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iOS 8 changes we'd like to see: FaceTime, Maps, Messages, Music

Next week is Apple’s annual developer conference, where in all likelihood we’ll get a preview of iOS 8, the next version of Apple’s mobile OS. With the help of our Twitter followers, we’ve been publishing lists of the features and changes we’d like to see in iOS 8—so far, we’ve covered Notification Center, Mail, Calendar and Reminders, Photos and Camera, accessibility, and Safari. Today we cover a smattering of leftover apps: FaceTime, Maps, Messages, and Music. (Stay tuned tomorrow for our hopes for the OS in general.)

FaceTime

When FaceTime first debuted, it was a cool technology demo, but once we’d showed it to our friends, many of us sort of forgot about it. Then, a few months (or longer) later, we used it to talk to the kids while we were on a business trip, or to chat with a relative who just got an iPad, and it suddenly became an indispensable way to keep in touch with loved ones. And now that it supports audio-only chats, we can even use it in place of traditional voice calls.

google hangouts multi person
Google’s Hangouts app supports video chats that include more than two people.

But “family chat” is pretty much the niche FaceTime has been relegated to for many people, thanks to one significant restriction: Unlike Google Hangouts, Skype, and other video-chat services—many of them with their own iOS apps—FaceTime doesn’t do group chats. Which is a shame, because those services all require yet another account, and yet another set of procedures for configuration and use. FaceTime, on the other hand, is easy to use, it’s automatically configured when you set up your Apple ID on your Mac or iOS device, and it integrates with your existing contacts. Here’s hoping we’ll eventually be able to use FaceTime for chats with more than two people.

And speaking of FaceTime contacts, more than a few of our Twitter follows are hoping iOS 8 will automatically sync FaceTime favorites between devices.

Maps

We could write an entire article on changes and improvements we’d like to see in Maps, but we’ll focus on a few of our biggest complaints. The first is, as you might guess, accuracy. Though Maps has improved dramatically since its inauspicious debut, we’re still frustrated by how often map data is incorrect, especially when it comes to businesses and points of interest. For example, a fellow Macworld editor noted that on a recent trip, Maps claimed that the closest 76 gas station was 15 miles away, even though there was one less than a mile from his current location. And every Macworld editor has at one time or another tried to follow a Maps route only to discover that it couldn’t actually be followed, or to realize that they’d been taken to the wrong place.

Even more worrisome is that this isn’t just an issue of Apple licensing map data that’s inferior to what other vendors are using, or using that data incorrectly. The Maps app provides a way to report incorrect map data, but users have found that map errors reported years ago—many of them multiple times—have never been corrected. We’d like to see Apple improve its map data, devote more attention to user-submitted corrections, and tweak Maps to use that data better.

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Good luck trying to make sense of these streets and street names if you’re driving with daylight anywhere near the screen.

Maps could use a visual makeover, as well, especially when it comes to map presentation. Although Apple has improved the readability of maps over the past year or so—most notably by adding a night mode—it can still be frustrating to use Maps in the car for anything other than listening to voice directions. For example, contrast is poor in both day and night modes—if it’s bright outside, day mode makes it hard to even differentiate between streets and the surrounding areas. And street labels are either hidden or too small to read, even if you zoom in, at times making Maps nearly useless for on-the-fly navigation.

We’d also like to see better integration of traffic data with routes. If there’s an accident or other issue that’s slowing traffic on your route, many other map apps will tweak the route to get you around it, if possible. Until Maps includes such a feature, we often turn to “real” navigation apps, such as Navigon, for longer trips or when driving in unfamiliar areas.

Of course, like many people, we’d like Apple to add transit directions, rather than dumping us off to a third-party app. And though it’s not a must-have, it would be nice to be able to see elevations in maps and routes.

Finally, a big frustration with Maps is that if you’re out of Wi-Fi or mobile-data range, the app often doesn’t work at all. Your iPhone (or GPS-equipped iPad) has the hardware to roughly determine your location without a data connection, but often can’t. And even when it can, it can’t actually obtain and display, well, a map without a data connection. A recent update to Google’s Maps app brought downloadable maps for just such situations. We’d like to see Apple’s offering do the same.

Messages

The biggest request we and our readers have for the Messages app is more of an issue with the underlying iMessage service: We just want it to work. Specifically, we want messages to go through every time, rather than some messages disappearing into the ether; we don’t want to have to worry about the difference between iMessage and SMS; we want all messages to be synced across all devices; and we want to be able to follow any exchange, regardless of the device or protocol that initiated it. We’re frustrated when we try to view, on our iPad, a conversation we had on our iPhone, only to find a bunch of the messages missing.

messages storage
Images sent via SMS and iMessage can result in the Messages app using lots of space on your device.

We’d also like an easier way to remove or purge images from Messages conversations. On my iPhone, Messages is currently using over 400 MB of storage space, most of it due to images contained within conversations. But the only way to remove those images is to either delete entire conversations (which is overkill, and I might want to keep the text components of those exchanges), or to painstakingly scroll through each conversation and manually delete just the messages containing images—a major hassle. A simple way to strip images from a conversation (after optionally saving them to the Photos app) would be welcome. Or even just a way to delete those images on a particular device, with the option to later re-download one or more on demand.

Related to this, it would be great if we could somehow see how much storage space each conversation is using on a device, either from within Messages itself or by using the Usage screen in the Settings app. If it turns out that most of my 400 MB of Messages data is in a single conversation, I could choose to delete only that conversation.

It would also be nice if we could quickly and easily mark multiple conversations as read on the main Messages screen. (The Edit button currently offers only a way to delete individual conversations.)

Music

Despite myriad third-party alternatives, many of us keep coming back to the built-in Music app for listening to our own tunes. Part of this is because many third-party music apps have problems with iTunes Match—or don’t let us access cloud-hosted music at all. Another is that we like being able to listen to iTunes Radio. Whatever the reason, we use the Music app daily, so we’d really like it to become a bit more polished.

For example, though Music is currently the best iTunes Match-compatible music app out there, many people still have problems playing music that hasn’t already been downloaded or synced to the device. And we regularly experience issues where Matched tracks and playlists simply don’t appear—we’ve at times had to disable iTunes Match and then re-enable it just to see all our playlists.

in play gestures
The third-party In:Play app offers some great gesture-based controls, though it goes a bit too far, which makes it confusing to use.

Those of us who regularly use the Music app in the car would like to be able to use swipe gestures for control: left and right to skip tracks, up and down to adjust volume level. We’ve tried third-party apps that provide this feature, and because you can use gestures without even looking at the phone, they’re a great way to safely control playback while driving. Why not just use those apps? Because of the aforementioned issues with third-party apps and iTunes Match, we’d rather get this obvious feature in the built-in Music app. (We’ve also found that most gesture-driven third-party music apps go overboard, requiring us to remember a slew of similar swipes to be able to do anything.)

We’d also love to see Apple bring the Up Next feature of iTunes 11 from the Mac to iOS. Other desktop features we’d like see on the iPhone and iPad include the capability to rename playlists; to sort playlists; and to add lyrics to tracks. (Speaking of which, wouldn’t it be great if Apple could strike a deal with publishers so the Music app and iTunes on the desktop could automatically find and add lyrics?)

Finally, one minor interface request: The Show All Music toggle, which lets you decide whether the Music app shows all your music, local and iCloud-stored, or just the tracks that have been downloaded or synced to your device, can be really useful. In fact, we use this toggle switch frequently enough that we’d like easier access to it, right in the Music app.

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