Apple's iPhone 5 makes design advances, but here's how vendors could make smartphones even more useful.
iPhone 5's 10 Best Features
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With the release of iPhone 5, Apple has notched up another product success and ratcheted up the integrated design features. And while Retina screens and slim versions of the device are material advances, it would be great to see these interesting and innovative additions to smartphones. Many of them require the smartphone manufacturers to partner to achieve some very useful new features. Unfortunately, because of existing revenue streams (e.g., carriers funding the manufacturers) we may not see some of these features.
1. Multiple Personalities: It would be great to be able to use one device for personal and for business--but seamlessly. Consider a phone where your office or business mobile number rings to your phone as well as your personal number. And when your boss calls, the appropriate ring, screen background, contacts, and everything else aligns with the number calling. You can switch back and forth between your business world and your personal world on your phone, just as you do, but with one device not two (or if you are using one device today, you get both numbers, and no mixing). Some versions of these phones are available today, but not on the best smartphones, and not in a fully finished mode.
2. Multiple SIMs: Multiple SIM phones--where two or more SIM cards are active at the same time--have been available in some form since 2000. These enables you to leverage two networks at once (or have a business phone on one network, and a personal phone on another), or more easily handle different networks when traveling (e.g., one network for domestic, one for Europe and one for Asia). Today, there are low-end phones in developing markets or China where these features are available--so why not have this in the high-end smartphones in the developed world? You could certainly leverage better pricing for your calls and better enable multiple phone personalities. But the pricing is likely the rub--such a feature would make it too easy to switch carriers call by call.
3. A nano-phone: How many times have you been either exercising or on a fishing trip or out for night out or an elegant evening, and the last thing you want to do is bring along a large, potentially bulky smartphone that you might lose (or drop in the lake)? Why can't you have a nano iPod that has the same number and contacts as your iPhone that works as a passable phone? Then you can leave the iPhone at home, bring your music and a nano cell phone, and not worry all evening about losing it! Again, the manufacturers must work with the carriers to enable two devices with the same number to be on the network and for you to choose to which one the calls ring. But think of the convenience and possibilities of having multiple orchestrated devices, each tuned precisely to what and when you want to use them.
4. Better power management: Even with the continued advances in battery life, nearly everyone encounters times when their use or their apps have completely drained the battery. Today's data intensive apps can chew up battery life quickly without the user being aware. Why not alert the user to high usage (rather than wait until the battery is almost dead to alert), and enable the option for power saving mode. When this mode is selected the phone OS switches apps to low power mode unless the user overrides. This will keep power hog apps from draining the battery doing unimportant tasks. It will avoid a late afternoon or evening travail when you discover your phone is dead and yet you need it to make a call.
5. Socially and physically aware: While there are plenty of apps that create social networks and provide some physical awareness, and some phone plans that enable you to know where a family member is by their device location, you still require a precise device/app/option selected that minimizes the possibility of casual interaction with your known acquaintances. Consider your LinkedIn network and when you are traveling for business--it would be excellent to be able to chose to let your links know that you are walking through O'Hare Airport, and for those associates that chose similarly, you would know that your colleague John is at gate B5, which you happen to be walking by, and you can stop and chat before you have to catch your flight. You can choose to be anonymous, or just available to your friends or links, or for extroverts, publicly aware. Unfortunately, this would require a common 'awareness' standard and security for devices and social sites, which at this stage of the social media "Oklahoma land rush," it is doubtful that cooperation required would occur.
6. Better "offline" capabilities: Far too many apps today still require a constant Internet connection to work. Even for those apps frequently used in an offline mode--translation apps and London tube apps come to mind--many still require an Internet connection. Why can't you download 90% of the translation requirements to your app while on your home Wi-Fi, and then, when in Paris, bring up the app to suffice for faster translation offline instead of using international data rates? (At which point a paid translator would be cheaper and much faster). Again, I wonder how much collusion (or lack of common sense) goes on to encourage nonsensical data usage versus designing "data-lite" apps.
These are the six features I would like to see. And while I am sure that there are phones or apps that do some of the features, I think it would be an advance to have the features mainstreamed on the latest and best smartphones. (Though if you know of a great translation app with good "offline" capability, please recommend it). What features would you like to see in the next generation of smartphones? Let me know in the comment section below.