What iPhone 2.0 Needs Most: More Ooomph.

With all the speculation about what the new iPhone will include, I’ve yet to see something mentioned that I think is critical, and what I’d probably like to see most.

First, keep in mind that a lot of the improvements people want in the iPhone (myself included) are software-based. Therefore, they do not require a new hardware generation. For that reason, features such as MMS reception, cut and paste, multiple email selection, etc. will not be covered here. I want them, but they could be delivered by Apple at any time.

From a strictly hardware standpoint, if you summarize the list of all the rumors the following are probably most commony specified:

  • 3G: This is really the only one we know for sure, since there couldn’t be all those international iPhone deals without it.
  • GPS: Maybe, maybe not. In and of itself it’s useless to me. Combined with some killer navigation software, however, and it just might be enough to make me get one.
  • Smaller, lighter, thinner: These may be nice, but I think it matters a bit less for a device that is already easily handheld.
  • Plastic back: This is one rumor I believe, because I think the various antennae need it. I suspect iPhone 2.0 will have better reception than 1.0 for this very reason.
  • Camera Improvements: These run the gamut from upping the megapixels to adding optical zoom, video, another camera in front for video chat, etc. For all the railing against the supposedly weak iPhone camera, it should be noted that the much-vaunted new HTC phone only has 2MP. Personally, from a camera standpoint I’d like to see a true optical zoom more than any other feature at this point.

There are other things mentioned as well, such as new hardware buttons to control media playback, but the above are probably the most common mentioned.

While I acknowledge that 3G is clearly the most important for Apple — because the international roll-out requires it — there is one thing no one talks about that I want as bad as any other. Remember that the iPhone is a computer running a sophisticated and powerful OS. Frankly, it’s pushed pretty hard. What I want is more power. Simply put, upgrade the CPU, Apple. Please.

I realize phones are not at the point where touting a faster processor is a worthwhile marketing exercise, but I think we’re getting there. Whenever a laptop or desktop is revised, the faster processor is what we look for first. I mean, in many cases the primary purpose of a laptop/desktop refresh is better performance. I want that in the iPhone, too.

Much of the slowness of the iPhone is attributed to EDGE, but get the iPhone and your Mac on the same WiFi network, load the same page, and watch the iPhone crawl by comparison. Other activities can be sluggish as well. It needs more oomph.

I tend to think (hope?) some of the slow performance is software-based (since iPhone OS is a 1.0 release). Perhaps code optimization in the 2.0 software will bring speed improvements across the line (just as iterations of OS X on the Mac have done). That would be great, but if you’re doing a hardware revision, let’s get a faster CPU in there.

Sure, a faster processor taxes the battery, generates more heat. etc. But that’s true of laptops as well, and they get faster all the time.

I hear a lot about Intel’s Atom processors, etc., but I believe those are future items, I want something now. I don’t care if Jobs makes a big deal out of it or not (they currently don’t advertise the iPhone’s processer/clock speed), but I’d like to think that Apple can put something faster in there.

Bottom line is I believe CPUs have gotten so powerful in laptops and desktops that for most things people do they are rarely taxed. However, in the iPhone it is. One thing not talked about much is that bringing “desktop class” applications to a mobile device is hampered by the fact that it’s running them with something very short of “desktop class” power.

9 thoughts on “What iPhone 2.0 Needs Most: More Ooomph.

  1. Agreed: faster processor equals better iPhone. While they’re at it, they should also increase the amount of RAM.

    I think you may be wrong about the iPhone being “all real RAM”. Sure the 4GB/8GB/16GB of Flash RAM is much faster for READING than, say the 4200 RPM iPod drives in the iPod classic, but the write speed of Flash RAM is not on par with normal (128 MB) RAM. In fact, writing to Flash is often slower than writing to hard disks. So when you run out of real RAM (actual real RAM, the 128 MB stuff on the iPhone), swapping occurs (contents of RAM are written to Flash) which is really slow. Check http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IPhone for the specs of RAM (128MB). Flash and RAM are not the same by any means.

  2. Kevin,

    Well, on the Mac you’re comparing real RAM with hard drive storage. On the iPhone it’s all real RAM (since there is no hard drive).

    Having said that, you did expose my example as a bad one. It would have been better to suggest that, with 4GB at their disposal, Apple could have shunted more of it to the OS (i.e., not just for swap-space) if they felt it would help.

    I don’t disagree with what you’re saying, but my contention is that Apple likely put in the fastest processor they safely could, given the barriers of power, heat, cost, etc. Meanwhile, if more memory would have helped, I’m not sure there were any barriers preventing it since the device had 4GB (minimum) in the first place.

    In other words, just as more bandwidth isn’t the ultimate answer, I don’t think more memory is either. I think the iPhone’s “engine” is not up to what it’s being tasked with — that it’s the biggest bottleneck right now.

  3. Increasing the size of the flash ram available will only stop the crashing and problems that are experienced when filling it to the gills. It won’t make a thing faster until you have enough ram to stop swapping constantly.

    A good example would be a modern mac running leopard with 1tb of disk and either 512mb or 2gb of ram. At 512, the computer will be as slow as molasses since it needs to keep writing to disk, even running simple web browsing, chat and email. At 2gb, the computer will almost never need to swap until you start doing heavy tasks like large photoshop images or running several things concurrently.

  4. Kevin,

    Ah, yes, I see your point.

    My first thought is that, with the smallest initial iPhone holding 4GB, it seems to me that if the iPhone OS simply needed more RAM Apple would have seen no problem providing it. After all, of the available storage in the iPhone they grab 700MB off the top anyway. So they could have grabbed, say, a full GB and made a 300MB virtual swap file if they wanted. I think there’s more of a bottleneck there than meets the eye…

  5. Actually, I was thinking of increasing the physical ram of the iphone from the current 128mb to 192/256mb.

    leaving room on your flash space just gives the phone room to swap ram.

  6. Kevin,

    Yes, but once you’re in an app, it should be fairly responsive; I find that’s not always the case. I agree there’s work to be done with memory management, but that falls under version 2.0 software optimization anyway.

    Also, I’ve found it’s always a good idea to leave 250MB or so free on your iPhone at all times. I used to pack mine to the gills, and saw occasional problems/crashes in Safari and media playback. Once I started leaving some “breathing room”, I stopped having those issues.

  7. When using my iPhone, I don’t think it’s the cpu that needs the extra oomph, but the ram. 99% of the time when I find myself waiting on it, it’s swapping out ram, writing to flash, loading new stuff to switch apps, and once it’s all swapped out, it’s pretty snappy until it needs to swap again.

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