The results are in, and they're definitive: Google's Android OS is far and away the worldwide leader when it comes to smartphone market share. For a while – particularly around 2009 and 2010 – it seemed as if Apple was on an upward track to dominate the smartphone market, similar to how Cupertino had conquered digital music players by the middle of the last decade. Now we know the answer: There's room for several major smartphone competitors, and Apple isn't the dominant one.
Clearly Apple had Android in its sights when it designed iOS 7. Much has been made of the new flat UI design and Johnny Ive's influence – but iOS 7 also contains features like universal multitasking and animated wallpapers, both of which are traditional Android strengths. iOS 7's Control Center gives you quick shortcuts to control screen brightness, enable/disable various radios, and other features that should have been there years ago, just like Android has. Apple is also strengthening its auto integration – in actuality, taking a first real stab at it, even though cars have featured iPod docks for almost a decade – and you can bet the landscape-oriented drive modes found in many Android phones had something to do with it.
Remember that as of today, no one can match Apple's ecosystem from start to finish. From desktop, laptop, and mobile device hardware to software, media sales, app stores, and an award winning, unmatched network of retail locations, Apple's tightly integrated ecosystem is something no other competitor can touch. But there's still plenty Apple needs to do if it wants to boost market share. We always see the percentages ebb and flow, as Apple releases a revamped iPhone each year and then lets it stagnate over the course of the next 12 months or so. But the downward trend is pretty clear now.
So what should Apple do next? It remains to be seen whether the company can still innovate at the highest levels, but there's plenty of low hanging fruit. In going through this list, I'll steer clear of things Apple will almost certainly never do – such as opening its App Store to all developers at all times, or allowing customers to root their devices, or replace all of the built-in apps. While these things would be highly desirable outcomes for phone enthusiasts, they carry risks down the line in terms of the quality of Apple's app catalogue, and the company's highly specific arrangements with the major mobile networks.
So let's leave that stuff to Android fans. Instead, let's talk about what Apple can do to make the next iPhone and iOS 7 even better, using the design framework and ecosystem the company already has in place.
Larger, higher resolution displays
This is the one everyone is clamouring for – and with good reason. It's not just a simple case of bigger is better – it's the fact that more people are using phones as their primary Internet access devices. In many cases, a phone acts as a main computer; fewer people are holding phones up to their heads to make calls. When Samsung sold the first five million Galaxy Note phablets, against many pundits’ expectations (including mine) 18 months ago, that was Apple's cue to respond in kind. The 4in iPhone 5, while an incremental size increase over the first five years of iPhones, isn't nearly enough now. Smaller one-handed phones can, and do, have a market – but Apple needs to play in the bigger leagues as well.
Make the iPhone more personalised
There is a recent trend toward personalisation in smartphones; and this isn’t just about home screen widgets, but about how people are increasingly expecting their phones to deliver a personalized experience that adapts to them. Google Now does this. Samsung's S enhancements, HTC Sense 5, and Windows Phone 8's live tiles all do this. The iPhone delivers the same experience to everyone. The grid of icons is beginning to look tired and inflexible, and while some people like the app folders Apple added in iOS 4, they look and work like an afterthought. Today, I pick up an Android phone and find the customisable home screens refreshing and incredibly flexible – and even more so when they deliver personalised data to me automatically.
Less expensive iPhones
Porsche fans are fond of saying that the entry level Porsche is a used one. In Apple's case, it's not used, exactly – it's year-old and two-year-old models. These days, you can get an iPhone 4 for free with a two year contract of around £15 per month, for example, and the 4S is relatively affordable with a carrier contract. However, if Apple wants to court the several billion potential customers in the developing world, it needs a device that's less expensive to begin with – not just less expensive after amortising research, development, manufacturing, and distribution costs over the next several years.
A real file system and true inter-app communication
One of the most maddening aspects of iOS, especially when coming from a Windows PC or Android device, is the giant wall that exists between you and the file system. Something like Dropbox helps with that, in its own cordoned-off approach. But the way iPhoto, iTunes, and even iCloud deal with your data makes it unnecessarily difficult to store, organise, update, and swap files. Worse still, iOS apps can't talk to each other, or pass files or even data to each other, without giant convoluted workarounds (see: Audiobus). Developers for iOS have been clamouring for something more reliable and localised than iCloud for a while now, and they still don't have it.
More reliable network connectivity
The iPhone isn't especially fast to regain network connectivity when leaving an office building or subway system – and that's true even on robust networks. It's a bit ridiculous that you can sit there waiting for minutes at a time, but the moment you pop the iPhone into Airplane Mode and back out again, it connects to LTE instantly. Why doesn't iOS do that by itself? I'm also not the only one who has watched iMessage consistently fail to deliver both in-network iOS messages and common-or-garden text messages. Android phones aren't magically connected 100 per cent of the time either, but an improved network stack would do wonders for the iPhone.
An improved iPad mini
This isn't specifically iPhone-related, but it bears mentioning. The iPad mini is a nice little tablet, and has a tried-and-tested operating system along with much better apps than Android. Apple is essentially sitting on that and letting it drive iPad mini sales. Meanwhile, the refreshed Google Nexus 7 positively obliterates the iPad mini on specs, and at £199, it’s priced £70 less than Apple’s compact slate. Just as we've seen happen to Sony over the years, Apple can only charge more for devices that are clearly superior – if not in absolute specs, then at least in terms of overall design and freshness. The iPad mini, with its iPad 2-era internals and non-Retina display, isn't a proper bridge in the line-up between a current iPhone 5 and a current iPad 4; Apple needs to fix that sooner rather than later.
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