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What the next iPhone really needs: Better battery life

Forget other features: if the next iPhone really wants to make a splash, it should just be more like the latest MacBook Air.

Sarah Tew/CNET

We're on a countdown until the inevitable Next iPhone, a moment that feels far less anticipated than last year. In 2012 we had the iPhone 5 casting a shadow of mystery: a rumored design revamp, the curiosity surrounding the first post-Steve Jobs iPhone, plus overdue features, namely, LTE and a larger screen. This year, we have rumors of slightly better cameras, colored cases, and maybe a fingerprint reader.

So what can Apple do to make the next iPhone a huge hit?

Simple. Give it killer battery life.

The phone market is suffering a bit of ennui mid-2013. "Peak smartphone" has become a repeated phrase, and I've heard my fair share of, "Phones are boring." It reminds me of laptops: those also-useful, also-commodified products that nearly everyone has but nobody feels all that compelled to immediately replace.

You can't make magic forever. Laptops don't produce stupendous feats of technology anymore: maybe phones are just finally going that path, too. But that doesn't mean there aren't certain critical improvements.

The MacBook Air had a pretty minor set of changes this year, so few that it's hard to consider it a "new" laptop. But the dramatic improvement in battery life is a huge selling point. It makes the Air an excellent recommendation.

Android phones with great battery life are out there, particularly Motorola's recent phones: the Droid Maxx, the Razr Maxx before it, and the new Moto X. The Moto X is a classic example of how a phone without cutting-edge specs can win with improved design, battery life, and an extra feature or two.

Sarah Tew/CNET

My wife does one thing with her iPhone more than anything else: she charges it.

I've been using an iPhone 5 for nearly a year, and its overall performance has been excellent -- except for the battery life, which can range from OK to downright challenging. I keep cloud services on and Bluetooth active, and I do my fair share of streaming, but I need to top off the charge at least once a day.

Is that fair to judge my iPhone based on my heavy usage? Well, it's a part of the new phone landscape. There are more gadgets to pair with via Bluetooth and AirPlay, more high-bandwidth streaming services, more location-aware apps. Making a battery great enough to handle the load is a tough task, but Apple has been battery-minded about its laptops and tablets. It's time for the iPhone to make a great leap forward in battery life. On my "what I want on the next iPhone" wish list, it's the only piece in the puzzle that I really need.

It may not be the sexiest move, but it would be a big move in an otherwise slow year.