What Is Apple's Biggest Problem Right Now?

Apple dodged a bullet last week when its earnings met analysts estimates -- but it isn't out of the woods just yet. Tim Cook's suggestion in the earnings call that Apple won't have any significant new product or software releases until this fall -- or later -- is bad news for a company that's struggling to remain "cool" as competition in the smartphone market heats up.

While many Apple-watchers have speculated that the company needs a new product category to revive consumer sentiment and boost the stock value, I think they're dead wrong.

Forget about the iTV, iWatch or a bigger or cheaper iPhone. What Apple needs more than anything else right now isn't a new device -- it's software.

If Apple is going to stay on top, it has to radically improve iOS. It's lost significant ground on operating system innovation to the likes of Android -- and even BlackBerry 10 one-ups the landmark OS on a number of important features. Maybe it's just me, but in some ways the iPhone is starting to feel like a feature phone compared with other devices. Remember, Apple hasn't launched any significant upgrades to iOS since Steve Jobs unveiled the first phone back in 2007. That is, unless you count Siri as a breakthrough.

Although a new iPhone form factor would be great to see this fall, it will be meaningless unless it's also running a revamped operating system with critical new features. What's on the iOS 7 wish list?

Here are five must-haves for the next generation iOS:

  1. Better Notification Center -- Although iOS already has a notifications center, it's pretty static compared with what Android offers. Apple needs to take a page out of Android's playbook and make its notifications center more interactive, useful and fun. For one thing, the user should be able to interact with each notification right there, without having to flip over to the app. It should be scrolling live updates across the screen for Facebook, Spotify, sports scores or whatever the user wants to keep up with. It also needs to add in Mail, iMessage and third-party apps. Basically, it needs to be more like "Google Now" - Android's notification center.
  2. Better Multitasking UI -- While iOS as a whole needs a makeover, the ability to group applications, and get a preview of what's running beneath, is sorely missed.
  3. Widgets - The iOS home screen just feels old-school today with its rows of app icons filling the screen. Like Android, it's time for iOS to introduce "widgets" into the user interface - letting certain core apps run as live and interactive parts of the home screen. This would be more useful and engaging for the consumer - and it's really past due at this point.
  4. Mobile Wallet -- Apple has the clout to take the mobile wallet concept mainstream. I'm hoping its next iOS will incorporate near field communication (NFC) technology - perhaps as a feature within Passbook - that will allow users to pay with the swipe of their phone, instead of a debit or credit card. Android already offers a mobile wallet feature, but it hasn't been successful. Apple has the power to popularize it, however, and it could transform the shopping experience for millions of consumers.
  5. Open It Up to the User -- Wouldn't it be nice if you could customize your iPhone to suit your own needs and likes? You can on Android - but when it comes to iOS, it's a locked, one-size-fits-all system. Apple should give users more control over the operating system - let them manipulate what they see on the homescreen, use widgets, adapt the notification system to their own needs, etc.

What do you think? Does iOS seem stale to you -- or is it still the best mobile OS? Let us know in the comment section below.