The Apple Wish List

April 7th, 2008

You know, I’ve written thousands of words expressing my needs and desires for future versions of Mac OS X. Yes indeed, the interface and supporting components are the most important elements of your user experience. You can put the Mac OS on an ugly white box PC and still experience the joys of the Mac. In fact, that’s what happened in the last decade when Apple’s misbegotten cloning program nearly did the company in.

Certainly, with my Mac tower placed below my work desk, I hardly ever give it a second glance, except to change a connection. Working inside is a rarity, since the stock configuration, plus RAM and maybe an extra hard drive, constitutes most of the changes I expect to make during the time I expect to own such a computer.

On the other hand, there are certainly things I’d like to see in Apple’s product lineup that would not just make my working environment more pleasant, but perhaps yours as well. After all, I don’t want to be selfish about all this.

While there isn’t any specific Mac I’m lusting after that isn’t in the present product lineup, I still like to renew my hopes for the “headless iMac,” something that lies between the Mac mini and the Mac Pro; the power of the iMac, but without a display. Add to that mix two extra memory slots, a slot for another internal hard drive, and perhaps putting the graphics chips on a regular PCI card, so you can upgrade if you wish.

While I wouldn’t be the market for this mid-range desktop, I think there would be a huge audience out there for such a model, an audience for whom the Mac mini isn’t powerful enough, the iMac isn’t suited because of the built-in display, and the Mac Pro is just too darn powerful and expensive.

When it comes to the iPhone, I’m not so devoted to the possibility of GPS support that I care all that much whether it happens or not. The existing enhanced Google Maps feature is sufficient for my needs, since I generally print out directions at home first when I’m embarking on a long trip. I actually had a car once with a built-in navigation system, and when I realized I only used it once or twice a year, I decided to be appropriately frugal with my next automative purchase, and I never regretted it.

Support for 3G networking, however, has its attractions. While Web performance is decent with AT&T’s Edge network when signal strength is high, when the number of bars is reduced, it can take a minute or more for even a simple page to render. Welcome to the world of dial-up performance. Since the pundits, led by the estimable Walt Mossberg of The Wall Street Journal, are talking of a June timeframe for the release of a 3G-based iPhone, and AT&T’s leadership has delivered hints of such a thing coming this year, I’ll take that as a yes.

There are, though, other features I’d like to see, and maybe they’ll appear in the forthcoming 2.0 firmware update, which means existing iPhones will have them too. First is the ability to edit simple documents, perhaps courtesy of a touch-based version of Apple’s TextEdit. It would also be nice to be able to select text. One feature the rumor sites are mentioning is the possibility of wireless printing support, so I could output a letter, document or Web page without returning to my traditional Macs. That would be nice if it happens, but I wonder how various printer drivers would be handled with the iPhone interface. Would it require some customization, or can it all be done behind the scenes with the same printing software you use now with Mac OS X?

I can also see where some people, such as our Special Correspondent, David Biedny, would like to see a pro version of the iPhone, perhaps sized the same as Apple’s infamous Newton-derived eMate. This would be a large handheld or extremely tiny note-book that would have a screen two or three times larger than the iPhone. It could still possess a touch screen, but the Bluetooth wireless feature would let you hook up a traditional keyboard and mouse and turn it into a full-fledged computer in the traditional sense.

If that sounds a little underwhelming, do you recall the size of the screens on the first Macs back in the 1980s? Even a tiny bit smaller would be perfectly useful for a variety of purposes. After all, you and I were able to use those compact Macs for writing, desktop publishing, image editing and making music. Yes, the screen might have seemed pathetically small after external displays appeared on the scene, but considering what you can do on an iPhone right now, this eMate successor might be the perfect form factor for a true PC of the future, where size does matter.

While Microsoft struggles to mimic the iPod of two or three years ago, I do foresee the iPod touch getting less expensive over time, as Flash memory prices continue to moderate. Some day, the traditional iPods will lie only at the very bottom of the product line, as Apple extends its Wi-Fi mobile platform to more and more models.

What about a touch-screen note-book or tablet computer? Well, a third party has a tablet mod kit for Apple’s note-books even now, but I don’t think that form factor has proven to be a successful product focus, any more than the full-fledged media center PC. But having a MacBook or MacBook Pro with fully enabled touch-screen, in the fashion of the iPhone, sounds intriguing. Then again, you’d probably want it to have a sturdier screen surface to withstand constant poking and pushing and dragging by fingers of various degrees of scratchiness and cleanliness.

Of course, Apple doesn’t listen to me, but if enough of you want something, they might find a way to produce it. Even now, in fact, some of the ideas mentioned so far, and ones far, far better, are likely already under development behind closed doors in Apple’s development labs.

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6 Responses to “The Apple Wish List”

  1. Dana Sutton says:

    Most of the stuff mentioned here is simply improved versions of products Apple already has brought to market. More interesting, perhaps, is the possibility of entirely new products which would enlarge the repertoire of devices that all work off OSX. One such might be a viable e-book, something other folks (most recently Amazon) have tried with a conspicuous lack of success. Just as Apple is extending its music distribution model to television and movies, so it might be able to do the same for the e-book. Another might be a entertainment/information center to be built into automobiles. Many of the present ones are so klutzy to use — and therefore also so dangerous to use if you happen to be whizzing along at seventy with your eyes off the road trying to figure out how the damned thing works — that surely they could benefit from Apple’s interface engineering.

  2. Andrew says:

    I think the reason why nobody has had much success with ebooks is because it is an answer to a question that nobody has ever asked.

  3. I think the reason why nobody has had much success with ebooks is because it is an answer to a question that nobody has ever asked.

    I’ve tried ebooks and I’m inclined to agree with you. On the other hand, it does appear that Amazon’s Kindle might be having some level of success. Certainly adding ebook capabilities to the iPhone wouldn’t involve major reprogramming, so it would certainly be useful — at least to test the possibilities.


  4. Andrew says:

    Problem with using the iPhone as an ebook reader is that the screen is just too small. Any device large enough to be usable is too large to carry (larger than a regular book), while anything small enough to carry is too small to use for extended reading.

    Devices like the iPhone are great for reading and responding to an occasional email or viewing a website here and there, but I’d hate to try and read a novel on one.

    The killer app for me that I’d like to see on the next iPhone (and which I already have on my BlackBerry) is tethered modem via bluetooth. Nothing like using my MacBook to surf the web while sitting in moving car through my BlackBerry’s internet connection. Yes, I could just use the BlackBerry (or iPhone) itself, but the browsing experience really is better on a full-sized computer with a full-sized keyboard.

  5. Dana Sutton says:

    I’m not one of those people who claims that the printed book is obsolete or even obsolescent, and I certainly wouldn’t want to relax at the beach reading the latest Ludlum novel on any kind of electric device. But consider certain facts. The cost of manufacturing and storing printed books is skyrocketing. The number of digitized books available on the Web probably runs into the millions (thanks in good part to Google Books). Admittedly for the most part these books aren’t the sort of thing the average Joe would ever want to read, but plenty of specialists do, and even the average Joe can develop specialized interests on occasion (if, for ex., he wants to restore an antique car the very first thing he’s going to need is the appropriate shop manual). One or two newly-founded colleges in my state are trying to keep down costs by operating entirely paperless libraries. Amazon’s scheme for purchased downloads may have a bunch of problems, but the idea of distributing books and textbooks electronically must have a lot of appeal for the publishing industry (bye-bye dealing with that pesky printers’ union, bye-bye warehousing and distribution costs, etc.) and sooner or later somebody is going to figure out how to make a system that works satisfactorily, probably using a device that’s smaller and handier than a laptop but larger and more legible than an iPhone. Let’s not get involved in how the distribution would precisely work or exactly what the device would be like, but I do think this is an area where somebody, sooner or later, can cobble together a viable system to satisfy a genuine and growing need. And Apple has the capacity do this as well or better than anybody else.

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