Gaps In The iOS World

While the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch comprise a functionally rich and very successful product family, it is not without its gaps. Apple has left open opportunities for competitors, some of which I believe need to be closed to make the product family more complete. This is not about trivial things like non-replacable batteries (which, quite frankly, most people don’t really care about because they almost never use the feature), it’s about bigger gaps that people say “sorry, without it, I can’t/won’t buy it”.

Flash

Currently, Flash is not supported on iOS. I will admit that I am not a big fan of Flash. I’ve found it to be buggy, unstable and a resource pig. But, like it or not, Flash is ubiquitous and will be for some time. Apple needs to get together with Adobe to find a way to make Flash work on iOS that is workable and usable for iOS devices, particularly the iPad, to make them truly standalone technology, free from a PC.

Java

Java is another technology that is missing on iOS, and one that may be required for success in the enterprise market. Apple could take a two-phased approach to this, first by supporting Java as a type of app that the user can install (and that would initially need approval via the App Store for general distribution), and second by looking at how to support applets, but in a way that satisfies Apple’s need for control. The first may be somewhat straightforward, but the second will be trickier.

Keyboards

All iOS devices use soft keyboards, which for most people seem to be okay. But, the reality is that some people are far more comfortable using physical keyboards, and some are faster and more accurate on them than a soft keyboard. Apple has shown true genius in mechanical and industrial design. Surely they could come up with a variant of the iPhone that had some kind of elegant and very cool physical keyboard.

iPhone Lite

Some analysts are calling for Apple to build a smaller iPhone, as if the current iPhone is some kind of gigantic brick-like creation. As shown by the rise of the smartphone, I’m not sure that a touchscreen phone that is dramatically smaller than the iPhone is really what people want. Sure, thinner and lighter will always be popular, but there are limits for usability, particularly when your pointing device is the rather inaccurate and chubby human finger. What these analysts are really calling for is a really, really cheap iPhone, and I think the assumption is that “small” will mean “cheap”. When I say “lite”, I mean light in price, not light as in reduced features or smaller size. Apple has left open the low-end of the market, and while Apple has consistently aimed for the upper end, that also means that their growth in terms of unit sales will start to slow down at some point. I don’t believe this is a deal-breaker for Apple. However, they have managed to go a bit down-market with notebooks, and I think it’s time they do more than just offer the previous generation phone at a discounted price.

iPad Mini

The 9-10″ tablet has been very popular, but part of that is because that is the size of the iPad, and it is the 1,000lb gorilla of tablets right now. Surveys claim that people don’t want smaller tablets, but I’m not sure some of that is because people just want an iPad, thus skewing the results. I’ve spent some time with the Samsung Galaxy Tab, and while I find Android wanting as a user experience, the form-factor of the device is attractive for some activities like reading electronic books. There have been times where I would like to have had an iPad about the size of the Galaxy Tab, simply because it is a bit more portable.

An iPad positioned in the 7″ range would, with the iPod Touch, give Apple a nice spread in sizes across the product range. Personally, I think the iPod Touch should be renamed to reflect the reality that it is really a small iPad. Having an iPad, iPad Mini and iPad Nano (the renamed iPod Touch) would look good, image-wise, and represent a complete family of tablet products (much like the MacBook Air and the various sizes of MacBook Pro’s make for a complete family of notebooks). A really radical idea: make sure all of them, including the iPod Touch/iPad Nano have 3G data support. I’m not worried that it would cut into iPhone sales substantially, and I think it would be an interesting way of shaking up the tablet market a bit.

True Enterprise Support

Apple has been backing into the enterprise market for the past few years now. Both MacOS and iOS have technologies that allow it to coexist in an enterprise setting, but it isn’t truly integrated. Apple does provide a way for companies to distribute enterprise apps without having to use the App Store, but there is still a bit of a hole in terms of device security. What iOS has is good, but it still isn’t quite as strong as Blackberry OS. There is also a need for some kind of controls, so that users of corporate devices are limited in terms of what they can do with app installation. In some cases, an iPad or iPhone user may need to be completely restricted: if the app isn’t available via the enterprise app distribution network, or hasn’t been installed by an administrator, then the user can’t have the app. This would only apply to a small number of companies, but I see it as something essential to appeal to the enterprise market. There also needs to be some kind of support for remote configuration, so that IT can manage these devices without having to physically handle them. Being able to push apps, force app updates and push configuration changes for VPN, e-mail, calendars, etc. would be a very powerful tool. IT will also need the ability to pull data from the phone, particularly things like current phone configuration and usage data.

Are Any Of These Dealbreakers?

I don’t see these gaps as fatal or near-fatal to Apple. Steve and company are a bright group of people, so I suspect these conversations have happened before, and will happen again. The challenge for Apple, though, is that they are up against a small army of manufacturers that can offer buyers of Android phones both breadth and depth when it comes to form-factor and features. Does Apple need to do absolutely everything the other guys are doing? No, partly because some of them are doing things that are of little or no benefit to the larger consumer base. But I think that addressing the gaps I’ve identified would help toward making the iOS family of devices a more complete suite of products.

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