Now that we have explicit color in pm3d, there is one last ingredient to make it easy to color a figure based on the normal vector (this is how Mathematica makes it's beautiful 3d plots and helps convey details like shape and curve more effectively than a height-map). It must be possible for gnuplot to determine the normal vector for each tile it places down for the pm3d plot, which allows us to do something like this...
plot '++' u 1:2:3:(color(nvx($1,$2),nvy($1,$2),nvz($1,$2))) w pm3d lc rgb var
An external routine could compute the functions nvx,nvy,nvz and put them in the fourth, fifth, and sixth data columns, but it would be better to be able to feed in a 3D data set and leave the coloring to gnuplot.
Since I am not a developer, I don't know what hidden conventions this would break, but it seems possible and extraordinarily useful, since now we have a platform for beautiful 2D plots, but have to go into the hideously complicated and difficult-to-adjust Mathematica to get 3D plots that convey shape effectively.
To anyone who takes this up or gives a good reason not to, thank you!