The iPhone Report: So Where Is That Critical Feature?

July 17th, 2008

It’s easy to attack the manufacturer of a product when features you expect are lacking. In the case of the iPhone, now that the 3G version has taken off like a rocket, you have to wonder why Apple didn’t have time to roll in some critical capabilities.

First and foremost are the classic Cut, Copy and Paste features, part and parcel of the Mac OS since the first release back in 1984. Understand that those original Macs were nowhere near as powerful as the tiny iPhone, either the first version or the second. Your iPhone also has a whole lot more storage space, more RAM, and so forth and so on. As a result, it can’t be a lack of system resources.

So how do such basic capabilities fail to make the cut? Well, Apple VP Greg Joswiak, known as “Joz” to his friends, is quoted as saying that they’re all on the “to do” list, but others got greater priority. Now Joz has always impressed me as a pleasant fellow, so I’ll cut him some slack. I realize that it’s not always possible for a company to build and test all the features they want and still get a product out on schedule. In Microsoft’s case, of course, they either change the schedule or remove the features they promised, and, alas, few tech pundits put their feet to the fire.

Apple, of course, never promised those basic text editing features, so there’s nothing to fulfill. While I can understand why things might have been missing from the original iPhone, what about the second version, or the 2.0 software that works on both?

Why indeed!

Maybe Apple is trying to find an innovative method to make it work? Since I’m not an interface designer myself — nor do I play one on radio or TV — I wouldn’t presume to be able to present an ideal solution. Yes, that’s the ticket.

But what about voice dialing? Is that so difficult? I mean, the free LG Bluetooth phone I got my wife when we signed up with AT&T has it. Despite a perfectly awful user interface, that feature seems to function well enough to make it usable. My son’s Motorola RAZR has it as well — wish he’d use it. But there Motorola has at least made it function in a decent fashion when the handset is mated to your Bluetooth headset. Considering the advanced speech technology in Leopard, why has Apple missed the boat here?

Certainly the fact that hands-free capabilities are now required, by law in Apple’s home state of California should be sufficient reason for them to act fast to resolve this lapse. Sure, there will be stuff at the App Store that will provide such a feature, after a fashion. But this is really Apple’s job.

On another front, what about the ability to edit documents? Sure, you can read Office and iWork documents, but what good is that if they can’t get a few final edits as part of the process? Does Apple expect you to write down the required changes and attach the document with an email to a collaborator, or to yourself for final touch-ups when you return to your Mac? I wonder.

In Mail, the famous accelerometer is non-functional. Why? Certainly it would make a whole lot of sense to be able to rotate your iPhone and take advantage of a wider keyboard when your messages have to extend beyond a few sentences. Yes, I can peck away with the best of them on that touch keypad, even without the desired tactile response. But it can get awkward when a message requires greater length.

And don’t get me started about the technologies that do provide such tactile responses on touch screens.

While I’m not a fan of navigation systems — I still use maps even if they are printed from an online resource — I realize a lot of you would love to have turn-by-turn directions on your iPhone. Joz says they are hoping for it to appear soon, but refers to unmentioned “complications” to explain why it hasn’t happened yet. While I realize Apple’s marketing position is tightly controlled, I can’t see where the company would suffer greatly if he could just provide a few fine details of the obstacles they face.

I mean, they weren’t shy about talking about the need to provide a push notification feature, to deliver better performance and compatibility with such applications as AOL’s AIM, the popular instant messaging client. Certainly the setup is awkward now, as switching to another application basically quits the previous one, and you are, for all practical purposes, offline if you find the need to perform another task while exchanging messages with someone. Aside from being downright rude, it’s inconvenient.

In this case, though, Apple admits there’s a problem. They can’t have multiple applications remain open and maximize battery life, which already suffers big time because of the 3G network support. They have posited a solution, one that is expected to show up this fall.

With that fit of honesty as a guide, I think Apple should follow through with some much needed explanations as to why these and other features remain missing in action on the iPhone.

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3 Responses to “The iPhone Report: So Where Is That Critical Feature?”

  1. James Katt says:

    Yada Yada Yada Yada.

    Another commentary from an inpatient pundit.

    OS features (such as cut and paste) will eventually come. However, Apple has to find the right paradigm since the iPhone is not a PC. It is an entirely new way of interaction. Additionally, once such a feature is implemented, it will be a standard for years to come. Thus it requires careful consideration.

    Remember – the iPhone doesn’t have a keyboard to make text selection easier. Thus the paradigm for cut and paste is NOT that clear to implement in an easy to remember fashion.

    Creating screen captures, for example, already uses the BIZARRE maneuver of pressing the home and power buttons simultaneously. That is obviously not obvious to the usual user.

    Some “missing” features can be an opportunity an enterprising developer.

    For example, voice dialing has already been implemented in an application available in the App Store for iPhone.

    There goes one of your complaints.

    Improvements are coming. Have patience.

    The calculator already has scientific calculator features.

    I prefer RPN notation – but that soon will be available in alternative calculators at the App Store. I have one in my jailbroken iPhone.

    Patience, Patience, Patience, Patience.

  2. Making impatient comments — sometimes without reading the full article — is also a problem. 🙂

    Yes, I’m aware that implementing cut, copy and paste on a touch keyboard is difficult, and have said as much in the past. That doesn’t let Apple off the hook here. They admit it’s on their list. This is a feature, in addition to voice dialing (which I knew about) that should not depend on third-party solutions.

    Besides, knowing a solution is in the works is not the same as saying you would like to see it as soon as possible.


  3. Walt French says:

    Guess what: you ARE seeing copy/paste “as soon as possible.” It’s not possible until somebody has already done it. Like I was trained in Physics: if something is REALLY possible, then you should be able to show an example of it, somewhere in the universe.

    One of the SF radio stations used to have an announcer whose trademark line was, “… if you don’t like the news, go out and make some of your own.” Excellent advice, and good for people who feel that they’re sounding like little whiners. Tens of thousands of people in the world have d/l’d the iPhone programming kit, and yet, people are complaining about the lack of a feature that is supposedly easy to program.

    Hey, you could be famous! Or at least appreciated!

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