15 iPhone 3.0 features we'd like to see

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Talk about ungrateful—the iPhone hadn’t been out for more than a month when we created our first list of “missing” iPhone features we’d like to see.

But Apple has now had more than 20 months to grow and refine the iPhone. While the iPhone 2.0 software update of July 2008 added a bunch of interesting new features, there are still plenty of other features—some of which we’ve been pushing for since the iPhone’s initial announcement—that still haven’t arrived.

And so we present our latest list of the 15 features we hope we’ll see at Tuesday’s iPhone 3.0 announcement event in Cupertino. Some of them are old standards; others are fresh and new.


Systemwide cut/copy/paste

It’s been arguably the most requested feature of the iPhone OS since day one. Apple’s tried to predict where people would want to use copy-and-paste and provide suitable workarounds, like being able to mail links from Safari. But anyone who’s ever had to transfer a scrap of arbitrary text between two applications (taking a quote from a Web page to Mail, for example) has eventually had to resort to the poor man’s copy-and-paste: jotting a note down on a piece of paper and then laboriously typing it back in. It’s time to finally bring the iPhone’s capabilities up to par with the 1984’s Mac OS in this department.—DM

Push notifications and/or background apps

At Apple’s 2008 Worldwide Developer Conference, the company touted a push notification system that would allow third-party iPhone apps to alert users. However, the feature disappeared from the face of the Earth. Even if that particular implementation doesn’t make it into iPhone 3.0, it seems likely that Apple will introduce some sort of notification system. The company may even go so far as to loosen up the restrictions on applications running in the background, which would greatly benefit programs like music players, macro utilities, GPS data loggers, and instant-messaging clients. Again, it may be a case of history repeating itself: remember, the original Mac OS ran just one program for the first several years of its existence too.—DM

Landscape mode in every Apple app

Viewing your screen horizontally is available on many third-party apps for the iPhone, but landscape mode is only available on three Apple applications: Safari, YouTube, and iPod. There are a number of advantages to having landscape mode available in all apps. For example, the text and images are significantly larger when viewed in landscape. That’s advantageous for the accuracy of double-tapping on text and images, as well as making the experience more enjoyable if your eyesight isn’t what it used to be. The keyboard is also much larger in landscape mode, which helps those of us with big mitts to make less mistakes when typing. The larger layout gives Apple the opportunity to add more speciality keys too, like the .com button used in Safari. Having landscape is just one of those things you figure a device like the iPhone should naturally have.—JD

Improvements to Mail

In many ways, the iPhone’s Mail program is the best mobile e-mail client out there. But it’s also missing a good number of obvious features, especially for heavy e-mail users. For example, if you’ve got multiple e-mail accounts, it currently takes three taps just to read a message in your Inbox, then three more to get back to the accounts list. Stretch that across three, four, or more e-mail accounts, and Mail can be maddeningly frustrating to use. An option for a single, unified Inbox—as exists in the desktop version of Mail—would ease the tap-heavy task of checking new messages.

Similarly, marking existing messages as read makes it easier to keep track of how many new messages—received since you last browsed your Inbox—are waiting. But Mail currently requires you to view each messages individually to mark it as read. Now that the iPhone finally provides the capability to delete messages en masse, we’d like to see similar features for marking mail as read and moving mail to folders. (Even better, make it easier to apply these actions to everything: give us Delete All and Mark All As Read buttons.)

We’d also like to see the capability to e-mail more than one photo at a time, as well as more options for replying, including a choice of what text to quote and whether replies should go at the top or bottom of the message.—DF

Sync notes and to-dos

There are a plethora of to-do list and note apps for the iPhone, largely because Apple seems to have abdicated its responsibility in these areas. iCal, which the iPhone already syncs with, offers To-Do lists. So why doesn’t the iPhone have to-do list support built in, allowing to-dos to sync back and forth between your computer and your iPhone? And then there are notes. The iPhone’s built-in Notes app is handy for jotting things down, but none of the notes you write can sync with your Mac. Third-party apps have come up with numerous ways to sync notes back to your Mac, but none would be as elegant as having the notes sync automatically the next time you attached your iPhone and synced via iTunes.—JS

Better app organization

Back when the iPhone had only 20 apps—all from Apple—its one-panel home screen was a simple and easy-to-use way to launch those apps. But with the success of the App Store, many iPhone owners now have many more apps. While the flick-to-see-another-screen approach works when your app collection is small, once you pass two screens’ worth—and with so many free and inexpensive apps, it’s easy to do so—the current interface breaks down. For heavy users of the App Store, the iPhone needs a better way of organizing apps. One approach might be to let you name each screen or category of apps, and then provide a pop-up menu for switching directly to a particular screen.

Similarly, if you want to reorganize your apps—for example, putting all games on one screen, all productivity apps on another, and so on—the current method, dragging icons from screen to screen, can be downright painful. We’re hoping for a better way to decide what goes where. Perhaps a Settings screen on the iPhone itself that lists each app and lets you choose the screen on which it should appear. (Palm handhelds had such a feature back in the 90s.) Another option would be a way to manage apps from within iTunes; this user-created video includes a number of great ideas.—DF

Customizable tones

You’ve been able to use custom ringtones since iTunes 7.4 was released in September 2007. But that’s the only sound you can configure—alerts for calendar events, alarms, and new e-mail, voicemail, and SMS messages are set in stone. Audible alerts are most useful when you know instantly what each sound means, so we’d like to be able to pick our favorite for each, from Apple’s selection of sounds or from sounds we’ve added ourselves. (And is it too much to ask to be able to pick a song from our iTunes library and use it as an alert, without buying a ringtone or chopping the file up ourselves in GarageBand?)—DF

Full Bluetooth support

The iPhone includes Bluetooth, but only for using wireless phone headsets. Yet Bluetooth can do so much more. For example, if Apple were to allow the full range of Bluetooth capabilities, we could stream audio wirelessly to Bluetooth-equipped audio systems and headphones; use Bluetooth keyboards (including Apple’s own) for larger text-editing tasks; and sync the iPhone’s address book with the advanced automobile communication systems that are more and more common these days. C’mon, Apple. Set Bluetooth free.—DF


Any iPhone user who’s ever received a picture message from a friend’s phone or tried to send one has probably found themselves bemused by what should be a seemingly simple task. Despite being an incredibly “smart” phone in many contexts, multimedia messaging is one arena where the iPhone falls behind even the cheapest phones on offer from most carriers. Yes, MMS (short for Multimedia Messaging Service) is a money-making bonanza for cell-phone carriers and we’d all be better off being able to e-mail pictures to each other, but until that day arrives, at least give us the option to spend our money unwisely.—DM

Video capture

While it’d be nice if the iPhone featured a higher-resolution camera and a built-in flash, both of those things will require new hardware. Video capture, however, could be added to existing iPhones via new software. As proof, there’s already a third-party application called iPhone Video Recorder—available for jailbroken iPhones—that allows for up to 15fps video capture using the built-in camera on any iPhone.—RG

Turn-by-turn directions

The iPhone helps you avoid having to carry around several gadgets all the time, like an iPod, a phone, or a camera. But one device it can’t quite replace yet is your car’s GPS unit. The iPhone 3G’s GPS features bring the possibility tantalizingly close, but the lack of automatic route recalculation, turn-by-turn directions, and voice prompts make it a no-go. An official app from Apple, or a deal with an established GPS company like TomTom or Garmin to produce a sanctioned third-party program could help the iPhone finally find its direction in this department.—DM

Application data sharing and syncing

There are tens of thousands of iPhone apps out there these days, but each of them is an island unto itself: apps can’t talk to other apps or share data among themselves. App developers also can’t hook into an iTunes sync and use it transfer data to and from the iPhone. Right now we see app developers trying all sorts of workarounds to address this issue, from web servers to FTP servers to direct connections via Wi-Fi to companion apps that run on the desktop. Apple should allow apps to transfer data via iTunes and give them the ability to share data with other apps when necessary. Imagine being able to receive an e-mail attachment, save it, and then open it with a program designed to edit it, for example. All of these iPhone apps are great—just imagine how great they’d be if they could talk to each other, too.—RG

Spotlight for iPhone

If you want to search on the iPhone, you can—if what you want to search is your own contacts list. If you can’t quite remember which e-mail message had your friend’s phone number in it or which week in October you have a dentist’s appointment or the name of the rep for a company you work with, you’re out of luck. Which is why it’s time for the iPhone to get a phone-wide search feature, one that will trawl through any data that an app has deemed searchable—and yes, that means third-party apps too—and bring you back a list of results.—JS

Share Internet with a Mac or PC

As good as the iPhone’s Web browser is, many people would rather surf the Web on their laptop. More important, there are plenty of Internet-required tasks you can’t complete on your iPhone because they require an application on your computer. Many mobile phones provide the capability to use the phone as a modem for your computer; that would be a nice option to have with the iPhone, even if there’s an additional fee we have to pay to AT&T for the privilege. Anyone who’s desperately needed to get their laptop on the Internet while knowing their iPhone’s already got a connection knows what we’re talking about.—JD

Voice dialing

Voice dialing, the ability to say the name of the contact and have the phone call them, is another of those features that many cheaper handsets have but the iPhone surprisingly lacks. It seems like it would be a natural fit, given that the iPhone’s touchscreen interface, with its lack of tactile feedback, is impossible to dial without looking—making it extremely dangerous to operate while driving and virtually impossible for vision-impaired users.

Apple’s clearly spent time developing voice recognition for the Mac OS that would not only seem to lend itself well to the iPhone, but is also probably a lot better than what you find on those cheap phones. Its absence to date leads us to suspect that it’s one of those features Apple doesn’t want to implement until they can do it right. Let’s hope its time has arrived.—DM

What’s on your iPhone 3.0 wish list? Let us know in the comments thread attached to this story, or via e-mail to iphone at macworld dot com.

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