Version 3.0 of the iPhone operating system is in beta testing among developers and if all the actual and rumored changes come to fruition, the iPhone user experience is likely to be very different soon.
In this post we'll take a brief look at three of the biggest changes being talked about: push notifications, background apps and bundled software. Some of these changes are much more likely than others. We've also got a few fantasies about what we wish was coming soon to the iPhone.
Push Notification System
Know how your iPhone displays SMS messages whether you're using the phone or not? Any application you download to your phone will soon be able to display messages like that. This will make the iPhone a much more interactive machine, all throughout the day. Imagine to-do apps sending you push notices when a deadline nears, or location aware social networks when you approach a relevant location or even Twitter when you get a reply or direct message. Users can do some of these things by integrating SMS with other applications now, but it's complicated, costly and unrealistic. Native push notifications could make the iPhone as addictive as the Blackberry - but with a much more compelling interface.
Status: Pretty definite, in testing now. Engadget covered this yesterday with a gallery of screenshots.
One of the most frustrating things about the iPhone is that you can only run one app at a time. That makes extended instant messaging conversations, or even availability, unrealistic. It also makes it hard to switch quickly between apps, let's say you get a Twitter message asking for a photo to be uploaded to Flickr - right now you have to close and open two apps to do that, instead of just switching between them. It's like functional or mental cut and paste, we really ought to be able to switch between apps. Unfortunately it's very processor intensive for the little iPhone to do that. If processing limitations can be overcome then there's battery life, already a huge problem, to consider.
Status: Probable but probably a ways off still. Some people say that the push notification system discussed above is a way to get around the desire to run apps simultaneously. TechCrunch has good coverage of this discussion.
The UK Register published a post this morning quoting an analyst who says he's heard that future iPhone product plans revolve around differentiation through software packages - not new hardware. This is little more than an analyst-level rumor right now, but it does make a lot of sense.
The Register: "For example, Apple could market one 'YouTube' iPhone model with applications that provide video capture, editing and sharing features. Other iPhones might only offer basic video capture - or perhaps no video at all."
Business, sports and family focused software bundles would also make sense. Though Apple has had a lot of success in selling applications, most people don't look around a lot at ways to expand any system they purchase. One complication in this scenario is that Apple could risk angering developers by playing favorites between default apps or competing with its own developer community.
Further, while jailbreaking your phone is just cute right now - it could look a whole lot more like stealing if you bought one type of iPhone and jailbroke it to gain functionality reserved for other kinds. Such are the problems you get when you combine a development platform with world-changing potency with an environment of pre-packaged control.
Status: Rumor. Doesn't seem unlikely, but doesn't seem that appealing either.
What Would You Like to See?
There's a long list of widespread complaints/requests concerning the iPhone: battery life, video, no MMS, copy and paste, background apps, etc. But is there anything else out there that intrepid developers in our reader community would like to contribute to the list?
My fantasy wish list would include a cross-application news feed like the Yelp iPhone app's "nearby feed" that displays reviews written most recently of businesses near your current location. It's so much fun! Why not give me an iPhone capability to view recent content from any of my apps that was geotagged as nearby my location? Tweets, news, music, Yelp, images. That would be awesome.
I would also love to see some local syncing with my online activity streams. Imagine if the App store could recommend apps to me based on what I've been bookmarking in Delicious, giving thumbs up on FriendFeed, etc.
What other ideas do you have?
Here at ReadWriteWeb we both love and hate our iPhones. You'd better believe we're excited for the future of this and other mobile platforms, though.