Dear Mr. Jobs, I have some ideas about how to improve your phone

Everyone knows that the iPhone is pretty great. The vast majority of my clients offer it up as their first example when I ask them, “What products on the market that represent the kind of experience you want to deliver?”

I mostly really like mine. But I’ve got to say there are a couple things about it that really bug me. Right up there after the fact there’s no one-gesture way of switching between different email inboxes is the way the little red notifications circles work with the phone.

It’s a bit confusing, plus requires unnecessary work

Whenever someone calls me, I don’t answer, and the caller leaves a voicemail, a “2” is displayed in the little red circle over the Phone icon on the Home screen like this:

Maybe I’m kind of a simpleton, but doesn’t that kind of make it seem like I’ve missed two calls? Or that I’ve got two voicemails?

And that isn’t the worst of it. As confusing as that is, after using it for a while, I now mostly remember how it works (and even if I don’t, it doesn’t really cause me any real inconvenience.)

The really irritating part is when I go to the phone application, there are now two new red dots — one over Recent and one over Voicemail, like this:

Every single time, after I go listen to the voicemail, I have to click over to Recent to make that red dot with the number in it go away. Of course I know I missed the call, I’ve already listened to the voicemail. Why do I have to actively get rid of this extra dot?

You might be thinking “Relax, idiot. This isn’t Ms. Pac Man. You don’t have eat all the red dots.” But I kind of do, don’t I? Otherwise, the red dot starts to become useless. This might be fine with all your customers who bought an iPhone to replace their Razr, and those who don’t have expectations of their phone as a productivity tool. But my mobile is actually a pretty important part of the way I manage my work and more importantly, my attention.

What if we changed things around just a bit?

Now, I don’t want you to think that I’m just a hapless complainer. I have a couple ideas for how you can improve things. You can have them for free. (Though if you decide to use one of them, and felt like sending me a new 3GS or Cinema Display or something, that’d be cool.)

The easiest fix is to just change the logic so that for any missed call, you only display one circle. If they leave a message, it’s over Voicemail; if they don’t, it’s over Recent. (Which works for the transition between when it’s just a missed call, and when they’ve left a message. The number just switches from Recent to Voicemail when a message is left.)

But it still kind of bugs me that a given phone call can be represented in two different places. It seems a lot simpler to have a single list of calls to scan through when I pick up my phone after a meeting. Maybe it could look something like this:

It would work like a combination of Recent and Voicemail…

…with filtering capabilities at the top, as in your Recent screen…

…and a dot next to incoming calls that have resulted in a voicemail message. (Clicking on the dot would bring up the Voicemail playback controls). I also propose changing the way the color coding works, so the red text, which formerly indicated a missed call, would now be used to signify unheard messages and unseen missed calls. This maps better to the color of the little red circle, which seems appropriate since the number in the circle is the now the count of red items.

Because I changed what red text means, we need some other indicator to differentiate missed calls. What if we did this with the icons? I didn’t really have time to get into the pixels to solve this, but you get the idea with this placeholder.

You’ll also notice that by combining Recent and Voicemail, I freed up some space in the navigation, which is convenient, because we need somewhere to put access to the outbound greeting. (I couldn’t really decide between shaka, the devil’s horns and a waving hand for the Greeting icon. Shaka seemed most in keeping with the playful iPhone experience.)

I know it still needs a bit of work, but what do you think?

Your friend,

Dave Cronin

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