The iPhone 11 doesn’t need a radical redesign to do well financially, critically or culturally, but it will take several significant improvements and upgrades for it to remain competitive in an increasingly crowded phone industry. Despite the fact that iPhone sales were down 12% in the last quarter, Apple still made $26 billion. It’s as if Steph Curry didn’t make 300 three-pointers in a single season and somehow the Golden State Warriors still got to the playoffs. There will be an Apple event on Sept. 10 and it doesn’t take a mind reader to know that it’s to launch the next iPhone. And as I sift through last-minute rumors and ponder the possibilities, I realize that there is a lot I want Apple to add to the iPhone 11 to make it more convenient and give it better value and utility.
Apple Pencil Mini for iPhone
On Aug. 7, Samsung launched the absolutely stunning Galaxy Note 10 and 10 Plus. A key feature of the Note is its S-Pen stylus. Over a decade ago, when companies first released capacitive touchscreen phones like the iPhone, a big selling point was that you didn’t need a stylus to navigate them. Though I have fond memories of using a stylus on the resistive touch display of my Palm Treo 680, as soon as I tried that screen on the original iPhone, I was immediately hooked on the fact that my finger became, to quote Steve Jobs, “the best pointing device in the world.”
But it’s no longer 2007 and despite Jobs’ stand against the stylus, there’s now the Apple Pencil, which provides a fantastic experience on the iPad. As the iPhone’s screen has grown over the years, I can’t help but imagine how wonderful an Apple Pencil Mini would be. Doubly wonderful would be if I could also use it on an iPad.
Symmetrical buttons have got to go
The button layout on the iPhone X, XS and XS Max is a one-handed obstacle course. Whenever you don’t have a solid hold on the phone or want to change the volume, you risk dropping the device. Recalling the iPhone 4 “antennagate” controversy, I wonder if I’m holding it wrong. But I’m not. The volume buttons don’t need to be directly across the screen from the power button. Seriously, I take so many accidental screenshots, my gallery is full of images of my lock screen. Stagger the buttons so there’s room to put a finger for the extra leverage I occasionally need to change the volume.
Or place all of the buttons on one side. Google took a similar approach with the Pixel 3 and I’ve never had issues on it.
Backside reverse wireless charging
Now that Apple has wireless charging for the iPhone and on certain AirPods cases, it makes sense that the back of the iPhone 11 could have reverse wireless charging to juice up your headphones.
Of course, if Apple added this feature, the natural progression would be to wonder about the Apple Watch. Imagine how wonderful it would be to only need only one charger while traveling. You’d charge your iPhone and simply place your Apple Watch on the back to top off the battery.
A rainbow of colors or high-end finishes
The iPhone XR, besides being the best value iPhone you can currently buy, comes in six colors just like Apple’s original logo. But it would be great for the flagship models to come in more colors and finishes, too. Yes, most people keep their phones in a case, so who cares about colors? I do and I know I’m not alone.
I’m not saying the iPhone 11 needs to be offered in the same bold colors as the iPhone XR line, but what about trying out something other than black and white? Sure there are the occasional variations of gold or Product Red models, but those still aren’t quite enough. And there’s a fine line between pushing Apple to look past its tasteful black-and-white scheme and pushing the company to offer a powder blue version like a tuxedo maker in the ’70s. Luckily Apple’s design team has much better taste than a ’70s tuxedo maker.
But when I see the gorgeous finish on the Huawei P30 Pro or the vibrant iridescence of the Galaxy Note 10, I have to wonder what Apple could bring to the table for the iPhone Pro. Maybe it’s not coloring at all. Maybe it’s materials like ceramic, which was used on a special edition of the Apple Watch several years ago, or titanium and ceramic like we saw on the stunning Essential Phone.
I hate the notch
I get it. Since late 2017/early 2018, every new phone has seemed to adopt a notch. The idea behind it was to increase the amount of screen and reduce bezels. The iPhone notch’s utility and the way the screen wraps around it are an incredible feat of engineering. But it’s ugly. I get used to it in daily use, but there are still moments when I see a video or photo of the phone and realize how ridiculous the notch is.
I don’t think iPhones will keep the notch forever. But when companies such as OnePlus and Samsung offer better options, there must be a notchless future for Apple at some point. Years from now when we look back at photos and videos of the iPhone X and XS we’ll wonder, “What the hell happened in 2017 to cause this?”
iCloud basic storage needs to grow up
The smallest storage capacity of the current generation of iPhones is 64GB. And yet, the free tier of iCloud comes with only 5GB, which isn’t enough to back up most iPhones. I’m not saying Apple needs to offer unlimited iCloud storage or even 64GB. But give us enough to back up a full iPhone to iCloud for free. Another option would be to include upgraded iCloud storage as part of an Apple Music subscription or maybe even the Apple TV Plus and Apple Arcade subscriptions when those finally roll out.
USB-C on the iPhone
Apple’s most recent iPad Pro came with a significant surprise: the lightning port was swapped for a USB-C. This move seemed like it was the company pushing the iPad Pro into the realm of laptops. But it would be lovely and convenient if the iPhone had a USB-C port, too.
In-box ‘cheap’ Bluetooth AirPods
What’s most shocking about the loss of the headphone jack across most phones is that Bluetooth isn’t ready to be a viable replacement on its own. Apple and its W1 chip make Bluetooth more reliable, but AirPods cost $159 for a pair — $199 if you want a pair with a wireless charging case.
If Bluetooth audio connectivity is the future, there should be an affordable pair of Bluetooth headphones in every iPhone box. For years, Apple included a pair of earbuds that sold separately for $29. But Apple also sold a higher end version with dual drivers and swappable ear tips for $79. I’m not sure what the affordable version of AirPods is, but it still seems like we need something.
Originally published Thursday, Aug. 22.