Bugs & Fixes: Hoped-for iOS 6 fixes for search and navigation

With iOS 6 almost certain to be announced next week at Apple’s World Wide Developer Conference, I want to take a slight detour from reporting “bugs” and instead focus on some hoped-for “fixes.” The new iOS is an opportunity for Apple to address some long-standing inconveniences with how users search and navigate around their devices. Here’s what I’d like to see:

Take a shortcut to Search. For me, one of the more irritating aspects of searching for something on my iPhone or iPad is the number of times I have to press the Home button just to get to the Search screen.

[I am aware of how trivial this complaint may seem, relative to all the problems out there in the world. Even within the context of using iOS devices, having to press the Home button a few extra times is hardly an onerous task. However, Apple has always stressed the importance of a great user interface. And I agree. It is in that context that I present these suggestions.]

Imagine you are running an app on your iPhone and want to immediately switch to the iOS Search screen. First, you have to press the Home button to exit the app, returning you to the Home screen. If you had opened the app from a folder, you next have to hit the Home button again to close the folder. Now you have to press the Home button a third time to return to the initial Home screen (assuming you weren’t already there). Finally, you have to push the Home button one final time (or swipe the screen to the right) to get the Search screen to appear.

iPad users may find it a bit easier to accomplish this because they can use a four-finger pinch to return to the Home screen. But we're still talking about a minimum of three actions to get to the Search screen.

Does it really have to be this way? No. When using my Zaggfolio’s Bluetooth keyboard, I just press the magnifying glass function key and I’m immediately whisked to the Search screen—no matter where I am currently located. I’d like to see Apple duplicate this within iOS itself, perhaps by adding a tappable search icon to the iOS status bar at the top of the screen.

Locate an app from Search. With more than eight Home screens and a multitude of folders, I sometimes have trouble locating where a particular app is situated. While the iOS Search feature allows me to open an app, I can’t use it to locate an app. I’d like to see iOS have something similar to OS X’s Show in Finder command. Perhaps, when you tap and hold down on the name of an app in the Search results, it could take you to the app’s location.

Fast navigate to Settings. One of my most frequent stops in iOS is the Settings app. Often, I go there to modify a preference for some third-party app. First off, it can be a minor hassle to figure out where an app’s preferences settings are located. Are they within the app itself? Or in the app’s section of the Settings app? Assuming it’s the latter, navigating there typically means having to quit the app, separately launch the Settings app and then scroll down to the desired location. I’d like to be able to navigate directly from within the app to its Settings location. A few apps do let you do this in iOS 5. I’d like to see it as a default system feature in iOS 6.

More generally, I’d like to be able to create shortcuts to specific Settings sections. For example, when I was in Paris recently, I regularly wanted to check on my cellular data usage. To do so, I had to launch Settings, tap General, tap Usage, and scroll down to tap Cellular Usage. I had to do this every time I wanted to do an updated check. It would have been much easier if there was a single Home screen icon I could tap that would take me directly to where I wanted to go. I know there have been third-party apps that allow for this. However, my understanding is that they no longer work in iOS 5.1. Regardless, I’d like to see official Apple support for this in iOS 6.

Navigate via Siri. For iOS devices that support Siri (currently just the iPhone 4S), the ultimate solution might well be to provide Siri with the power to handle these tasks. Siri can't do this yet, but imagine: Want to launch Tweetbot but can’t find it? No need to go to the Search display. Just launch Siri and say “Open Tweetbot.” Want to check on your cellular data usage? Just tell Siri to: “Show me my current data usage.”

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