18 ways to make the next iPhone the best smartphone ever

The decade-old device, like any mature platform, suffers from malaise. Here's everything Apple must do to restore America's beloved smartphone to its former glory.
By Jason Perlow, Senior Contributing Writer
1 of 19 (Image: ZDNet)

Making the iPhone great again

The iPhone is America's favorite smartphone device, and in the 10 years it has been out, Apple has been wildly successful with it as a profitable business and device/application ecosystem. But as with any mature platform, there is malaise or rot that can be introduced over time with the advent of new features and more complex code.

Here are the things we'd like to see in future versions of iOS and the iPhone hardware to make the iPhone great again...

2 of 19 Jason Perlow/ZDNET

Alphabetically sorted app list for deletion and settings

One of the things about the iOS user experience (UX) that has annoyed us since the very beginning -- and only became worse when app groups were introduced -- is the complexities of organizing launch icons, finding apps, and removing them from the home screen.

For those of us with many apps spread over multiple home screen pages, if you don't remember what the app is called (you can use the pull down to search function if you remember what it is called, but you can only launch an app, not adjust settings or delete it), you'll find yourself scrolling through pages of stuff and poking around in all your home screen groups.

This is particularly frustrating if you want to uninstall an app that you remember the name of, can't find it in the UX, and want to uninstall it.

The other option is to go to Settings menu > General > iPhone Storage to get a list of apps, which you can then click into if you want to actually uninstall it. You can also use iTunes, but we all hate that thing for this purpose.

But do you know what would be better? An alphabetical, scrollable list view of apps that you can toggle on and off from the main screen. And you should be able to uninstall an app or go into Settings for permissions and notifications directly from that screen, and organize them into the groups you want them to reside in.

The Microsoft Launcher actually implements this extremely well, and I highly recommend it if you have an Android device.

3 of 19 Jason Perlow/ZDNET

Allow us to bulk delete photos easily

How many of you have gone out of your mind trying to free up storage from an iPhone that is completely full of photos?

One solution is to buy an iCloud storage account that is big enough to handle your backups. You can also use services like Google Photos and Microsoft OneDrive, which can be used to free up space and backup photos to your cloud accounts as you take them.

But if you don't have these services and don't use them religiously, you may find yourself with 128GB or 256GB of photos and videos on your device you need to dump at the most inconvenient time.

And if you've actually tried to use the Photos app built into iOS to batch delete thousands (tens of thousands, even) of exposures at once, you'll notice iOS tends to crash, hard. Then, try to empty the Deleted Files area with the Storage settings. Good luck with that, too.

There's an entire cottage industry of apps you can download that assist with this, but most of them aren't that stable either.

You can also use iTunes by connecting your phone to your PC or a Mac, which is also no fun.

Apple needs to make this process easier. Way easier.

4 of 19 Jason Perlow/ZDNET

Vendor-neutral cloud backup support

In addition to easier bulk deletion, I think it is annoying to have to pay Apple extra money for iCloud backups when many of us pay for extra storage or get it with our Google, Amazon, and Microsoft accounts.

Cloud backups of apps and photos should be vendor-neutral, and Apple should be working with all those vendors to provide the API support for encrypted backups so that anyone can recover their device from any cloud storage of their choice.

Yes, each of these have third-party apps for photo backups, but API level integration with iOS would be so much better.

If I have 1TB of OneDrive, Google Drive, or Amazon Drive, it would be great to be able to use any of these instead of paying Apple a premium to do storage recovery.

5 of 19 Jason Perlow/ZDNET

Stable Wi-Fi

I'm just gonna come right out and say it -- iOS Wi-Fi connectivity is just plain unreliable and awful. How many times a week on iOS do you get password reconnect prompts for cached SSIDs? Or weird connectivity problems?

For an operating system that is supposed to "just work" I find that, frequently, even with enterprise-class access points, the Wi-Fi just doesn't work -- when, side-by-side, my Android devices are working just fine.

6 of 19 Jason Perlow/ZDNET

CarPlay with better app ecosystem

If you are lucky enough to have a vehicle with CarPlay, you'll quickly notice just how limited the functionality is in Apple's attempt at automotive systems integration.

Not only are you currently forced into Apple Maps, because the company hasn't opened up CarPlay to companies like Google or Waze or Garmin -- and its list of permitted application content providers is limited at best -- but you also cannot hook into the car's multimedia control system for things like SiriusXM, which you have to leave the CarPlay UX in order to control.

That kind of defeats the purpose of CarPlay, for having one pane of glass to control the car's systems and app services.

7 of 19 Jason Perlow/ZDNET

Allow third-party browser engines and intelligent assistants

Having a limited CarPlay is stinky. Do you know what is even worse? Being stuck with Apple's implementation of WebKit (Safari) as a browser engine.

Yes, there are versions of Microsoft Edge and Chrome for iOS, but they are really just Safari and WebKit as skins and don't actually render anything differently or make use of those engines security enhancements on other platforms such as they do with Windows and Android.

And while we are at it, if we are going to allow alternative browser engines to be used, we should permit the use of intelligent assistants at the API level, not just as apps.

Allow us to switch the default assistant to Cortana, Google Assistant, or Alexa if we want -- or have it so Siri uses them as selectable back-end services along with the corresponding search engine if the vendor has written a provider for it.

8 of 19 Jason Perlow/ZDNET

3D-Touch action index

For those of us who have iPhone devices that support it (iPhone 6S, 7, 8, X) does anyone actually use 3D Touch on a regular basis? I sure as heck don't. That's because it isn't obvious which apps actually support it beyond "Share," and most people probably don't actually know how to correctly use it.

We need some kind of indicator that an icon/app has 3D Touch menus or options enabled, or at the very least, an index in the Settings menu of installed apps that have 3D touch support.

And perhaps add a Settings area, where in addition to force sensitivity, we can enable tooltips or even configure which 3D Touch menu options pop up when an app icon that supports it is invoked.

Did you even know that you can clear all notifications in the main notification screen by 3D Touch pressing on the (x) button instead of dismissing them on a cumbersome day-by-day basis? Neither did I until recently.

9 of 19 Jason Perlow/ZDNET

Windows 10 Action Center integration that doesn't suck

Apple Mac OS X users are lucky enough to have tight integration with iOS when it comes to notifications support. If you dismiss notifications on the Mac, it also does it on the iOS device, and vice-versa.

All this is done with Continuity, which also improves the hand-off experience between devices for apps, documents, and websites.

Windows users are not so lucky, although Microsoft is trying to alleviate this problem with the Action Center in Windows 10.

By downloading Cortana and Edge for your iOS (and Android) devices, in Windows 10 you can have some -- but not all -- of the experience that Mac users get with Continuity. It isn't perfect, however. You can get notifications from your devices and hand off the websites you view on Edge for iOS to the PC, but the support is not bidirectional.

If you dismiss notifications on Windows, they aren't dismissed on the iOS device, and if you dismiss them in iOS, they aren't dismissed in Windows. So, if you have been working on your PC all day and haven't looked at your iPhone in a few hours, you'll be greeted with a whole mess of notifications you need to dismiss. Suck.

How can this be fixed? Apple needs to provide bi-directional notifications API integration on iOS for companies like Microsoft, so they can provide better support to end-users. Or, even better, Apple needs to cooperate with Microsoft to produce a full-blown version of Continuity for Windows 10.

10 of 19 Jason Perlow/ZDNET

Touch ID, always, on all iOS devices (especially iPhone X)

I was one of the folks that bought an iPhone X. Don't get me wrong: Face ID authentication is great, and when it works, it's wonderful.

But when it doesn't work, it stinks -- and you have to revert to other forms of authentication that are much less convenient.

Rumor has it that Face ID is going to be integrated into other products in the iOS stable pretty soon, including the replacement to the iPhone X and possibly even a lower-cost iPhone device and a refreshed iPad Pro.

I believe that Touch ID in the previous iPhone devices is a solid, fast, and effective means of authentication and that it needs to stay, regardless of a potential move to edge-to-edge, home button-free, Face ID-enabled iPhones and iPads.

If Apple needs to add the Touch ID sensor on the back of the iPhone X version 2 (or whatever it ends up being called) in order to support this -- like the way Huawei and Samsung do for their devices that have both facial and fingerprint authentication -- then it should do so.

Integrating the fingerprint reader into the screen itself would be dandy, but I think most of us would be perfectly happy having it on the rear of the phone -- which, quite frankly, is the natural position for the forefinger to rest to unlock the device, anyway.

11 of 19 Jason Perlow/ZDNET

Integrated anti-robocalling

If you aren't using an anti-spam service for phone calls such as NoMoRobo, Robokiller, and HiYa yet, you really should.

iOS supports call intercept and blocking with all these services. But is this something that we really should have to pay for independently, or is this a value-added service Apple should be providing itself?

I believe that these sort of privacy controls, which also includes things like ad blockers (that are fully supported in iOS), need to be provided by Apple at the very least as services that they can charge for as part of iCloud.

I don't want to have to deal with third-party providers with independent block databases, which potentially can stop working if one of these places goes under. Apple should just buy whichever the biggest player is in this space and be done with it. Then, the block list support can be directly integrated into Contacts/Dialer, which they aren't, currently.

12 of 19 Jason Perlow/ZDNET

Simplified Control Center and Settings

I know I am not the only one who feels the Control Center and the Settings menu have become an absolute convoluted mess. There has to be a way the company can simplify the UX.

Control Center is now a jumbled arrangement of widgets and settings often requires three or more clicks to get to whatever is needed. That is just bad UX design.

13 of 19 Jason Perlow/ZDNET

10W/15W Qi wireless charging and USB-C

Everyone applauded Apple when it introduced wireless charging support for the iPhone 8 and iPhone X.

Well, at least until everyone found out that Apple's implementation of Qi was not standardized; it uses its own special 7.5W implementation rather than the Qi 1.2.3 10W/15W implementation.

That means that you can't necessarily use the same wireless charging pad accessories as your Android devices unless the phone steps down to the least common denominator, which is Qi 1.0 5W charging. This also goes for Android devices charging on Apple 7.5W pads, which, also, need to step down.

So don't expect fast charging at a public kiosk or table at a cafe that has these built in, either.

While we are on the subject of charging -- it's becoming ever apparent that USB-C and USB PD is now the de-facto high-speed wired charging standard for the mobile industry for battery packs and wall charger units.

Apple introduced its own charging and USB interface standard, Lightning, with the release of iPhone 5 in 2012. While I applauded the death of the legacy 30-pin connector in favor of Lightning at the time, it's clear that USB-C is a much better design and doesn't require proprietary cables.

Even Apple recognizes this, as it is now using USB-C and USB PD in its MacBook computers. It makes sense at this point, six years after its release, to retire Lightning and give the iPhone and iPad Pro the same type of connectors as MacBook.

In addition to much wider accessory vendor support, there are other technical reasons why USB-C is a better choice, should the company decide to do a full implementation of Thunderbolt on the iPhone and iPad.

14 of 19 Jason Perlow/ZDNET

A ruggedized "Sport" SKU

Here's the elephant in the room many iPhone fans don't want to talk about. The iPhone is probably the most beautiful of all smartphone devices currently on the market. But where are you if the device (without a highly protective case like an OtterBox or a Lifeproof) is dropped from as little as three feet onto concrete?

You're in deep doo-doo.

While not everyone necessarily needs military-grade ruggedization, Apple can do better -- much better -- when it comes to making their devices more resilient to damage. If Huawei can make a $200 smartphone practically indestructible, I'm pretty sure Cupertino can figure out how to do this too.

Apple will most likely never harden all of its phones out of the box, due to the concerns of its aesthetically conscious fans who love flaunting their case-less or barely-protected devices in limited-edition colors. But I think Apple can make a pretty decent business out of a "Sport" SKU for iPhone, which has been ruggedized much like the way Samsung has done for its "Active" line of Galaxy smartphones.

This would provide all the benefits of having an OtterBox-style case while reducing overall bulk.

15 of 19 Jason Perlow/ZDNET

Software lenses for Camera app

One of the things that iOS severely lacks is the ability to use software-based "lenses" and plugins for its built-in Camera app. Instead, iOS relies on third-party camera apps that do different things, or social networking apps like Instagram, Facebook, WhatsApp, and Prisma that have their own filters and effects using their own embedded cameras.

What would be even better is if the built-in Camera had support for third-party plugins and filters, which you could install from the App Store so that you don't have to keep stuffing the device full of different Camera apps that do similar things. Android has this capability; why doesn't iOS?

16 of 19 Jason Perlow/ZDNET

Bring back Game Center

Remember Game Center -- the built-in application that iOS had for six years until Apple unceremoniously killed it in 2016?

Game Center was a great place for tracking which games you shared in common with your friends and allowed you to see a leaderboard of how you were doing versus of how your friends were doing, in addition to the ability to challenge them to game matches on apps you had in common.

After Apple removed it from iOS, it became a lot harder to tell which games your friends were using and to figure out how to invite them to a game challenge.

Game Center was actually one of the things iOS did a lot better than Google. It needs to bring it back, revamped for iOS 11.X

17 of 19 Jason Perlow/ZDNET

A HomeKit that works with legacy IoT devices

In theory, HomeKit is a great addition to iOS. It's supposed to be a single pane of glass built into the mobile operating system for controlling all sorts of home automation devices using the Home app and Siri.

If it could do all that, it would be awesome. The problem is that most of the existing IoT and home automation products on the market are not HomeKit-enabled. That includes virtually everything that works fine with Amazon's Alexa now, with few exceptions.

Apple has been busy signing up HomeKit partners with new products being introduced to support their ecosystem, but nobody in their right mind is going to replace all their light switches or their thermostats just to support HomeKit when they already work with Alexa.

They need to provide better backward compatibility with this stuff -- or HomeKit is just going to be an also-ran in the home automation space. At the very least, for the Home app, Apple needs to partner with Amazon or use the company's cloud integration with Alexa for homes that have already bought into that ecosystem.

18 of 19 Jason Perlow/ZDNET

Complete iTunes redesign for Windows and Mac OS

iTunes was bad even when the iPad was released in 2010. In the last eight years, it has become progressively worse.

Why must we continue to be saddled with this utterly awful, legacy piece of software trash? Bloated and buggy, this remains the only way to access and archive your music library, if you've bought into Apple's music and device ecosystem.

It's also the only way to back up your iOS devices apps and settings or restore them as well without paying Apple extra money for iCloud space. So, unless you are committed to hard resets, we're all stuck with this thing.

It needs a total rewrite on Mac OS and Windows, or a distributed cloud services replacement that runs in a web browser.

19 of 19 Jason Perlow/ZDNET

Stability, stability, stability

I cannot say this enough times: Apple now needs to concentrate on stability above all other things with iOS.

Everyone hoped during the beta cycle 11.3 would be the "good" version of iOS 11. But I went through six public betas, and the release version still as crash-prone and stuttery as ever. At this point, it is beta testing 11.4, and it is a crashy mess.

The iPhone X is the pinnacle of smartphone hardware tech. But it's bogged down by a horrendously unreliable mobile OS. If Apple has ever had a Vista moment when it comes to its software development cycle, you could make a very good case that it is happening to it right now.

To me, less is more in a smartphone or tablet. I want it to do its basic tasks well. I want to be able to rely on it as my primary communications and compute device. I want it to be fast. I want my apps not to crash when I need them the most.

Innovation and pushing the envelope is great. But at some point, we all just want our basic stuff to work without blowing up in our faces.

If the company needs a development priority, I would say freezing features and making iOS 11.4 as solid as possible needs to be absolutely at the top of the list.

Give us the solid "it just works" mobile operating system back, Apple. Please.

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