New iPhone Monday: Winning Combination

One of the great things about new product announcements is that we get to play “second guess the Product Manager” on feature lists.

Fortunately, Apple design is typically more concerned with overall user experience than narrow focus on a feature list, but let that not stop us from enjoying our game.

Current set of tradeoffs in the iPhone contributed to its phenomenal success, and any new version should strike a similar balance. Development resources are limited. An extra chip adds to the price and decreases battery life. A software feature adds interface complexity or affects another desirable feature.

So it’s just not an option to make a list of “all the things missing” and add those to the product. Still, it’s nice to have a wishlist, and this is Monday Morning Quarterbacking, afterall. I’m sure I’ve forgotten some things I’ve wanted over the last year of using an iPhone. What would you add?

  • cut and paste
  • search (the contents of my iPhone)
  • SMS Forwarding
  • instant messaging
  • 3G
  • GPS
  • MMS
  • video capture
  • stereo Bluetooth
  • bookmark something to browse on my desktop when I next sync (it’s flash or too long or otherwise desirable to have there)
  • allow allocating more memory to store text messages or email
  • make it easier to send things to my desktop via Bluetooth (like a URL or photo)
  • wireless sync’ing

Some I just don’t get. I often want to forward an SMS, and it seems like that would be a fairly trivial feature to add, and something long available on other handsets.

Others, like cut and paste, solve many problems, but certainly present interesting interface challenges. It may have been a reasonable strategy to intentionally introduce the simplest iPhone first and then to introduce new gestures with future releases.

Many of them, while folks say they want them and the geeks clamor for them, I wonder if they’re really worth the costs. GPS, for example.

The location feature using triangulation with cell towers offers something that is good enough for many uses, but without the expense, size and battery issues GPS might add. If I had to choose between 3G support and GPS support, you can guess which one I’d take. Do you need to break out GPS into separate devices and pricepoints targetted to different markets? Or does it need to be available on all devices to grow the market for location-based applications?

Other features, you need one or the other, but can live without both. My biggest problem with no MMS support is when someone sends me a photo from their phone. I get a text message like this, created by AT&T but delivered from the sender:

I sent you a multimedia message. You can view my message w/in the next 7 days via the web at http://www.viewmymessage.com using MSG ID pn0otzx Password jans8move

If I had cut and paste, it wouldn’t be so painful, but as it is now, I have to write down the ID and password before browsing to the link, or try to remember to do it when I next sit down at my computer.

Or, how much do I really need to be able to search the contents of my email if I can only store 200 messages on my phone? Instead, I browse to Gmail online and search there. But I’d love to use the memory on my phone for messages rather than music, and if I could do that, search would become incredibly useful (it’d be nice if it searched my text and IMs as well).

Aside from design and engineering tradeoffs, how do you get the best information about the market in regards to features? How do you find out from users and potential customers about their wishlist items and what mix and what experience are going to sell the most upgrades and new phones?

If you go to existing iPhone users like me, you get a great list of new features that I think might make my life easier. The problem is, I already bought one of these. Are any of those new features ones that would have gotten someone new to buy one? For that matter, how much am I willing to pay to upgrade for my desired features?

After we’ve talked about the features in isolation, you may pick the mixes that you’ll have me try out in mockups and prototypes to get a better sense for how they all work together. Each combination requires so much investment in design work that you can’t try them all.

I’d love to know how Apple has worked over the last year to solve these problems, or even to hear more about the research and design that went into the original release.

I think one of the reasons that so few companies do a good job of designing an overall user experience is that it is so much more difficult than the business task of picking features. Apple keeps showing the business win for going to that extra effort, and I look forward to seeing their latest effort on Monday.

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