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Lost and found - the missing features of the iPhone

Minority Report: what's left on my list?

Minority Report: what's left on my list?

It's time to stop defining the iPhone by what it is missing as Apple continues to fill in the missing pieces, says Seb Janacek

A broad smile spread across my face last Thursday evening. I was stuck behind a MacBook Pro screen refreshing the browser to see the latest announcements on the release of iPhone OS 4.0.

And smiling. Such is the life of an Apple watcher.

The smile was brought on by the revelation that the next version of the iPhone OS would feature a unified inbox for different email accounts. Bliss.

Steve Jobs barely gave it any time in the wider announcement. The first of the two big announcements in the event was multitasking - which had become the biggest gaping hole in the lives of iPhone owners since the last one was filled by the announcement of copy and paste.

The second big announcement was the mobile advertising feature iAds - but more on that in a forthcoming article.

A unified mail inbox had been coming. Back in March a customer email asked Jobs whether the feature was on the way and received a typically terse reply from the Apple CEO: "Yep."

Big deal, right? In two ways, personally, yes. Firstly, it will resolve the single biggest issue I have with the iPhone. I have three email accounts configured. The mail icon on the homescreen tells how many emails I have on the device but to access all my new messages I need to open each inbox independently.

Currently, the route from an email in my Google account to a new email in my MobileMe account breaks down like this:

Current email>Inbox>Gmail>All Inboxes>MobileMe>Inbox>Next email message.

Six steps. There had to be a better way. And now there is. This is probably the biggest single productivity gain for me on the iPhone. Hence the smile.

iphone

Has Apple now filled all the big gaps in the iPhone's functionality?
(Photo credit: Apple)

The other reason this is significant is that it leaves an article I wrote in December 2008 looking increasingly anachronistic.

The 10 iPhone features I'd like for Christmas was written six months after I got my first iPhone and addressed the 10 biggest gripes I had with the device.

It remains an irony that for a phone as feature-rich as the iPhone, it is often framed by detractors and fans for the features it does not possess...

Looking back now, most of the holes have been plugged. Since the article was published, Apple has provided Landscape typing mode (number 9), mobile iWork on the iPad (8), improved synching between iPhone and Macs through the iDisk app (7) tethering (6), unified inbox (4), extended use for Bluetooth with tethering and wireless keyboard support (3) and MMS (2).

There's still no native RSS reader (5) and while battery life has been improved through incremental firmware updates, nightly docking of the device is simply a way of life. Furthermore, if the iPhone gets the new A4 chip that powers the iPad, then iPhone owners can expect huge improvements in power management.

That only leaves Flash support (10) and let's face it, it'll be a cold day in hell when that makes an appearance on either the iPhone or the iPad.

There were two other significant features missing from my list: copy and paste and multitasking.

They were missed off because it was a personal list and they weren't features I missed. Copy and paste is well implemented and used now and again. However, the only time I ever missed multitasking was when I wanted to listen to a Spotify playlist while irritably negotiating my non-unified email inboxes. Come the summer, that won't be a problem on two counts.

Lack of multitasking on the iPad may well have been more of an issue but the device will get the same support in the autumn.

Apple claims that iPhone OS 4.0 will add more than 100 new features to the device. With so many thousands of developers producing apps for the phone it almost doesn't need to, and spend as much time increasing, improving and enhancing its APIs.

iPhone OS 4.0 is much about finessing the device - there are fewer issues to resolve, fewer holes to plug than in previous years. All those missing features are no longer missing.

Even my most critical iPhone-owning friends and colleagues are griping less about missing features and grumbling instead about the delayed shipping date and feature list of the iPad.

With copy and paste and multitasking in the bag, what will be the next big 'missing feature' for the iPhone. Flash? Forget it.

There may be some previously unforeseen gaping hole in the iPhone's user experience or feature set but personally, I'm not complaining.