A small part of me wants to make this very short. I secretly hope for a Snow Leopard-style “no new features” update that instead focuseds on refinement, speed, and overall functionality. After all, there are still users adjusting to the bombshell that was iOS 7. And with 7 there is plenty of room for improvement.
But at the same time there are still a number of outstanding features that I really want to see the platform gain. Snow Leopard worked on the Mac, but I question how well it world on Apple’s flagship platform.1
So with WWDC less than a month away I am here once again with my wish list for the year. I stress that this is not a predictions post. This is what I want to see from iOS 8, not what I think will actually happen.2 This is not an exhaustive list, but these are the most obvious things I would like to see changed.
This year I have five major features I am looking for that are all related to the same idea. No question that my wish list is for the power user. This is meant to solve a problem that has existed for nearly as long as iOS itself, that all apps are an island unto themselves. This has been by design and has helped make iOS simpler and friendlier to regular users. The problem with this is that many iDevices, the iPad in particular has hit a limit in usefulness, requiring inelegant solutions to get apps working with each other. So here are the things I would like to remove these barriers from my workflow.
Inter-App File Access
I am writing this document in Byword on my iPad. I love Byword because it is a simple, clean text editor that offers terrific support for Markdown. It makes drafting posts without having to worry about formatting madness a breeze. And since it’s plain text it can open it in virtually any app. Easy right?
So not really. The way iOS works my files are trapped within Byword’s sandbox.3 If I want to share files to other apps, I have to actually send a copy using the share button (see the next item on the wish list). Problem is this makes a copy in the new app. The original document is still in the first one, but no longer gets updates. It’s maddening trying to wrangle this when trying to work among multiple apps. iCloud suffers the same issue. I understand the need for simplicity, but simplicity sometimes brings the baggage of needless complexity.
I’m not saying I want a Finder on iOS. In fact this is probably the wrong away to go. But allowing for some level of access to a shared area of the file system will resolve a lot of problems for anyone trying to use their devices for serious work.
The current method of moving data between apps is in the share sheets. There are two big issues with the current implementation. First is that for many people it is counter intuitive to share from one app to another. My point above would solve this one. The bigger issue is that there is no single system-wide sharing menu. It is a total crapshoot. Every developer ends up building their own solution. But there is always that obscure app that you don’t use or even know about. It isn’t possible or even feasible to expect every developer to include every possible app.
Honestly this is a problem Android has solved and Apple needs to get on board with. There the share button brings up a standard sheet containing every installed app that can handle what you are attempting to share. Want to save an article to Instapaper on Android? No bookmarklet required, just share it through the regular button. Not so on mobile Safari. It is a needless complication.
I want to be able to send anything to Evernote, or make any text a task in OmniFocus. I can accomplish this right now through URL schemes and third party apps, but I seriously doubt the vast majority of users go to these lengths. They just assume it cannot be done.
The was one of the major points on my list last year that we didn’t get. For all the same reasons I still want it. More so now. Once upon a time it was forbidden to launch an app that competed with a stock Apple provided one. But that rule is long dead and there are some amazing third party solutions that are hampered by their inability to work system wide.4 Not saying this needs to be the Wild West. Apple can have tighter requirements to use a default app API.
This request is as old as Siri itself. I don’t use Siri much, but not because I don’t want to. It’s because Siri is of no use to me. It has no ability to control anything other than a few default apps. I wish I could ask Siri to play a podcast for me, but I don’t use Apple’s app so I can’t. Reminders work to OmniFocus only because they built a capture utility in. But imagine if I could include project and context by voice. This currently is not possible.
Customizable Notification Center
Many people want Apple to borrow from Android and bring in widgets. I do not want widgets. Widgets are ugly and often clunky. And very often a poor use of screen real estate.
What I want is notification center to be more useful. It currently works only with default apps (see above) and has nearly no customization options. The Today screen has some good ideas, but I want to see info from my important apps such as Evernote, OmniFocus, and my fitness apps.
The All screen works more or less but an option to clear all would be nice.
Get rid of the Missed screen that nobody ever uses and replace it with something more like widgets. I would love to be able to quickly access apps like Hue, Sonos and other control apps. Rather than crapping up the home screen, let apps that need quick, limited function access live here.
Not earth shattering, but just as important is tightening up the OS, especially after last year’s more dramatic changes.
In iOS, letters are always capital, except when they are not. Steve Jobs pointed out how the touchscreen enabled the very first iPhone to change its keyboard with context. And yet, seven OS revisions later we still only see capital letters on our keyboard. Worse yet is that iOS 7, and specifically 7.1, made the shift key very difficult to notice at a glance. The iOS keyboard should reflect the case of the letter that will actually be typed.
No More Popular Near Me
The Near Me tab in the App Store is the most useless waste of space in the OS. Seriously. It helps if you need to know the ugliest transit app for the city you are near. That’s about it. Get rid of it. Put anything else there. An icon that leads nowhere would be more useful.
The most common question I get about Newsstand is “What is it?”, followed by “Can I move apps out of it?”, followed by “Can I delete it?” Let’s be real, it failed. It’s one advantage, background updating, is now available to all apps. I regularly speak with people who say they cannot download the New York Times, not realizing it is in the opaque ghetto of Newsstand. Folders are fine, let us use those.
So here are the thugs that would really surprise me to see Apple do. Not out of the question I guess, but highly unlikely.
Install from Anywhere
This is one of those things that nerds have been clamoring for since day one of the iPhone’s existence. And I highly doubt it is any closer to happening now than it was then. And for the most part it is no longer required. Apple has gotten pretty good at approving apps in a timely manner, and there are not many things I want to do that I find the rules explicitly prevent. But I still wish I could have that option. Even bigger though is for developers. Big public betas can be extremely helpful for anyone writing software as it allows them a large sample size and helps weed out issues even in edge cases. On iOS though, developers are extremely limited in their ability to test. I would be completely fine with this being a no warranty situation, at least for the app in question anyway. Bury it in layers of scary settings menus. This will keep the majority of users from accidentally enabling it.
I did not include the rumored Healthbook in here as it is not so much a wish list item as a rumor. But it is a rumor that gets lots of attention and may well be true so I feel the need to address it here. I am of two minds when it comes to Healthbook.
On the plus side it would be great to have a simple, central location for health data. I use a lot of health and fitness apps and accessories. Right now it is a bit maddening to wrangle all that data. Apple has a chance to really do something amazing here. Nearly every player in this space would be forced to support a standard through sheer install base alone.
On the negative though, Apple has not done very well with first party apps recently. Podcasts was received terribly, as was Maps and the previously mentioned Newsstand. When is the last time you used Passbook other than at Starbucks?5
I can’t help but fear that Healthbook would ruin a currently thriving ecosystem of apps and services. Unless Apple goes all in with wearables, we may end up with a dead end app that nevertheless kills a whole lot of better products. Maybe the iWatch6 will prevent this.
I guess we will know in a few weeks. I don’t think Apple needs to do all or any of these things. But if they do, a whole new world of usefulness awaits.
- Lots of room for debate on this one. Yes, the Mac has longer history, and ultimately have birth to iOS. But most people who know an Apple OS at all know iOS. iPhone is a majority of the business. ↩
- Some are clearly more likely than others. ↩
- Unless I store the files in Dropbox. But this requires that the other apps I want to use integrate with Dropbox, which most do these days but it is not a guarantee. And it’s not a great solution that you need to run to a competitor to achieve what could be handled by the operating system. ↩
- URL schemes don’t solve this problem. They make certain actions possible, yes. But they are clearly a kludge, hard for average users to understand, and require tinkering with way too many settings. ↩
- And the Starbucks app can do this without needing the extra help. ↩
- Not a thing yet. We don’t know. ↩