Tomorrow is WWDC 2013, where it is highly suspected that Apple will show a preview of iOS 7. Rumors are running wild of a Jony Ive inspired “flat” UI to replaced the overly skeuomorphic look that iOS has increasingly embraced since its release 6 years ago. All the tech bloggers are posting their wish list for its new features, so I would be remiss to not include my own. This is not a rumor roundup or a predictions thread. Some of these are more likely than others. It is merely my wish list; what I would love to see in a perfect world. Here they are in no particular order:
Looking at my iPhone’s home screen, there are two default apps that are not buried in folders, or off on later screen; Phone and Messages. That’s it. Everything else is a third party app that has replaced one of the built in ones. Instead of Mail, I use Mailbox. Instead of Notes, I use Evernote. Instead of Camera, I use KitCam. My podcast app still switches between Instacast and Downcast, I am waiting on the Mac version of Downcast to come out of beta to decide. Instead of Safari, I use Dolphin.
Why do I not use the default apps? Because the third party apps are better. This is not a knock against Apple. Take notes for example. Apple is not a notes app company. No one, when they hear the word Apple thinks, “Oh, that company that makes the note-taking app.” Evernote, on the other hand, makes a notes app. That is all they do. So they have to make the best notes app if they want to survive as a company. Apple could never touch that notes app again and it would have an insignificant impact on them, if at all.
But I still cannot tap a link and go to Dolphin. I need to leave my mail accounts in the default app because sending an email from another part of the OS will not open Mailbox. Some developers have worked around this with URL schemes, but it is a terrible kludge, and it is inconsistent across the apps on my phone. This would extend to Siri. I want my reminders in Omnifocus, which if it were the default, there would be no question. Android has had this a while, and it is time for Apple to add it as well.
I cannot tell you how many times I have gotten down into the subway, opened Instapaper, only to find I forgot to open it before I left work and that the app is empty of all the content I added to it throughout the day. The purpose for the background process ban is a noble one. Apple does not want our phones to be slow and our batteries to be needlessly drained. And unlimited background processes will do this. I don’t want to have to manage every process in order to find out what is killing my phone.
Having said that, some level of background updating is needed. Not unlimited, just often enough to avoid the, “Opps I forgot to update this” issue. Apple clearly knows how to do this. Look at iCloud backups. They will only engage in the background when I am plugged in and on WiFi. No battery drain, no massive cell bill. I would love a simple setting where I could easily turn on and off background processes if I needed to, allowing me to conserve battery with one swipe.
The share button is like opening a door on the Monty Hall show, you don’t know what will be behind it until you open it. Sometimes I can share to third party apps, sometimes just Apple’s, sometimes just Twitter and Facebook. There is all too often no easy way to get information from app A to app B. There is no shared space in the file system.
This problem extends to iCloud as well. I cannot save a document in Byword and open it in Pages, even though Pages can open a text file. On the Mac this is not a problem, but iOS lacks any easy way to move data. While it makes it simpler in theory, in the real world, it leads to a near constant dance of copying/pasting/emailing that get tiring quickly. And like the default apps problem, developers have solved it each in their own way, making the entire experience inconsistent from app to app. A unified system to handle sharing of files and information would actually make the user experience much simpler.
Notifications via Bluetooth
This one is solely due to the fact that I am a Pebble owner. Right now, to enable notifications to the Pebble, I need to toggle every app on and off that I want to go there. If my Bluetooth resets, which it does, I need to do it all over again. A simple switch to say send via bluetooth would solve it. This exists in jailbreak world, but I don’t want to jailbreak.
A Live Lock and Home Screen
Aside from folders (iOS 4) and the updated notifications system (iOS 5), the lock screen has remained unchanged from the first iPhone in 2007. The launcher on iOS is dead, there is no information you can get from it other than which app is where, and a vague number badge telling you…something. On the lock screen, notifications and time, nothing else.
I actually think this is one place where Android has way too many options. I have played with the Widgets there, and usually ended up with a home screen so busy and ugly that it hurts to look at. I am not asking for the MySpace of home screens on iOS, but some form of dynamic, live content on the home screen would really make it feel less stuck in the last decade.
Photos in the Cloud
My job is to teach this technology, and I cannot tell you how many times that after a 10 minute speech on Photosteam, I still end up with blank stares from the room. It is a confusing feature that it too limited to be really useful. What I want, and I can tell you what everyone wants, is their photo collection in the cloud. All of it, automatically, all the time. Albums made on the iPhone and albums in iPhoto are different right now. This should not be. Just give me everything. I will even pay for an iTunes Match service for my photos. No more syncing and managing, one library to rule them all. Which brings me to…
Fix iTunes Match
Ever since iOS 6 came out, I have been having issues with iTunes Match. Certain songs will not play when downloaded to iOS 6. When I try to play them, the music app immediately skips one or two tracks forward. Theses are uploaded songs, matched tracks seem immune. I have turn Match on and off, I have re-uploaded the tracks, I have completely restored my devices. It has not helped. The tracks play perfectly fine on iOS 5, and all versions of Mac OS. They will even stream fine on iOS 6, but when downloaded, they do not play.
This bug does not appear to be terribly common, but I have found others online who are also experiencing it, I have had an open support ticket with Apple for months, but they remain stumped too. I am hoping that the engineers have fixed it in iOS 7 and that I will be able to return to Match. For now I am using Google Music as a workaround.
A Cleaner Look
Everyone expects this one. Most commonly the term “flat” is being thrown around. Flat is all in now, and I think a certain amount of flattening is definitely in order. But a lot of this chatter is missing the forest for the trees. We need a new look that is modern, fast, light, and not distracting, but is visually pleasing. Skeuomorphism needs to go, but some level of texture can be very effective. Evernote is a good example of this. The background is textured in a way that suggests paper, without beating you over the head with it. It is not a notebook with lines, punch holes, and teared sheets, it merely suggest paper notes, but lives entirely in the world of digital. That, for me, is the look the whole OS needs.
Remember when FaceTime was introduced how Steve Jobs said it would be an open protocol? Three years later, we are still waiting. And as a result, the feature is underused because we cannot talk to our Windows or Android friends using it. So we stick to Skype. The same is true for iMessage and iCloud. They are of limited value to anyone who is not fully in the Apple universe. And even if you are, the lack of compatibility with friends and family leaves us still looking for alternatives. Skype instead of FaceTime, WhatsApp instead of iMessage, DropBox instead of iCloud.
I understand Apple’s desire to keep a certain advantage to itself. But would iTunes be what it is today were it not available for Windows? Apple could own messaging with a nice and well integrated iMessage app for Android. Google knows this, which is why almost all Google apps are available for iOS, even though Google is Apple’s biggest competitor in the mobile space. Would this cause some customer’s to jump ship now that they are not locked in? Maybe, but I doubt it would be many. And the benefits outweigh the risks. The internet itself is built upon open protocols, which is why you can email anyone regardless of your and their email provider (it didn’t start out this way, and it was limited and annoying then, just as messaging is now).
I don’t think this is likely, although Tim Cook’s comments at D11 that they are not opposed to the idea is already a massive break from Steve Job’s thermonuclear war against Android, so maybe there is a real chance.
We Will See Tomorrow
The keynote is tomorrow at 10AM Pacific, 1PM Eastern. I will be watching, hoping at least a small portion of this list will be there. This is likely the last I can stay about iOS 7 until its release. So until then, here’s to the future!