What the iPad and iPhone still need to do better

Apple continues to improve its iOS devices' capabilities, but 10 gaps remain that the iPad 2 and iPhone 4x should address

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More capable iCal and Mail apps
iCal has never worked quite right with invitations. iOS 4.2.1 went a long way to addressing a glaring problem: the inability to choose which calendar to place an accepted invitation. I speak for myself, but I don't want my personal business on my company's Exchange calendar. However, I want to see both calendars in one view, as iCal allows.

But the feature doesn't always work. Not all .ics invite files are recognized, especially those that don't come through an Exchange account, and you don't always get the choice of which calendar to add the appointment to. Sometimes in iCal, accepting an appointment doesn't add it to the calendar.

I'd also like to see the calendar support recurring events beyond daily, weekly, biweekly, monthly, and yearly. For example, I should be able to set an event to recur the first of each month or every 10 days. Corporate calendars such as Microsoft Exchange, Novell GoupWise, and IBM Lotus Notes can do that on the desktop, but iOs scrambles those same invitations. Even the old Palm OS could handle such recurring events.

Also, it would be great if Mail had an option to group emails by date, like Mac OS X's Mail does. Yes, I know you can sort by date, but those labels of Today, Yesterday, Wednesday, and so on are really helpful to navigate emails, and iOS would benefit from that -- especially for those whose iPads and iPhones are essentially their primary means of accessing email.

Mail also needs to support mail handling rules. Ideally, you could import them from your desktop mail client, as well as add and modify them on your iOS device. Mail handling would help deal with the spam that more frequently clogs up Mail's inbox. It would also let you filter by project and person -- a strategy that many email-intensive users rely on to keep their work communications in check.

Finally, Mail needs to support groups. Today, you can't send email to a group; instead, you have to open the group and add its members one by one to the mail To, Cc, or Bcc field. That's really dumb.

Support for fonts in e-books
The iBook app's version 1.1 update, which came with iOS 4, ignores most font specifications in e-books. That may prevent publishers from overriding a reader's font preferences, but it causes issues for technical books, such as those containing code. Basically, Apple went too far. E-books are glorified Web pages, with the book text a set of HTML files packaged with a CSS file and the embedded images. The CSS lets you assign fonts as part of your class definitions -- just as for the Web. But iBook ignores most of these fonts assignment. For <h1>, <h2>, etc. paragraph style definitions, it will honor serif and sans-serif attributes in style definitions, but not for other style types. And it ignores monofont attributes most of the time as well (I can't figure out what causes it to honor them, but occasionally they do display in the e-books I've produced). So, for example, if you want have code snippets in a monospace font such as Courier New, too bad. That omission can make it hard to read code in text. And forget about embedding symbol fonts to handle special characters such as the Mac's Command key, engineering symbols, or the icons for iOS's common controls. In iBook 1.0, such local fonts were honored, and they work just fine in other e-book readers. So this is an easy fix.

Note that the font issue it's not just an issue for book publishers selling through the iBookstore: iBook lets you add your own e-books to its library via iTunes, so businesses can make their own manuals and so on accessible to iPad and iPhone users and customers.

Preference for default file type assignments
In iOS, you'll find a nifty feature that lets you tap and hold a file icon to select which app to open it in. This capability not only lets you open attachments in emails but also share files across compatible apps. Right now, there's no way to set what the default app is to open a file type. There should be such an option in the Settings app.

Return of the Rotation Lock switch on the iPad
A misguided update in iOS 4.2 was to change the Screen Lock physical switch to the Mute Alarms switch (to match the iPhone's switch usage). For many of us, having an easily reached switch to stop the screen from rotating as we use the iPad in odd angles is more valuable than turning off the alerts for new mail and the like. The on-screen control for screen rotation lock is fairly buried and not a great substitute. I get that for some people, the alerts switch is more important. However, I'd prefer that Apple let the users decide and make this switch's function an option in the Settings app. (The rumors around the forthcoming iOS 4.3 suggest that is exactly what Apple will do -- if so, great news!)

This article, "What the iPad and iPhone still need to do better," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Galen Gruman's Mobile Edge blog and follow the latest developments in mobile technology at InfoWorld.com. Follow Galen's mobile musings on Twitter at MobileGalen. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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