device and gather more data, which would decrease privacy. I'm curious as to improving gestures, my only problem with the gestures is accessing Control Center which has to be done from the top-right, and that's awkward when you're left-handed like me. Outside of this, I sometimes accidentally take screenshots with the power button and volume button, so maybe this could be a gesture of some sort? I'm not sure what the best solution is. I can't see them adding a notification light, I originally envisioned them putting the light into the home button, but the home button isn't there now. They're more likely to have an Always-On Display, which would serve the same purpose. Dark Mode I really want. I enjoy it on my Mac, but it'd be 10x better on the OLED iPhone screen, where using full-black not only looks good, but uses less energy on an OLED display, so potentially there would be battery life improvements as well. Dark Mode is one of the things that's at the top of my wish list for iOS 13. As for notifications and email, I've not really had too many problems but as for email I don't really use it. I do know that there are other email clients which have many more features, Apple's built-in apps tend to be very basic, but generally functional. You're right though, Apple do need to do better. And this needs to be done along with reducing the prices as well, because they're too high at the moment.
  • Every single one of these ideas that the author describes is apple doing something really great already with a feature, but if they just added (stole) something from someone else it would make their already great product, absolutely fantastic. That's called brown nosing to your boss - which in this case is, I assume, Apple. Oh, and BTW, where is this websites breathless editorial/report on it's take on apples rapidly decreasing economic performance.?