The Epic Smartphone Decision of 2014: WWDC preview

My smartphone contract runs out in December. I’ve been an iPhone owner for four years, my only smartphones the iPhone 3GS and iPhone 4s. I’ve experienced the incremental pleasures of semi-multitasking, home screen folders, Siri, Notification Center, Control Center, a built-in flashlight, FaceTime, a camera flash, iMessage, Facebook and Twitter integration, Do Not Disturb mode and unlimited tabs, Reader and Reading List for Safari. I’ve also experienced the head-scratching moments of encountering increasingly useless features like Passbook, Reminders, iCloud, iBooks, Maps, Game Center, Newsstand, iTunes Radio and AirDrop.

And now, as Apple’s WWDC is nearly upon us, it’s time to take stock of my loyalty to the iPhone. It’s been a rather enjoyable but also very rigidly controlled ride as an iPhone owner. Where some Android phones suffer from carrier bloatware, the iPhone has gotten bogged down in Apple’s own ecosystem. Rather than improving the features and functionality of the iPhone, Apple has lately loaded up the iPhone to be a portal to everything Apple: the App Store, iTunes, iCloud and now a reported iWatch and smart-home capability.

But I’m not looking to get in deeper with Apple. What I want is a bigger, better smartphone: more features, more customization, more functionality and less feeling like I’m just a pawn in Apple’s attempt to come up with the next big thing. I’ve become very jealous of my Android friends, who can tailor their smartphone experiences to suit their needs. Despite its millions of apps and beautiful hardware and software designs, I’ve begun to sour on the iPhone.

So, beginning today, I’m going to look for an alternative. I’ve initiated an all-out competition for my next smartphone: The Epic Smartphone Decision of 2014. I’ll leave no stone unturned, no model or feature unpursued. Every operating system will get a fair shake — iOS, Android, Windows Phone and even the as-yet-unnamed Amazon phone. Every flagship phone will be weighed, measured and ultimately discarded until just one stands atop the rest. This will be part grueling election campaign, part reality show romance and part battle royale.

Today’s adventure begins by letting Apple know what it can do to get me to upgrade to the iPhone 6. I’ve been vastly underwhelmed by the leaks and rumors so far. Healthbook, smart home features, an iWatch interface — these aren’t making my iPhone more powerful or making my heart flutter. With WWDC just hours away, here are any number of ways a new iPhone could bring back the spark.

Better keyboard
The iPhone keyboard, with the exception of its color and the virtually inscrutable cap key, hasn’t changed much over the years. It’s not become easier to use or see. Typing is no faster now than the day I bought my 3GS. Apple has kept third-party keyboards off the iPhone, but what if Cupertino finally relented? Fleksy, Swype and others all have great keyboards available for Android. At the very least, Apple could display the keys as upper and lowercase, depending on what’s been toggled. With rumors that the next iPhone(s) will be larger, I’d better see a number row added to the primary keyboard as well. And would it kill you, Apple, to give me a better way to select blocks of text than those @%$#ing blue handles? I’ve pressed them so many times by mistake, I’ve nearly given up trying to do it.

Souped-up screens
If you’re going to stick with the tried-and-true rows of icons, Apple, could the icons at least have some functionality? What’s wrong with a few widgets on the lock screen that display some useful info? This concept video shows what’s possible.

Customizable Control Center
Control Center has been great. I use it every day. But it needs more options, more toggles, more app shortcuts. And there’s no customizing it right now. That needs to change. And if the iPhone 6 is getting bigger, there’s plenty of room to beef up Control Center. One of the best jailbreak tweaks out there is CCToggles, which really ramps up the customizability of Control Center.

Inter-app communication
This is something Android users enjoy and crow about at every opportunity. Why can’t an iPhone push files from one app to another or access data in one app from another? For that matter, why can’t we choose our own default apps? These features are long overdue. Time to take the training wheels off, Apple.

Super Siri
Speaking of inter-app communication, it’s about time developers got the chance to make use of Siri. Now’s the time, Apple. Open up Siri’s API to developers at WWDC, and let’s see what she can really do. Siri should be able to operate all my apps by voice control. I should be able to tell her to accomplish any task in iMessage, Mail, Safari (or Chrome), Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pandora, Spotify and YouTube. And if the Moto X can use Google Now that’s always listening, why isn’t there a similar feature for Siri?

Actionable notifications
Get a notification, reply right in the notification box, be it a banner or alert box. Sounds simple, right? So why don’t we have it already, Apple? It’s 2014, for crying out loud! My only choices should not be to ignore the notification or drop what I’m doing and leap over to the notifying app. Auki can do it; why can’t you, Apple?

So the iPhone needs to play some catch-up ball, beginning today, to win back my loyalty. It’s WWDC. Wow me, Apple. It’s your best chance to keep me in the fold.

Chris Cox is the owner and moderator of the Apple iCommunity on Google+.

About Chris Cox

I love technology, but I could do without the tinkering. I'm a firm believer in technology that just works. If it's intuitive, that leads to greater adoption, which leads to more advances, and that benefits us all. That said, a little tinkering on the front end that helps you every day is worth the effort. I'm all for simple solutions that keep me -- and you -- from reinventing the wheel every day.