2009 was a pretty good year for mobile: The first generation of plausible iPhone competitors finally arrived, in the guise of the Palm Pre and HTC Droid Eris. Apple solidified the iPhone with improved under-the-hood hardware and business security. And IT's resistance to anything but the BlackBerry within corporations seemed to crumble, thanks to user pressure, better security handling on some devices, and the sudden support for iPhone and Android on a bunch of enterprise-class mobile management tools.
Of course, all of these advances were of the "two steps forward, one step back" nature. The Pre, Droid Eris, and Motorola Droid all stopped maddeningly short of offering the whole enchilada, with dumb compromises that only made the iPhone look more unbeatable. Apple revealed that its previous iPhones were lying about their security capabilities, creating new doubt about them within IT. And the mobile management tools' support for iPhone and Android (and sometimes WebOS) is still very much limited.
So what could 2010 bring to both accelerate those positive half-steps and to move the mobile environment significantly forward? Here are five ideas that go beyond the usual "more battery life and faster processing" wishes we all have:
1. A smarter iPhone 4G. The iPhone is a great device, but it's far from perfect.
We all know it needs to support multiple simultaneous apps, like the WebOS and Android devices do, and it needs to support Flash natively. There are also good ideas in HTC's Sense UI, found in its Droid Eris, that Apple should investigate to make it easier to get context about running apps (such as e-mail previews).
And, of course, the iPhone needs to have full security capabilities built-in, so there's no excuse for IT to disallow its use in business. Plus, Apple really needs to figure out how to allow IT to manage iPhones over the air -- it has the right capabilities in its iPhone Configuration Utility, but it needs to enable them through the cellular network and through standard IT management tools, such as Exchange Server or any of the various device management platforms. Sounds like an opportunity to offer a simple Mac OS X Snow Leopard Server-based box that can connect to any of the commonly used servers, much like what RIM's BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES) does.
But these wishes are about filling in holes in the current product. I'd like to see Apple do something new with the iPhone in the version likely to ship in summer 2010 -- I'd like to see it provide personal area network capabilities, whether through Bluetooth or ad hoc Wi-Fi networking, so the iPhone is a hub for interaction with other devices. That would allow the use of wireless keyboards and printers, for example, but that's just the beginning. Imagine the "companion" devices that could connect to each other and to cloud services through the iPhone: medical and other sensors, near-field multiuser gaming, say, with Xbox and PSP owners, auto GPS nav systems, and much much more.