How Apple’s iPhone Could Be Best Again

iphone

The iPhone 5 is the best mobile phone ever made, in my opinion. And the iOS platform has the best mobile apps.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t add up to the best phone experience anymore.

What Apple lacks is the best experience with using Internet-based services. And Apple will fall much further behind on June 26.

Here’s what Apple needs to change in order to offer the best overall mobile phone experience.

How the smartphone market has changed since 2007

I’ve used nothing but Apple iPhones for the past five years and I’ve bought every new iPhone Apple shipped. I even stood in line for a couple of them.

Android fanboys are always pestering me to try an Android phone. When I did, I couldn’t stand the user interface or the available handsets.

In the past few months, however, the Android handset makers have been stepping up their game.

Meanwhile, the best Android user interface out there is the one made by Google.

The Android world is producing great designs, great feature sets and great platforms.

However, these three attributes never appear on the same device.

The Galaxy S4 has the best feature set of the Android phones, including one of the only cameras that comes close to the iPhone’s in picture quality, at least in bright light. In fact, it’s hard to think of any technology or sensor ever put into any handset that isn’t in the S4. But the plastic handset design is fugly as hell.

The HTC One has a beautiful handset design and materials — it looks like an Apple phone in an alternative universe in which Apple made phones to look like MacBooks. But the camera isn’t as nearly as good as the iPhone’s in bright light.

The Nexus 4, which is made by LG and sold by Google, has the best Android user interface because it’s Google-designed and therefore Google-centric. The distance between the user and making things happen with Google Now is almost non-existent, as is the distance between one Google service and another. One shocking example: swipe your thumb from the bottom of the screen and up one inch, say “Google: Navigate home” and you’re getting Google Maps turn-by-turn directions in about two seconds after your thumb started moving. Plus, the Nexus costs only $300 unlocked. Unfortunately, the Nexus has a crappy camera and less-than-best components all-around.

Of these three Android phones, the worst phone handset gives the best experience because the user interface is optimized to access Google’s killer Internet-based services rapidly, including Google Now, Google Search, Google Maps, Gmail, Google+, YouTube, Google Drive and all the other usual Google suspects.

Note that Google’s version of all these services are significantly better than Apple’s alternatives, except for the social network and video service which Apple doesn’t have.

Yes, you can use all things on Apple, but the integration with the phone and with each other is far higher on the Nexus.

Of course, some Apple fanboys will want me shot for treason. I would have agreed with you a month ago. But I’ve been using the Nexus 4 as an experiment for the past three weeks, and I can tell you as an iPhone loving fanboy that the Nexus was something of a thrill to use because of the integration of Google apps — especially Google Now.

Here’s the event that changes everything: On June 26, Google will start selling an unlocked “Google Edition” of the Samsung Galaxy S4 on the Play Store for the same price as an unlocked iPhone: $649.

This phone will be plastic and ugly and, as an Android device, offer an inferior user interface and App Store. But it will provide a much better overall user experience because of the integration with and of Google services. (A “Google Edition” of the HTC One is rumored.)

This is the new reality that Apple must come to grips with: The days when Apple had the only great hardware and App Store are over. And the days when hardware and apps determined the overall user experience more than services are also over.

Apple has got to step up its game around making the iPhone a better delivery mechanism for the Internet’s best services.

Specifically, here’s what Apple should do:

1. Partner with Google again.

The only winning move in a thermonuclear war is not to play, according to the 1983 Matthew Broderick movie, “War Games.”

Yes, Apple is still mad that Google got into the mobile platform racket. But if Apple is more committed to loving users than hating Google, the company will re-embrace Google in a big way. For starters, integrate more Google services into Siri, bundle YouTube and Google Maps again out of the box and give Google+ equal billing with Facebook and Twitter in integrated social sharing features.

In general, Apple should be focusing on how to get more Google in iPhones, rather than working on how to keep Google out.

2. Improve Siri faster.

Siri is falling way behind Google Now, especially in the areas of service integration, voice-initiation, raw performance and agent-initiated information delivery.

If Apple forces users to choose between the best agent experience and Apple, many will choose the former.

3. Fix iCloud.

Apple’s iCloud has too many problems and outages and is far harder for ordinary users than services like Dropbox or Drive.

Yes, I know iCloud isn’t just a simple cloud storage and sharing service. But if Apple can’t make it more reliable and easier to use, then they would be better off simply offering the storage and sharing.

4. Get a social network.

We’re entering an age of universal social sharing, cloud computing, integrated services and wearable computing. The secret sauce of these trends is the all-purpose social network that provides identity, platform and service integration. The all-purpose social network is the future and Apple doesn’t have one.

Apple’s embrace of Facebook, which nobody trusts and which young people hate, is no substitute for having its own social network.

Yahoo bought Tumblr and is integrating Flickr. Google is integrating everything into Google+. Facebook is getting aggressive with expanding that service as the do-everything platform.

Apple is the only major Silicon Valley company without a social network.

The iPhone as a service

Apple making the best phone and offering the best App Store won’t save the company from the coming age of mobile services. It’s like having the best theater seating and the best projector but no speakers as “talkies” come into vogue.

Apple has got to focus more on providing iPhone users with access to the Internet’s best services. If they don’t, Apple will not be able to provide users with the best phone experience.

Related
  • Shane Bryson

    1) While I’ll agree that Google Maps is a superior service, bundling it would be a terrible move for Apple at this time. It would be admitting defeat and a bad move in the eyes of investors. It’s back tracking. Apple made the choice to commit to it’s own mapping service whether that was a good or bad move is not up for debate. The choice was made, they have to stay the course now. YouTube can still be downloaded from the App Store so bundling it, is unnecessary. As far as Google+ integration goes, eh’. It’s a no-man’s land anyway and not a winner for Google. Why should Apple buy in?

    2) Siri just sucks. Plain and simple. So I agree with you. But then, I don’t think Apple and Google realize that people really don’t like talking to their devices as much as the respective companies think they do. In asking my smart phone toting friends if they use these services, the reply is always “Almost never.”

    3) iCloud is harder to use? Um….it does it all for you. You don’t have to do anything but sign in on your phone and it does it for you, so no I simply can’t agree with you there. I would like more control of my files but I am not complaining too much.

    4) The last thing needed in this world is another social network. Apple should leave that alone and let the others play. Work on what you know and make it perfect. That’s Apple’s philosophy and I think it applies more than ever when it comes to a social network. They tried it with ping and figured out, it doesn’t work. Stay away from it Apple, stay away.

    So sorry, I have to disagree with you on almost everything except Siri, we can all agree it sucks.

  • Freek Monsuur

    Disagree on most of the arguments. None of them make or break the iPhone, at least in my opinion.

    Google selling a device online doesn’t mean a lot for mass market (while it might for tech freaks).

    iCloud works fine for me. It’s a great service as long as you don’t expect it to be a traditional file system. I do wish they would fix the photo app, so it syncs photos and folders in the cloud and photos can only be in one folder.

    Google apps are on my iPhone and work fine. I don’t need deep operating system integration.

    And who needs one more social network? I’m sure Apple doesn’t.

  • kevin13769

    No android phone plugs into my car, No android phone works with my action cameras, No android phone works with my apple tv’s or airplay speakers, No android phone syncs with my mac or iPad simply without additional software and giving all my data to Google… No thanks…!!! Simply put, an Android phone may be slightly more advanced in some respects but is retarded in others, and as the iPhone is STILL the biggest selling single phone available on the market, there will continue to be an aftermarket for devices that work with it easily… And that means NO ANDROID phone qualifies in the same way… Your argument is useless when you look at the bigger picture for how phones work… ;)

  • Robert X

    I already think the iPhone is the best. I can’t wait until they make it better.

  • Shane Bryson

    No android phone plugs into my car, No android phone works with my action cameras, No android phone works with my apple tv’s or airplay speakers, No android phone syncs with my mac or iPad simply without additional software and giving all my data to Google… No thanks…!!! Simply put, an Android phone may be slightly more advanced in some respects but is retarded in others, and as the iPhone is STILL the biggest selling single phone available on the market, there will continue to be an aftermarket for devices that work with it easily… And that means NO ANDROID phone qualifies in the same way… Your argument is useless when you look at the bigger picture for how phones work… ;)

    While I also disagree with this article I really disagree with you.

    LOTS of android phones (Nexus 4, SGS2-4, Note 1-2 or most any phone with bluetooth transfer) will work wirelessly with most modern car stereos and all of them work with an aux cable.

    LOTS of Android phones work with action cameras and there are plenty of apps in Play for phones that don’t support it out of the box.

    As for syncing with your Mac or Computer, there are plenty of cloud services that make computer syncing a thing of the past, even as far as the iPhone goes.

    After market is still tremendously in favor of the iPhone so I will give you that but half of your argument is just plain and simply wrong.

  • Shane Bryson

    No android phone works with my apple tv’s or airplay speakers

    This is so wrong it’s almost laughable. While android doesn’t work with the Apple TV (Unless the Apple TV is jailbroken, then it works better than iOS) Android works seamlessly with airplay devices. Use it ALL the time.

  • Andrew Gould

    Just because Google has a social network, doesn’t mean Apple needs one. Google makes money off of serving ads to every single user as much as possible so they need to be involved in every single vertical. Apple makes money off of hardware/software. So, unless a social network means Apple sells more hardware, they don’t need to do it. I’d much rather Apple focus on building new and better web services than trying to “me too” everything Google does. Google+ is still a very distant 3rd and is really only in conversations because they’ve force fed it to every Google user.

  • Steven Quan

    Couldn’t disagree with Elgan more about every company in Silicon Valley having a social network except for Apple. So Yahoo buys a company that deals in blogs, another in picture sharing and suddenly they have a social network? Yahoo doesn’t have a social network. How many people actually use Google +?? There’s only one social network that is popular now and that’s Facebook.

    Anyone can start up a social network. I can do it within the next hour. That doesn’t mean people will use it. I should also point out something that every Phandroid (which Mike Elgan is sounding more and more like) suffers from is serious myopia. Phandroids look at the device, not the eco-system. They look at specs, features, that one phone has over another but that’s only the battle, not the war.

    iPhone users benefit from services no Android phone can match. Great 3rd party support and vertical integration. Break your iPhone? No problem, take it down to the Apple store. Try that with your Nexus Phone Mike. Can’t do it can you? Try turning on your lights (via the Hue system), changing your thermostat (Nest), or turning on multiple sets of speakers in your home with music (Airport Express). Can’t do that with your Nexus.

    Not to mention, the Google Play Store still doesn’t have any equivalent to apps like: iMovie, DJay, Garageband, and a host of others. Even GMail, Yahoo Weather, and Google Map apps look better on my iPod Touch 5G than it does on my Galaxy S2 smart phone. I play both sides of the field and I’ve been a long time Android user so I am objective. It doesn’t matter who is better cause I benefit either way. I can’t wait for iOS 7 to come out.

  • Adrayven

    Just because Google has a social network, doesn’t mean Apple needs one. Google makes money off of serving ads to every single user as much as possible so they need to be involved in every single vertical. Apple makes money off of hardware/software. So, unless a social network means Apple sells more hardware, they don’t need to do it. I’d much rather Apple focus on building new and better web services than trying to “me too” everything Google does. Google+ is still a very distant 3rd and is really only in conversations because they’ve force fed it to every Google user.

    Agreed. I hate Google+… It fails mostly because of the complexity and layout. Facebook is just plain easy. Kids don’t hate Facebook.. heh, they are addicted to it.. Some of the ‘studies’ are generally a joke.. Analysts have been trying to ‘understand’ what kids want for decades.. They still don’t get it. Kids are still flocking to Facebook like crazy.. It’s their ‘locked’ room in most cases. My little cousin is silly addicted to it.

    Google might, eventually, pull off Google+.. but social content consumption is a very weak spot for Google. Much of what Google does it does from an experimentation aspect. Everyone is a Beta Tester, add to the fact they provide ZERO support for anything.. You end up with a customer base VERY willing to look elsewhere. This is an extreme vulnerability of Googles.

    The only reason Google is even pushing + is because they see the Ad revenue Facebook is starting to pull in.. and thats their turf..

  • Boo Radley

    So you want to sell your iPhone 5? I’ll give you $50 for that piece of shit right now.

  • Paul Burt
    No android phone plugs into my car, No android phone works with my action cameras, No android phone works with my apple tv’s or airplay speakers, No android phone syncs with my mac or iPad simply without additional software and giving all my data to Google… No thanks…!!! Simply put, an Android phone may be slightly more advanced in some respects but is retarded in others, and as the iPhone is STILL the biggest selling single phone available on the market, there will continue to be an aftermarket for devices that work with it easily… And that means NO ANDROID phone qualifies in the same way… Your argument is useless when you look at the bigger picture for how phones work… ;)

    While I also disagree with this article I really disagree with you.

    LOTS of android phones (Nexus 4, SGS2-4, Note 1-2 or most any phone with bluetooth transfer) will work wirelessly with most modern car stereos and all of them work with an aux cable.

    LOTS of Android phones work with action cameras and there are plenty of apps in Play for phones that don’t support it out of the box.

    As for syncing with your Mac or Computer, there are plenty of cloud services that make computer syncing a thing of the past, even as far as the iPhone goes.

    After market is still tremendously in favor of the iPhone so I will give you that but half of your argument is just plain and simply wrong.

    Pretty sure he was referring to the ubiquitous 30-pin connectors to be found with a lot of aftermarket car stereos. Even some car companies started including them until Apple introduced the iPhone 5 with the Lightning connector. I’ve yet to see a single car stereo have a dedicated Android plug and that’s because they use a standard USB connector. The point of the integration with the car stereo is usually steering wheel controls, which you can’t do with standard USB. This is also why 90% of aftermarket devices are made to work with the iPhone:the connector can do more than the standard USB connector can. Obviously, Bluetooth will work with any of those other phones; I’ve just never seen them integrate nearly as well as the iPhone.

    It’s pretty safe to say that most people probably still sync with their computers. I do because my iPhone and iPad backups are larger than 5GB and I’m not interested in paying for anymore when I can just sync to my computer (wirelessly even!). This is the other part of the ecosystem argument. All of the iCloud services integrate with programs that came with my Mac. There are two Google equivalents of that: Chrome (the browser, not OS) and Drive (both of which are third-party apps I have to download). They don’t have any other desktop apps, no hardware that’s actually theirs or even an OS that isn’t anything more than a souped-up version of its web browser. If the author was really being fair, he’d be saying that Google should build a desktop Gmail client, YouTube application, etc. When you talk about an ecosystem, you have to look at the whole.

  • Galtibi22

    Good Article

  • robogobo

    The fundamental flaw in this editorial is the notion that Google services are so OMG! must have can’t live without. Don’t forget Google is a creepy slimy privacy hack and all these dreamy features come at a price. That’s what made Apple divorce from Google, not the thermonuclear war Jobs started.

  • CharilaosMulder

    Yes, iCloud and Siri should get faster and more reliable. But no, iCloud shouldn’t become a Dropbox-like service. The benefit of the apps managing their own files and syncing them without you having to even think about it is the strength of iCloud. There isn’t even an iCloud app to clutter your home screen/launchpad.

    “far harder for ordinary users than services like Dropbox or Drive”

    No, at least not for my definition of “ordinary users”. In fact it would scare them away. And for those who want to spend time managing their own files, there’s always the option of using Dropbox.

    As for embracing Google, Steve once said “we just can’t ship junk”. That’s 30 years of Apple’s philosophy put into one sloppy sentence. What it really comes down to is that Apple wants to offer it’s own take on features and integration which Apple believes is the best. And then there’s independency, which every company wants. Don’t look at Google, they’re only supporting Apple because people actually use iOS devices so it generates a lot of money for Google.

    And then there’s social networks. I think it’s bad mentality to deeply integrate social networks into the OS. Sure, having conversations and sharing all sorts of data with your contacts is mandatory, and general purpose social networks don’t add to that. Research of all kinds shows prolonged use of Facebook doesn’t make people more social, personal, productive, focused or creative in any way. Also take into account that general purpose social networks tend to come and go. I think Apple should focus more on quite the opposite: how to use the technology to enjoy real life and interact with it. Having a “digital life” has many benefits, but humanity can be so much more lifelike than a bunch of people having their face buried in their social network for every spare second.

  • technochick

    They tried it with ping and figured out, it doesn’t work. Stay away from it Apple, stay away.

    Ping wasn’t really a social network but a music discovery network which might be part of why it failed. Also they never went far enough with it. The artists that really that kind of exposure were the more indie and straight up independent types and they never got set up pages etc. The music playing features from Lala never came about and they could have expanded to actors, directors, writers. If they had gotten the Lala features, expanded to all areas and bettered their metadata systems the whole thing might not have gone bust. But they just slapped it up and seemingly forgot about it

  • rtomstudios

    I don’t know if you wrote this article just so you will have angry responses, but almost on every point I disagree with you. First of all, if you are so enamoured with the Android Experience on a Galaxy body, you seem like the person that constantly wants a different background every minute, then by all means get into Android and stop writting this sh*t on a cult of mac website.

    I bought into Apple’s product and Apple’s iPhone because of the stability. Upgrades comes when needed, and every upgrade whether it is software or hardware, it doesn’t entail the possibility of losing all my apps or contacts. It is a peace of mind that I bought into Apple.

    If Google wishes to offer google products like their Google Maps with their turn-by-turn apps, it is totally fine with me if it is downloadable as an app. It would be nice if I could configured Apple to use Google apps as the default, but otherwise if I had wanted Google maps with their turn-by-turn, I would have bought Android. I do wish that those who have been complaining that their iPhone is not configurable, to get off the Apple boat and do go Android rather then sitting on this side and complaining about it. I don’t need iCloud to act like a drop box, I got drop box to act like drop box.

    Google comes with a price and that price is advertisement. Do you want your iPhone to be advertisement device? If so…. go buy yourself an android, it is that simple.

    Otherwise stop writing up shit of what you think an iPhone should be like. An iPhone is exactly what it is today because it is what I bought into and that is the way I like it.

  • Junaidkureshi

    Mike Im so sorry for this bad article, im happy that you are not the part of Apple otherwise in couple of years there will be no iPhone just google phone by Apple.

About the author

Mike ElganMike Elgan writes about technology and culture for a wide variety of publications. Follow Mike on Google+, Facebook and Twitter.

(sorry, you need Javascript to see this e-mail address)| Read more posts by .

Posted in iPhone, Opinions, Top stories |