Apple's event on Sept. 12 in San Francisco is expected to be bursting with announcements: The announcement of a redesigned iPhone is expected, as are announcements of faster iMacs, and a new Retina MacBook Pro with 13-inch screen, as well as a refreshed line of iPods Nano and Touch. Perhaps Apple even has concealed a surprise announcement, for a sparkly new device (a television set, a car, a foot bath) that no one saw coming.
These announcements are, of course, exciting: Like it or not, Apple's hardware has generally predicted and defined what consumers will want for the next two or three years (SEE: iPhone, iPad, MacBook Air); its products are consistently ranked as the best and most satisfying you can buy.
There are several other announcements, however, that Apple could make on Wednesday that would make me, and many other people far, far happier than the proclamation of a new cell phone. Forget the new Nano: Here's what I really wish Tim Cook would announce on Wednesday. I've ranked these wish-list announcements in order from "not totally implausible" to "not even in a parallel universe." And though we're not likely to see many, if any of these, a boy can wish, can't he?
Prove me wrong, Apple; prove me wrong. Here's what I want to see you announce:
1. An iTunes That Doesn't Offend My Retinas Nor Destroy My Computer Every Time I Open It
iTunes is perhaps the most un-Apple product that Apple produces. It looks more like an application running at a Best Buy customer service terminal than your typical Apple handiwork: The design is confusing, cluttered, unattractive, overly busy. Worse, running iTunes is onerous on your hard drive: Doing anything of substance on my MacBook Pro while running iTunes feels like trying to complete a marathon while dragging a bathtub full of borscht behind me.
There has been talk for many years about a redesign to iTunes, one that would make it align more closely with Apple's simple, easy-to-use design ethos. Here's hoping this is the year that iTunes begins to look more like Apple, and less like Best Buy.
2. Headphones That Don't Suck
Reuters social media guy Anthony De Rosa once wrote that "Anyone who thinks Steve Jobs was a perfectionist never used Apple earbuds." Right-on: Brittle, ill-shaped, prone to Gourdian tangles and capable of only middling audio quality, Apple's headphones are more of a fashion statement than a high-quality listening device.
These, too, are rumored to be replaced at the next Apple event, with a video from a Vietnamese website claiming to show the improved design. If Apple can just make buds that I don't have to shove into the recesses of my inner ear canal in order to get them to stick in, we'll call it a major improvement.
3. Non-Infuriating Gmail Integration
I have two (non-tech) colleagues here at HuffPost who have abandoned the iPhone for Android because of what I will tenderly call "the Gmail situation": Namely, that the iPhone just does not handle Google's mail service nearly as well as any device running Android. Emails arrive more slowly; the tagging system is all but moot. If Kafka were alive today, one of his nightmarish tales of absurdity would certainly involve the ever-futile attempt to search for a message in your Gmail archives using the iPhone's Mail app.
Should I awake Wednesday morning from uneasy dreams to hear Tim Cook say that Apple had patched things up with Google, and that Gmail would be a fully-functioning feature on the next iOS, I'd be broadly pleased indeed; and yet something tells me I have a better chance of being transformed overnight into a cockroach than of Apple and Google tossing aside their differences. Speaking of which ...
4. An End To These Ridiculous Lawsuits
Look: I love the mental dexterity that allows some writers to call Android a complete and total shameless carbon copy of iOS, while simultaneously railing against Android as an ugly, cluttered, disastrously-designed mobile OS. Love it, love it, love it.
But Apple, with these lawsuits, is lowering itself to the depths of trollish bloggers. It is making itself look petty, buffoonish and disagreeably aggressive. Bringing a case over highly technical patents to a well-meaning-but-ultimately-clueless jury of average Americans seems unfair, and attempting to squash insurgent competition by exploiting America's notably atrocious patent system is both irritating and strikingly uncharacteristic for a "hip," "cool" company like Apple.
Worst, however, is this: Though Samsung now owes $1 billion to Apple following Apple's victory in courts, the real loser of the case, according to many non-partisan pundits analyzing it, is you. Matt Yglesias of Slate, Dan Rowinski of ReadWriteWeb, noted tech entrepreneur Mark Cuban, Andy Inhatko of the Chicago Sun-Times, and Dan Gillmor of the Guardian: All concluded that the Apple-Samsung verdict was a blow to innovation, competition and the American consumer, as it was the beginning of a patent war that will only get larger and more cumbersome.
The history of every tech company is rife with this kind of feature-lifting; no outfit as large as Apple is wholly innocent, or wholly innovative. In fact, Apple, it is commonly held, borrowed many of its ideas for its original operating system from Xerox: When Steve Jobs accused Bill Gates of stealing many of the Mac's features for the first edition of Windows in the early 1980s, Gates famously responded that "I think it's more like we both had this rich neighbor named Xerox and I broke into his house to steal the TV set and found out that you had already stolen it."
That quote -- along with the Steve Jobs/Pablo Picasso chestnut that "Good artists copy, and great artists steal" -- should be printed in gigantic block letters in the cafeteria at Apple's new headquarters in Cupertino. Let's hope that when Apple moves to its new campus in 2015, it reserves more offices for developers, designers, innovators and dreamers, and fewer offices for its trollish, increasingly embarrassing IP attorney team.
5. Actual Improvements To The Labor Situation In The Chinese Supply Chain
Depending on your point of view, it ranks as somewhere between "disappointing" and "a slap in the face" that Apple, an American company, is the most valuable company in the world, with over $100 billion of cash on hand, while also outsourcing so many manufacturing jobs to China. "Those jobs aren't coming back," Steve Jobs notably told Barack Obama, a difficult pill to swallow with unemployment at around 8 percent and Apple's on-hand cash nearing $125 billion.
If Apple won't bring jobs back, then it must make a real effort to improve the labor situation in its Chinese factories. Prior to location inspections from the Fair Labor Association, whom Apple has partnered with to audit practices in its partners' factories, conditions at Foxconn were grim: unsafe work conditions, overtime without pay, low salaries, unsavory living conditions. This is six years after Apple first paired with another labor monitoring agency, promising to do its workers better: Shouldn't more have been improved by now?
Apple, sitting on a mountain of cash, has the resources to either bring jobs back to America, or else lead a labor revolution in the quality of working conditions in China. So far, it has -- in the words of Julian Dunn -- exported the "harsh working conditions" unimaginable in America, "instead of [our] standard of life." Now, two reports from last week claimed Foxconn was plucking high school students out of class and forcing them to work on the iPhone 5; Samsung was recently hit with a charge of underage labor in its own factories.
One wishes Apple could be as innovative in improving labor conditions at its suppliers' factories as it has been in designing smartphones: That is one innovation, at least, that we really would like to see every other tech company in the world shamelessly copy.