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10 features Apple iOS 4.2 still needs

Apple still hasn't got it quite right

Now that iOS 4.2 is out and we've lauded its best features, it's time to take a look at its biggest omissions. (It's only fair, right?) We took an informal survey of Macworld editors to determine the most-hoped-for features that still aren't here, then whittled the list down to the top ten.

Better notifications

Push notifications were a welcome addition in iOS 3, letting applications and services notify you - via alarm tones and onscreen messages - of events, updates, and other information. But let's be honest: iOS's notifications feature is mediocre at best. Only one notification can appear on your device's screen at a time - if you don't get a chance to read or act on a message before another one comes in, you usually end up losing the first. And don't forget those times you've taken your phone out of your pocket or bag and performed the habitual unlock swipe...only to realise there was a notification on the screen that you'll never get back. Or those times when you're watching a video or playing a game and a notification pops up - if it's something that requires an action, you usually have to stop what you're doing and switch to another app, because if you just dismiss the notification, you can't go back and review it later.

(Did we mention that notifications are modal, meaning you must deal with them when they appear?) As we noted in our iOS 4 wishlist earlier this year, Apple would do well to spend some time with a few webOS and Android phones, which handle notifications much more elegantly.

Improved multitasking

Perhaps the biggest improvement delivered by iOS 4.0 was multitasking, which let you "run" more than one app at a time. But we use the word in quotes because, for the most part, only one app is actually running at any moment in time. Other apps, most of which are essentially sleeping, appear in iOS 4's multitasking shelf (accessible by double-pressing the Home button) for quick task switching. Apple does provide a few API hooks to allow limited background tasks--such as letting a photo app finish uploading pictures to Flickr, or enabling an audio app to stream music--but apps that don't fall within a narrow range of functionality are left out in the cold.

Apple hasn't provided true multitasking because of concerns about performance and battery life. And we get that--in fact, we appreciate it. But now that we've had a taste of multitasking, we'd like to see Apple extend the feature to allow for a few other types of tasks. For example, we'd like apps for consuming downloaded content--RSS readers, Twitter clients, news apps, and, of course, Instapaper--to be able to periodically download updated content in the background, rather than making us wait each time we launch them.

Also, the current implementation of the multitasking shelf leaves a lot to be desired. For example, apps stay in the shelf--even if you haven't used them in days--until you manually remove them. If you tend to use many apps, the shelf becomes little more than an endless string of icons, making it less useful than switching between apps using the Home screen. An option in the Settings app to "Remove idle apps from the multitasking shelf after # hours/days" would go a long way to streamlining the process.

NEXT PAGE: More mail features

  1. Apple still hasn't got it quite right
  2. More mail features
  3. Wireless syncing
  4. A hardware orientation-lock switch on the iPad


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