2012, Year of the Smartphone and Tablet: A Wish List For Better Devices
Apple's iPad has unquestionably taken over the tablet industry. Around 90 percent of all Web browsing that occurs on a tablet, occurs on an iPad. Windows 8 and Android-based tablets have a chance to eat into some of that market share, but it's still a long road ahead. Then again, for as popular as the iPad is, we still find ourselves longing for a few changes.
- USB support: We realize this might be asking a lot of Apple but a slew of Android and Windows-based tablets have a USB input, which opens up possibilities for all sorts of input devices and peripherals. Even if Apple slipped a micro-USB port along the edge and included an adapter, the possibilities would be endless.
- Control over real estate: Sure, the Retina display is pretty, but what good are those extra pixels if you can't actually place more icons on the home pane?
- Expandable storage: A microSD slot would be excellent for easily importing or exporting files.
- A gesture-based bezel: We loved this feature on the ill-fated BlackBerry PlayBook, and would love to see Apple add it to the iPad.
- More internal storage: While the cloud is great, we'd love a 128GB or 256GB option for serious archivists.
The iPhone 5 is an excellent phone, and a blisteringly fast one at that, but we're always longing for more. Here are a few things that we would love to see on this year's iPhone -- be it the iPhone 5S or iPhone 6, or whatever Apple ends up calling it.
- More internal storage: 64GB has been the top storage option on the iPhone for far, far too long. Yes, the cloud is great, but it's not always dependable. Having a top-end 128GB option would be excellent.
- NFC: No, this hasn't exactly taken the world by storm, but a slew of Android phones already include this. We suspect that NFC adoption on the whole would improve should Apple opt to support it.
- Passbook expansion: As it stands, Passbook is little more than a proprietary wallet for gift cards and reward cards. Paired with NFC, this could morph into a powerful payment tool.
- Relax iOS restrictions: As it stands, it's impossible to get Siri to control non-Apple applications, and you cannot change many Apple defaults -- in other words, "Mail to" cannot be associated with Sparrow or Gmail, but only Apple's inbuilt Mail app.
- Advanced camera controls: The iPhone 5 has one of the best smartphone cameras on the market, but Apple's UI doesn't allow users to tweak ISO, aperture, shutter speed, or many other features that amateur photographers would love to tinker with.
- iCloud maturity: If Apple added a Dropbox-like element to iCloud, it would be a vastly more useful service.
- Customizable lock screen: It's time for Apple to start letting users add widgets and vital information to the lock screen. A simple clock is no longer enough.
Globally, Android is dominating the market share numbers for smartphones. The Google-made OS is hopping into hundreds of thousands of new hands each day, and with the latest build (Jelly Bean), it has evolved into an extremely strong platform that can easily rival anything that Apple and Microsoft has accomplished thus far. But, as ever, things could be better. Here are a few things we'd love to see in a future iteration of the platform.
- Better tablet support: As it stands, Google tablets suffer from a syndrome of complacency. Many Android tablet apps are little more than enlarged phone apps. Apple has created a separate iPad API that encourages developers to truly take advantage of the increased screen space, and we'd love a concerted effort from Google to encourage its devs to follow suit. As it stands, Android tablet apps are generally less flashy and lacking in functionality compared to iPad apps.
- A smarter Google Now: Now remains one of our favorite innovations of 2012, but we're of course eager for it to grow. We'd love for it to parse data from more sources, and provide more smart alerts for travel, planning, and work appointments.
- Smarter resource usage: if there's one thing that plagues many Android phones, it's battery life. While the OS is robust, having a multitude of widgets and background processes can eat away a fully charged battery at a rapid rate. We shouldn't have to buy a MAXX phone from Motorola just to get acceptable battery life.
- Tighter upgrade paths: Outside of Google's flagship Nexus line, it's a total mystery as to when any given Android product will see an update -- and some never do. If Google could figure out a way to let its OEM partners tweak Android while still adhering to the Nexus update path, fragmentation would be less of an issue and more Android users would enjoy the spoils of the newest builds.
The overall design and feel of Microsoft's mobile OS remains one of our favorites, and it's an absolute pleasure to hold one of Nokia's well-made Lumia 920 phones. But after nearly three years on the market, WP8 has yet to grab a meaningful amount of market share. In our opinion, there's still a chance for the handset OS to take the smartphone world by storm, and below we'll list out a few things we think could take it to the next level.
- Google support: without support for Gmail, Google Maps, Google Calendar, Google Drive and Google Docs, Microsoft is alienating a huge swath of potential users. Even iPhone users get excellent access to Google's robust suite of tools.
- App support: if Microsoft cannot convince the industry's flagship app makers to build programs for WP8, the platform could be dead in the water before too long. In 2013, WP8 needs to get an Instagram app and a rebuilt Twitter app. And moreover, Microsoft simply needs to convince developers to code for WP8 just as quickly as they program for iOS, even if it comes at a cost.
- Folders: for as elegant as Windows Phone is, it's quite strange that you can't organize your apps in folders. One long, alphabetical list becomes unwieldy in short order. Just little more organization beyond active tiles would be nice.
- Tablet support: While WP8 looks great on phones, wouldn't it look great on a 7" tablet? Sure, Windows 8 and Windows RT will slowly but surely fill that void, but it could make sense for Microsoft to branch out and try an approach similar to the one that Apple and Google have.
It's an exciting time to be a fan of Microsoft, as Windows 8 represents the first desktop operating system from any company to be built from the ground up with touch and tablets in mind. A few models, including the Surface RT from Microsoft, have trickled out. But on the whole, they aren't impressing the masses just yet. We think a few changes in the new year could help that situation.
- Improved Office performance: Sure, Office ships with RT tablets, but initial builds are slow, buggy, and not on par with what professionals expect from Microsoft's Office suite. Office versions for tablets should excel on the platform.
- More robust app store: Similar to WP8, the future of Windows 8 on tablets depends largely on the health of the ecosystem. Microsoft needs to put a huge amount of muscle into getting top-tier programs into its Marketplace, and fast.
- Better battery life: Microsoft has an opportunity to bring a full OS to the tablet-buying masses, but it needs world-class battery life figures to convince professionals that they can use one without worrying over it dying during the work day. Windows 8 has rather innovative memory and power management features, so it would seem likely that this area should improve over time on its own as well.
- Phone-in-tablet form factor: Asus' PadFone hasn't taken off in America, but the phone-within-a-tablet form factor has huge potential with Windows 8. It would require Microsoft to tailor Windows 8 for phones, but that's probably something they should consider for the future if WP8 cannot survive on its own.
- Divided display: We'd love if the main Start screen could be customized and segmented more. Just as users can arrange windows at will on a desktop, we would love the ability to devote half of the Windows 8 start screen on a tablet to work-related tasks, while personal programs and favorites sat on the other. Yes, it already supports backgrounding -- allowing users to pull a panel out from the side to see recently used apps -- but we're envisioning a truly divided Start screen where an app could run on the left (Word, for instance) and live tiles or another app could populate the right side, within a user-configurable share of screen real estate.
So, there's a list of some of top wishes for the year ahead. We're anxious to see what kind of innovation happens in the months ahead, and we should get a great peek at what's ahead as CES 2013 kicks off next week. Feel free to share some of your own hopes and dreams for the year ahead in the comments section below!