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Four Changes We Want to See from Apple in 2010

Now that Apple has announced the iPad (much to our collective relief after months of rumors and hype), we have the brain space to look forward to what else Apple might do in 2010.

It's a good bet that we'll see speed bumps to much of the Mac line, though it seems less likely that 2010 will bring major industrial design changes. iPhone OS 3.2 is a sure thing, and version 4.0 also seems likely, as does a mid-year update to the iPhone and iPod touch hardware. iLife will probably receive a revision as well, though just when during the year that will happen is anyone's guess. It's also easy to predict small updates to Mac OS X, and if we're lucky, the mid-year Worldwide Developers Conference will bring a glimpse of features in the next big cat, itself probably not due until 2011.

That was all blindingly obvious, wasn't it? Most industry predictions are, since they're based largely on past performance. So instead of attempting to predict what we expect Apple to do, we instead want to share a few suggestions of what we'd like to see Apple do this year. And unlike some wishlists, we're doing our best to keep it real - all of these ideas are entirely within Apple's capabilities and, we believe, within the realm of Apple's business direction.

(We have plenty of wishes - from a revamping of Apple's App Store policies to the open sourcing of the Cocoa framework - that stray too far into the realm of fantasy to explore further here.)

Better Home Media Sharing -- Computing and communications devices have long been moving from being shared to being personal. We have our own Macs, our own iPhones, and our own iPods. And Apple certainly wants to encourage that, since it's easier to sell multiple products to a loyal customer than to acquire a new one.

But where Apple has fallen down badly is in acknowledging that certain types of data are shared property, all while paying loud lip service to the concepts of networking and data sharing. From iCal and Address Book to iTunes and iPhoto, sharing data within a family is cumbersome at best, and often read-only. BusyMac's BusySync solves the problem for iCal, and Address Book offers some sharing capabilities for MobileMe users in Snow Leopard, but iTunes and iPhoto remain troublesome, even with the addition of the rather confusing Home Sharing feature in iTunes.

The fact of the matter is that music and photos are absolutely shared property within a household. Nothing - legal or physical - prevents any one of us from playing any of the CDs we've purchased, and nothing prevents any of us from looking at or working with our physical photo albums from the days before digital photography. So why do we have to jump through hoops to do this with our digitized music and photos? Is Apple just kowtowing to the recording industry, and if so, why should that affect iPhoto?

In our ideal 2010, updates to iTunes and iPhoto would give them an interface for creating a centralized data store with the option either to share user-created collections like playlists, ratings, albums, books, cards, and so on, or to keep them separate. Either way, any user should be able to add information to the centralized data store in any way and have it become available to all users.

But we'll go a step further and suggest that Apple could turn this crying need into a profit center as well, by releasing a Media Capsule, a combination of the Apple TV and Time Capsule that would combine Wi-Fi and Ethernet routing, network-attached storage, networked backups, and shared media libraries, with the capability of displaying photos and video on a TV set and playing music through a stereo system. Such a device could include a terabyte of storage for less than $400 given Apple's current Time Capsule and Apple TV pricing.

Another move Apple could make in this direction would be to allow iTunes Store accounts to be collected together into a "family account," much as you can have a master MobileMe account and various sub-accounts. That could potentially eliminate legal concerns surrounding sharing, since users would be agreeing that sharing was purely for personal use.

Family Support in MobileMe -- Continuing the theme, although MobileMe offers a family plan, it's merely an individual account plus four additional family accounts (with reduced storage) at a lower price. MobileMe has improved significantly over the past few years, and Apple is missing a great opportunity to meet the needs of the online-enabled family.

Family coordination has always been a daunting task, and never more so than in this digital age. There are schedules to keep in sync, photos to share, geographically separated grandparents to update, and bodies to track. MobileMe already includes all the core components of a service that would significantly appeal to families.

Calendar sharing is probably the most important element, and is nearly non-existent today. With MobileMe you can currently publish a calendar so others can see it, but you can't share a calendar and allow anyone to change it. There are also no group calendars to allow family members to share common appointments.

Adding calendar sharing and a family group calendar (showing everyone's individual appointments, plus shared ones) would be a huge help in coordinating everyone's doctor appointments and after-school activities. Apple could even add to-do items, so chores could be assigned and marked as done electronically.

Unlike the current calendar publishing, Apple should also make shared calendars secure and accessible only to invited members, and continue to allow people to mark their own events as private, since we all need a little break from the family sometimes.

Aside from calendars, there are a number of other family-friendly features Apple could add to MobileMe with various degrees of effort. A family mailing list might make a nice replacement for notes stuck on refrigerators or stuffed in lunchboxes. Enhancements to Find My iPhone could allow parents to keep track of a distributed family (and help sell a few more iPhones); cell carriers already offer similar family-tracking services for less interesting phones. Shared contacts could make those holiday cards or birthday party invites a little easier to pull off. Apple could even centralize Parental Controls management for all iPhones and Macs registered with the family plan. A wiki-like service could allow an extended family to share holiday wishlists without worrying about duplication.

And, finally, our previous suggestion about opening up media sharing fits this model nicely, especially for maintaining photo galleries shared with an extended family via MobileMe.

MobileMe for Mobile Devices -- While we're on the subject of MobileMe, the lack of support for MobileMe in the mobile version of Safari that's part of the iPhone OS is bewildering. Visit from Mobile Safari, and you're given just a few options: Set up Mail, Contacts, Calendar (which leads to a single screen with instructions on how to set up syncing using the built-in apps on the iPhone or iPod touch); Use Find My iPhone (a recent addition - finally! - as described in "MobileMe Site Adds Some Mobile Safari Support," 18 February 2010); or given the options to install the MobileMe Gallery app for viewing MobileMe galleries and the iDisk app for file access.

Google and many other firms have built highly usable Web front ends to sites that were originally intended for desktop browsers, and Apple also has some quite marvelous Web apps. Why not let people who so choose access email, calendars, and other advanced MobileMe features from within Mobile Safari instead of via sync?

You may need access when you're trying to reach MobileMe data from a friend's or colleague's iPhone or iPod touch, or when you have an account that you want to check, but not sync. This is especially the case for business users who sync with work information, but still need access to their personal data from the Web site. And while Apple finally allowed access to Find My iPhone from an iPhone (after we initially drafted this article, in fact), the current approach is still just a bandage, not real support.

Bluetooth Keyboard Support for iPhone/iPod touch -- You knew we'd make our way around to the iPhone eventually, didn't you? No one would suggest that an iPhone or iPod touch is an ideal device on which to write long documents, and we've all gotten used to the "glass keyboard" that appears for data entry in the iPhone OS.

But despite Steve Jobs's disdain for hardware keyboards, such as those found on major models from every other smartphone maker, Apple took pains during the iPad introduction to feature the iPad Keyboard Dock, and the iPad's support for Bluetooth-connected keyboards.

We asked Apple employees at the iPad's introduction if that same Bluetooth keyboard support would appear in updates to the iPhone and iPod touch, but were told it wasn't planned for those devices. Why? Is it purely to differentiate the iPad from the iPhone and iPod touch?

(To be fair, the iPhone OS 3.2 update, which is the version demonstrated on the iPad, hasn't yet shipped, so it's entirely possible that Apple may simply include Bluetooth keyboard support for all iPhone OS devices when the software appears.)

A highly technical Australian friend recently managed a four-week, multiple-continent business trip with only an iPhone for email with the office, Web access for looking up information, Skype for calling home, and taking photos of his travels. Though he intentionally left his laptop behind, he said a compact Bluetooth keyboard would likely have eased the more text-intensive tasks, allowed improved ergonomics, and prevented some neck and shoulder pain from excessive iPhone use. The new restrictions and screening changes for commercial air travel might make it even more desirable to avoid carrying a laptop when possible.

There is no good technical reason that Apple hasn't enabled this support, which uses very little battery power compared to Bluetooth calling and Bluetooth stereo audio. It seems like a control-freak decision, not one rooted in technical causes or in the cause of providing the best experience for users. A simple upgrade would flip a switch and turn this feature on.

Will these changes happen? That's the big question. We've tried hard to keep our wishes in the realm of things that fit within Apple's overall direction and mindset, and that Apple has the technical chops to accomplish. But do our desires align with Apple's corporate direction?

Certainly, customer feedback never hurts, and we encourage you to use Apple's Feedback page to register your opinions as well. But the company is famously self-directed, and the main driving force for such changes would have to come from within, if not from Steve Jobs himself, then from Apple's own product managers, programmers, testers, and tech support reps, all communicating up the line that they themselves want more from Apple's products along the lines we've outlined here.


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Comments about Four Changes We Want to See from Apple in 2010
(Comments are closed.)

Yes, yes, yes to the first three! The 4th one would also be nice, but I don't see it happening anytime soon. I believe it is "just" a product differentiation thing, but I think it would be against Apple's interests to make the iPhone/iPod touch a killer device for content creation.

By the way, the contrast you set up in the last section between "fit within" and "align with", and between "overall direction and mindset" and "corporate direction" are opaque to me.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2010-02-23 07:45
Glad you agree! The basic point in the last paragraph is just that we believe all of these things are the kind of things Apple wouldn't just dismiss out of hand (like making a car, or giving Macs away) and is technically capable of accomplishing.
Eric Stefanski  2010-02-23 09:14
While I can see Apple thinking that allowing keyboard support for iPhone would cut into iPad sales, I would gladly buy an iPad as a 'license' to get a keyboard for my iPhone. Lugging a laptop (or even an iPad) around in areas of the world where you can get killed for having a lot less and you're never sure if your hotel room is secure--but where 'everybody' has a cell phone--is a nerve-wracking thing, but carrying my phone everywhere and leaving a $50 keyboard in the room would be fantastic.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2010-02-23 10:17
Plus, there are foldable keyboards that compress to be not much larger than a cell phone, so you could put both in your pockets.
Taro in Tokyo  2010-02-22 21:26
From October to November, I also used my iTouch as my only device for work on the road. Even writing one page report was agony. Apple is just being wicked/pigheaded not to turn on the software switch for Bluetooth that already exists for Nike + iPod Sensor.
(I swear Apple WANTS us to jailbreak their devices.)
Sean C.  2010-02-22 22:24
I would love to see easy media sharing within families a-la- iTunes!! We don't have a Mobile Me Acct at this time. We don't need it currently, but that idea sounds good too. Frankly, this is a framework that is surprising it's not already in existence!!
Good Article. Thanks. I will be sure and give 'em some more feedback. I already do on a regular basis anyhow!
Martin Annerbo  2010-02-23 07:34
Great ideas!
Martin Annerbo  2010-02-23 03:04
Yes sure thing, this is what we really need right now! Is there any available solution using other software until Apple does it?
How about full Bluetooth support for the iPod Touch so that you can use volume controls, the microphone, etc. on a Bluetooh headset? And how about making it possible to sync up to iTunes on multiple computers without wiping out libraries and applications? For those of us with only free content on our devices, the ridiculous security restrictions in iTunes are absurd. And how about opening up the platform so that customers don't have to jailbreak the device in order to use it they way they want?

What has become apparent is that Apple really isn't interested in listening to or addressing the needs of customers.
Apple should focus on making Time Machine compatible with NAS devices other then their own.

With 4 Mac laptops and desktops in my house, it would be such a pleasure to have everyone back up using Time Machine to the NAS already in place without having to think about it or dealing with unsupported hacks to make it function.
Tom Wilcoxen  2010-02-23 08:15
1 Big Vote for #1!! I've been struggling with this with my family and even with 3rd party software don't have a system to share photos and music satisfactorily.

I would also certainly purchase a mini with snow leopard server if it offered these capabilities.

I'd also add on netboot -- in my Happy Place I envision a household where any family member could sit down at any available Mac and log in to their account and access their apps, documents, etc. A dad can dream, can't he?
Al Pawlowski  2010-02-23 13:10
I could not have made a better list or even stated them better - right on.
Mac Flyer  2010-02-23 15:22
I can completely relate to the overly strict sharing policy for iTunes. I just recently got new hardware to run SL and thought it's just a mere copy and paste (or sync) to get all the music from an ancient iPod Nano 1 GB (registered with a 2004 iBook that's out of service) to my new setup. No way for this to happen. Maybe I miss the point here but I tried everything that's obvious.

Mind you, the Nano is full of mp3s I converted from CDs on our shelf.

It's the little things like this that sometimes are dealbreakers in the shiny universe of Apple and I will consider if I really should build my new music collection on iTunes. It's not that there weren't any alternatives. Seattle, for example, has become a much friendlier place the past years.
Neil Bartlett  2010-02-24 10:06
Wow,you must have been reading our collective family mind. You have described all the problems we have as a family and articulated great solutions that Apple could actually put in place this year. Apple Engineers, are you reading!
M. Perry  2010-02-24 21:57
I'd add a fifth, improve text services so all the apps that use them don't look and act like WordStar circa 1982. With ePub and XML becoming more important, named styles is a must-have.
mfiman  2010-02-27 17:20
"It seems like a control-freak decision, not one rooted in technical causes or in the cause of providing the best experience for users."

You could say that in regard to just about every potentially useful app that could be easily available via the App Store or hardware peripheral for the iPhone -- that Apple intercepts before it can get to users.
Andrew James  2010-03-09 20:59
Just catching up on my TidBITS reading and came across this article. Agree with all your points as I fit into all the relevant categories (and have been frustrated by all the stated deficiencies!) It is a paradox that Apple makes amazing systems but seems to stuff up on the relatively easy stuff (such as no bluetooth keyboard support for iphone).
Adam, you are right on as usual! The inability truly share an iCal with all persons sharing having full edit access to the calendar and then syncing it accross all devices, mobile or otherwise, is a wild ommission on Apple's part. We are actually hosting our calendars locally with an always on machine to fill the gap but it's not an easy end user setup. Mobile Me should step in and do this and make it at least as easy as publishing and sharing iCals.

Same for your great comments on home sharing. I'd like to see Snow Leopard server get so easy to setup that we're all running servers in the home and swapping and sharing data in any way we need to. A macmini, like the one that ships with Snow Leopard Server on it, would be perfect, but I'm waiting for Apple to really put sometime into Snow Leopard server to make it END USER FRIENDLY. It's still not really there and while you can see there are some R&D $ there, I'd like to see major money go toward that. Thanks for leading here