iPhone 4G: What users really want

Business users want features you'd suspect in their next handset, but also some surprises.

A better camera with flash, improved battery life, tethering-capability, and a choice of carriers top iPhone users' "wish list" of features for the next-generation Apple handset, expected later this year. Also on the list: multitasking, a faster processor, and a better desktop application for Windows.

Amid the recent rumors of what the next or "4G" iPhone might include--such as video chat--I asked business users what they actually wanted in their next smartphone.

Not surprisingly, video chat wasn't mentioned, but neither was a better screen, which the next iPhone is expected to include.

These findings are based on an informal survey of business iPhone users conducted using Twitter, Facebook, e-mail, and in-person. The survey is, of course, unscientific, but the findings were remarkably consistent as to what users want.

Improving the camera and better battery life, perhaps even a removable battery, showed up most often in the responses, some of which appear below. Among more technically-inclined respondents, tethering (which is the ability to use the phone as a wireless broadband modem for other devices) and multitasking were often mentioned as well.

There were some good ideas, such as adding a memory card slot and support for Adobe Flash, among the responses. Also some far-out ideas, such as a front-facing camera. And a few that are probably impossible, such as keeping the iPhone from interfering with speakers and other devices when it transmits.

Interestingly, I did not receive a single suggestion that Apple should offer a physical keyboard. My guess is a "real" keyboard is so "un-iPhone" that nobody even considers it. Yet, if Apple wanted to compete for the enterprise market, a keyboard might be necessary to compete with BlackBerry devices.

Also not among the suggestions was a better screen. The reason for this, I suspect, is that most iPhone users haven't seen the Droid or Nexus One screens and don't yet know to demand better.

As the next-generation iPhone already seems to be undergoing testing, the hardware features have already been decided. Software features, however, could still be added or changed, so some of these suggestions, even if not already implemented might still be possible.

How many of the reader suggestions will be implemented remains to be seen, but here are my predictions:

Likely: Better camera; better battery life; faster processor; more carrier options; a better screen to compete with the Droid and Nexus One.

Maybe: True multitasking; Adobe Flash support; a flash capability for the upgraded camera.

Unlikely: The suggestion that iPhones should come "pre-jail-broken" and able to run applications not pre-approved by Apple; huge changes to the user interface beyond those necessary to support multitasking (if implemented); the ability to hide built-in apps you don't use (just drag them to the very last apps page).

I like the idea for an "all-in-one" mail, calendaring, and contact application, similar to what Palm has offered. I am presuming this would be for Windows, as Macs already come with iPhone-ready applications. I don't think this is something Apple will do, but I hope they will consider the suggestion.

Tethering is a special case, because the capability already exists but AT&T has chosen not to support it. That will probably change at some point, but will come with a higher price for monthly data service from the beleaguered and oft-maligned carrier.

I want to thank those who offered their suggestions and will close with a sampling of the responses, in some cases slightly rewritten for clarity and presented in no particular order:

"If it's just a subtle change, like the 3GS, I'll change handsets. Needs a revamped interface and multitasking. Something to compete," -- foti_hatzis.

"Next iPhone needs better battery life, a much faster processor, true multitasking, memory card slot," -- randyohara.

"To not interfere with speakers and other electronics," -- PBrousseau.

"A front-facing camera would be the best feature for a new iPhone. No other smartphone's got that," -- JohnBBaird.

"A feature I would greatly appreciate is if the iPhone switched to Verizon, because Cingular (AT&T) has bad service across the board," -- _SarahPearl_.

"The new iPhone needs a flash, multitasking, and it needs to be jailbroken without jailbreaking or I am going to the Nexus one," -- kostamosta.

"I think it needs to be faster, with a better cam," -- sbsxaid.

"Create the all in one desktop application (calendar, contacts, photos etc) that Palm did so well, and Apple has failed to even try. Improve the ruggedness of the top button (ever since the first drop mine works most of the time if you push it just right). Incorporate full Apple QuickTime into this Apple product. Reinstate the tethering capability," -- Jeff.

"Open to other carriers, tethering," -- James.

"Java, openoffice.org, and something better than AT&T," -- Terri.

"I think the iPhone needs to be carrier-agnostic. I love my iPhone, but I also carry an HTC Droid phone for when I need reliable connectivity," -- Darryl.

"Wish list: Better battery life. Support Adobe Flash. Receive Outlook invitations in something other than unreadable .ics files. Alas, I'm pretty loyal...it'd take a lot to make me change," -- CC.

"Interchangeable batteries. Flash. Be able to connect external Bluetooth keyboard (so I could use it to take notes). Be able to hide built-in apps that I don't use. Support multiple Exchange links. Tethering," -- Alan.

David Coursey has been writing about technology products and companies for more than 25 years. He tweets as @techinciter and may be contacted via his Web site.

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David Coursey

PC World (US online)
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