Expectations of the Next-Gen iPhone

So, there is probably going to be at least one new iPhone announced this week.  What it's going to be called doesn't really matter that much but what it will change does.  If I had a dollar for every person who has asked me what will be "new" about the next iPhone I would be much better off than I am.  The important thing about these questions has been the tone.  My impression of the general public is they're sceptical about what the next iPhone could possibly add to make it worth upgrading from their current phone or delaying their purchase of the iPhone 4.

So what should we expect from a new iPhone?  We don't need more megapixels in the camera and it could be debated as to why a phone with limited multitasking functionality actually requires a dual-core processor.

What will Apple be attempting to do with the next version of the iPhone? Will they go for a big swing in an attempt to innovate and change the way we use technology again? Or, knowing that the iPhone 4 is currently selling better than ever, will they release a very conservative update that sits on the laurels of the current iPhone?

Although they are still on his product road-map, right now, after the transition of Steve Jobs from CEO to chairman and the success of the iPhone 4, It's harder to tell than ever.

So What Do I Expect From A New iPhone?
Well, if for some strange reason I was at Apple and tasked with deciding on features for a possibly conservative (hardware wise) update of the phone, what would I try and do?

I'd try and look at some of the things we commonly attempt to do on a "smart" phone but fail to do so due to over-complication.  I would also look at the way we are using mobile technology today and how it's affecting our life.

Yagan Kiely recently wrote a good piece titled Internet Vs Life.  He looks at a number of articles that discuss the way technology affects our social interactions.

It’s not as if people want to avoid interacting with people so they can use their phone, it’s that people want to avoid interacting with people, so they use their phone.

He argues that technology helps us be anti-social when we want to be anti-social and I agree but feel technology still needs to avoid getting in the way of itself when we use it to aid our meatspace social lives.

As with everyone else, I am well aware of these changes. While working at a restaurant for two years as a waiter I saw a steady increase of phones moving from the pocket or the handbag to sitting on the table.  This also coincided with the rise of services like Twitter and Foursquare.  These are just two services on our phones where we share what we are doing right now.  The success of these services of course lead to the rise of Facebook tagging and many other clones as well but.... who are we sharing this interaction with? Certainly not the friends who are actually attending the event with us.  They have to log into their own social service on their own phone to participate in the content you are generating.  If you're both looking at your own phones to share "content" that you are supposedly generating together, there is a disconnect between both you, your friend and the event you are attending.  These "social" services are a window into the wider world that we are busy staring into instead of the person in front of us.  They de-value the time you give the friend/s you are actually in the presence of by putting everyone else in the world on equal footing.

Technology is not just the cause of this problem, it should be the solution.

Let's say you're on holiday and you're visiting a Zoo with your new friend Amy who you just met on the tour.  You take a funny picture of yourself and Amy standing in front of a Lion with your iPhone.  If you want to share that photo with your friends Fred and Jill who are 3000km away, you post it to your social service.  Now, how do you share that photo with your friend Jill who is standing right next to you?  Well, currently, this is what Apple suggests:

In reality, the interaction would probably go something like this.

Amy:  Can I get a copy of those photos?
You:  Sure, what's your email address?
Amy:  Ok it's a-m-y-underscore-i....
You: Wait just opening my contacts to add you...
Amy: Ok...
You:  You know what would be easier, there is this cool app called Bump where you can swap contacts and photos and Facebook friend requests just by bumping your phones together.  It's really cool.  Do you have it?
Amy:  No.
You:  Oh well, it's on the app store.  You should get it.  It's free.
Amy:  Ok... so, I just search for "Bump"
You:  Yeah?  It should come up.
Amy:  Ugghhh, stupid autocorrect.... Ok... It's Searching
You: Ok.
Amy: Aahh, It's still searching.   3G sucks out here
You:  No worries.
Amy:  Ok, I think I got it.  Now, what's my password...  They just made me change it so I had to include capital letters and numbers now....  aahh stupid touch keyboard.
You: No worries.
Amy:  Uggghhh, It's not downloading... stupid Telco.  Hey, have you added me on Facebook yet?  Why don't you just put them on there and tag me.
You:  Ok.... did Bump download?
Amy:  No, I canceled it, I'll get it later when I'm on Wifi.  We have to see the seals before closing time.
You:  *Awkard sorry-for-trying-to-get-something-awesome-to-work look*

Life tends to take the path of least resistance and Amy ends up getting the same crappy low res versions of the photos as every other one of your 400 Facebook friends or Twitter followers.  You should never ever ever have to use a touch keyboard to send a photo, video, share a favourite app, song, or even send a follow, friend, game-request or for that matter, initiate any technology interaction with a fellow "smart" phone user when they are right next to you.

This is just one example of many where the potential of smartphones fail to materialise in reality because of the obstruction of extremely simple tasks by over-complicated workflows.

Apple became successful by solving these kinds of barriers to technology.  From getting on the internet in less than five minutes with the original iMac to burning home movies with iDVD.  Why did they try and solve those problems? It wasn't like Microsoft was trying to solve them, the world was quite happy buying copies of Windows 95 like hotcakes.  Apple made those products because that's what made them special, it's what differentiated them and ultimately lead to their current success.  Now that the iPhone 4 is selling like hotcakes, why should Apple continue to smooth the barrier between life and technology?

So if they are going to add a new hardware component, like they added the gyroscope and LED last year, what should they add?  There are so many cool technologies out there dying to be implemented in a way that people actually use them.  NFC, Bluetooth 4.0, QR Codes not to mention what Bump can already do for those that have it installed.  What is Apple going to do with all this tech to make it ubiquitous and useable?  Sure the Siri personal assistant technology sounds interesting but unless you're driving, voice control is almost definitely an even worse way to control a device than a touch keyboard.  Besides, if you take public transport you won't be seen dead talking at your phone.  Even if you have a car, we probably won't be driving them for much longer.

Apple have so much power in their hands right now.  Millions of people are going to buy the iPhone 5, one simple new feature could again totally change the way millions of people use technology every day. They could also just put in a faster chip, add some megapixels and/or a new colour.  Why do more?  The iPhone 4 is their best selling device ever.

The problem is, that's what I would expect from Microsoft. Not Apple.

I don't want to talk to my phone, I just want to talk and share to the friends on the other end and most importantly the friends sitting with me.


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