Six ways Apple can fix what's 'broken' about the iPhone

An iPhone 6 announcement is imminent. Here's what I want from Apple's next handset.

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Designer Martin Hajek's renderings of possible iPhone 6 models.Martin Hajek

Apple will announce at least one new iPhone this year, perhaps as early as the WWDC in June. Based on the latest rumors and the natural evolution of the product, a larger screen is all but definite.

But what else? Except for the fingerprint sensor built into the iPhone 5S, Apple hasn't shown much in the way of actual innovation for the past couple years. Meanwhile, the latest smartphones from the likes of Google, HTC, Motorola, and Samsung have piled on cool features like hands-free Google Now, depth-sensing cameras, water-resistant cases, and kid modes.

That stuff is all well and good, and I'd like to think Apple will cook up at least a few surprises for the new iPhones. But unlike many users, I'm not itching for things like NFC, upgraded Wi-Fi, or even inductive charging (though I certainly wouldn't turn them down).

Rather, many of the improvements I'm hoping for can be handled with software, and perhaps even handed down to existing iPhone models. Because, let's face it, iOS is seriously lagging behind Android in some key areas.

Here, then, are six ways Apple can fix what's "broken" about the iPhone.

1. Choice of keyboards

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Gesture keyboards, like the Nuance Swype, are awesome. Nuance

My recent dalliance with Android taught me one thing: Apple's keyboard is terrible, at least compared with the likes of Google's gesture-powered keyboard (to say nothing of third-party equivalents like Nuance's Swype Keyboard).

In my experience, "drawing" a word was significantly faster and easier than tapping it out letter by letter. I can understand Apple not wanting to allow third-party keyboards, which goes against its unified-experience mentality, but there's no reason not to bake a gesture-keyboard option into the OS. Give users a choice, Apple!

2. More camera controls, not more megapixels

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iOS doesn't offer much in the way of camera controls. Apple

Eight is enough -- by which I mean megapixels, the number packed into the iPhone 5, 5C, and 5S cameras. Those phones already take pretty good (some would say great) pictures, so an iPhone 6 doesn't need more megapixels. (Indeed, as we've discussed before, when it comes to smartphones, more megapixels isn't always better.)

Instead, how about providing more shooting and editing controls? Save for toggling HDR mode and engaging AE/AF lock (by tapping and holding in a specific area), iOS offers almost no camera controls. You can't manually adjust exposure or white balance. You can't lock the aforementioned AE/AF separately from the focus. There are no scene modes to better accommodate things like low light and sports. Heck, how about a timer?

Apple could easily add such features to iOS 8. The hardware is fine; now fix the software.

3. Offline voice recognition

One of the great, underrated features of iOS is voice dictation: Wherever the keyboard appears, you can tap the little microphone icon, say your piece, and presto, it's magically transcribed into text. And let's not forget Siri, the Gal Friday who can recognize your instructions to "remind me to buy milk when I get to Kroger."

Just one problem: None of this works when you're offline. Even "local" commands like the aforementioned reminder require an Internet connection. Why? Android's voice-recognition system works just fine (and quite a bit faster) whether you're connected or not. This is silly. Android is totally schooling ya, iOS!

4. Extended biometrics

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Touch ID would be even better if it worked with third-party apps and services. Apple

The fingerprint sensor built into the iPhone 5s will undoubtedly make its way into the iPhone 6 as well. It's a cool feature, especially for approving App Store purchases. But it doesn't go nearly far enough.

See, password security as we know it is flat-out broken. Look no further than the Heartbleed debacle for evidence, or last year's Target breach. Even if you use "secure" passwords or passphrases, a stolen database renders them fairly useless.

But imagine if you needed a fingerprint ID to, say, buy something from Amazon. Or sign into your Evernote account. Apple's Touch ID could facilitate all that and more, if only the company would allow other apps to leverage the technology. It would, I believe, usher in a new era of smartphone-powered security -- and give iPhones quite an edge over the competition.

5. Smarter use of power

Everyone says they want bigger batteries, but what they really want is longer battery life. Although the iPhone 6 will be physically larger, and therefore accommodate a bigger cell, the larger screen will consume more power -- so that might end up a wash.

Instead, Apple should focus more on power management, much the same way Windows does. Why not add more granular power controls into the OS? How about different power modes that reflect different activities? One for stuff that doesn't require a lot of processor muscle (email, music, etc.), another for stuff that does (such as gaming and video).

And couldn't the iPhone switch into an ultra-low-power mode at night? Track your usage habits to determine when to throttle up the processor and when to throttle back? It seems to me iOS could get a lot smarter about battery consumption, effectively squeezing more juice out of the same old battery.

6. Okay, one hardware wish

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Apple should work with a company like Liquipel to make all iPhones waterproof. Liquipel

Lots of users are clamoring for more storage, near-field communication (NFC) capabilities, built-in infrared, and other such hardware amenities, but to me those are superfluous. My one hardware wish (besides a bigger screen) is a dunk-proof iPhone. I want Apple to partner with HzO or Liquipel and make every iPhone waterproof inside and out.

I've seen this in action at CES: Once coated with whatever space-age polymer these companies use, an iPhone can not only survive a drop in the toilet, a run through the washing machine, or a dip in the pool, but also keep functioning all the while. (Obviously the pool example is the only one that really matters.)

The aftermarket cost for such an application costs about $50, meaning Apple could probably do it large-scale for much less. And I'd gladly pay an extra $10-20 for a fully waterproof phone. Wouldn't you?

Thus ends my unconventional iPhone 6 wish list. Hit the comments and let me know what you're hoping for in the next iPhone, if not the next iOS.

 

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