WWDC is almost here, which means we’re likely to see a preview of iOS 8, the next iteration of Apple’s mobile OS. Over the past few weeks, we’ve been publishing lists—with a little help from our Twitter followers—of the features and changes we’d like to see in iOS 8, covering Notification Center, Mail, Calendar and Reminders, Photos and Camera, accessibility, Safari, and other stock apps. In this final installment, we cover general features of the OS: the Home screen, Control Center, Siri, and more.
Customizable Control Center
Among those who are aware of it—which, in our experience, isn’t everyone—Control Center is one of the most-popular features of iOS 7, because it gives you quick access to a good number of settings and several frequently used apps. But it’s also among the features people most want to tweak, mainly because it has so much potential.
Easily the most frequent request is the capability to customize which apps and settings appear in Control Center. For example, if you use a third-party camera app, you’d probably prefer for that app to open when you tap the camera button in Control Center. Similarly, I use PCalc as my calculator of choice, so I’d rather it open than the stock iOS Calculator app when I tap the calculator button. Or maybe you’d like the timer button to open the Clock app’s alarm feature instead of its timer.
Many people would also like to be able to choose exactly which settings appear in Control Center’s toggle-switch row. For example, instead of Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, what about cellular data, Personal Hotspot, or Location Services? Or maybe you miss the Twitter and Facebook buttons from iOS 6’s Notification Center, and you’d like to be able to quickly post messages without having to open a dedicated app.
Another request we have is security related: Because a thief could use Control Center to put your phone into Airplane Mode, thus disabling all wireless connectivity and rendering the Find My iPhone and remote-wipe features ineffectual, the security conscious among us choose to disable Control Center on the lock screen. But that means we lose out on the other conveniences of Control Center, such as media-playback control and the Do Not Disturb toggle. So we’d like the option to disable, for example, the Airplane Mode button when Control Center is accessed from the lock screen, rather than having to forego Control Center’s convenience altogether.
We also have one minor visual beef: Currently, accessing Control Center dims the rest of the screen to make Control Center easier to see. But if you’re using Control Center to adjust your screen’s brightness, this means that you can’t really tell how bright the screen will be until you dismiss Control Center and the screen is undimmed. We frequently have to repeat the procedure two or three times to get the desired brightness level.
Apple’s virtual assistant and voice-recognition feature has been the butt of many jokes since its debut, but it can be impressively effective and exceptionally useful. And if you use the related dictation feature, you know how convenient that can be, too.
One hitch, however, is that the usefulness of these features depends on having a good mobile-data connection, which not everyone regularly enjoys. (And even if you normally have a good connection, there are times—for example, when driving or when in an area with inferior coverage—when you won’t have that solid link.) In OS X, you can enable enhanced dictation, which downloads a bunch of data that allows OS X to perform its dictation magic without a network connection. We’d like to see Apple do the same with Siri on iOS—or at least to the extent that it’s technically feasible. If you’ve got some extra space on your iPhone or iPad, you might be willing to give some of it up for a more-reliable Siri.
We also agree with our friend Federico Viticci at MacStories, who points out that Google’s Voice Search and Microsoft’s Cortana offer features Siri should emulate. For example, Google’s feature lets you see in real time how your words are being transcribed, so you can make changes immediately, rather than having to complete the command and then wait for Siri’s response to see if you were correctly understood. And Cortana offers “silent” options for both entering commands and for viewing Cortana’s responses—useful features that make Cortana usable in places and situations in which you’d never think of using Siri.
But making Siri more reliable won’t make it any more capable, as Siri is currently limited to those commands and capabilities Apple itself has provided. So we hope that Apple opens up and provides an API for third-party developers to take advantage of Siri. Wouldn’t it be great if you could have Siri add tasks directly to Things or Clear or OmniFocus? Or send a message using WhatsApp instead of Messages? Or add a note to Vesper? Or start a new Google Hangout with Jack, Paige, and Audrey? This feels like such an obvious feature that we can’t imagine it’s not in the pipe. (Then again, we’ve been saying that about third-party apps on the Apple TV for years now.)
One minor Siri tweak we’d like to see is for Siri to learn our preferences. After asking ten or 15 times which email address to use for Jimmy Smith, or which Sarah to send a text to, you’d think Siri would at least be able to say “Sending to Sarah K. Is that correct?”
And this one is admittedly less important, but wouldn’t it be great if you could say, “Siri, what song is this?” and have Siri reply, “DF, this is ‘Chocolate’ by The 1975”? Of course, a third-party API would let Siri hand such requests off to the SoundHound or Shazaam app—assuming, of course, their developers added Siri integration—but having this feature built into Siri would be, well, cool. And with iTunes Match, Apple already has most of the technology and data in place.
AirDrop with OS X
AirDrop in iOS is a cool feature. AirDrop in OS X can be convenient. But for those of us with both an iOS device and a Mac, being able to use AirDrop to quickly transfer files from our iPhone or iPad to our Mac, or vice versa, would make the feature many times more useful. AirDrop has been an iOS feature since iOS 7 debuted last year, and it’s been a part of OS X for nearly three years now. Let’s get them working together, Apple.
Multiple user accounts
Apple would love it if every member of your household had his or her own iPad, but that’s not something every family budget allows. So most of us are left trying to figure out how to best share an iPad. Maybe you use Mail while your spouse uses the Mailbox app, to keep your email separate. Or you use Safari and your kids use Chrome, so you each have your own bookmarks. You may use the Restrictions feature to prevent the little ones from accessing—or purchasing—things they shouldn’t, though enabling restrictions means more hassle for the adults to use the iPad. And letting a friend or coworker borrow your tablet, even if just for a few minutes, means making your email and other personal info easily accessible to them.
The obvious solution here is for Apple to add some sort of mechanism for multiple user accounts or profiles: When you unlock your iPad, a quick tap shows you a list of users; tap your name and then provide your passcode, and you’re presented with your personalized iOS environment, complete with your own email, bookmarks, documents, and the like.
This feature could be as simple as each account having its own user-level settings and app access—sort of like a different set of parental-control restrictions for each account. Or it could be as complex as each person getting his or her own iOS environment, with different users seeing different apps and getting different privileges. Maybe Apple could even integrate iTunes allowances, so your daughter’s account would automatically get $5 of App Store or iTunes Store credit each week.
(All of the above could also be said about the iPhone or iPod touch, but in our experience, people are much more likely to have one of these devices to themselves, rather than to share it with several family members. Still, if Apple could add such a feature for all iOS devices, we wouldn’t complain.)
Another popular feature request is for widgets and live-updated icons on the home screen, in part because widgets appear to be popular on Android. I say appear because in my experience, non-geeks don’t seem to care as much about them as techies do. Indeed, when I first started using Android, I added quite a few widgets, both stock and third-party. It was neat to be able to put a big weather widget, an ESPN scoreboard, and my calendar and inbox on my home screens. But over time, I shrank or deleted my widgets, one by one, until I was using only a couple regularly—and they were relegated to secondary screens so they didn’t get in the way of my most-used apps.
In other words, if Apple does add similar features, we hope they’re a bit more elegant than Android’s anything-goes approach to widgets. Live-updated icons that can show the latest weather or alarm status, or the score of a particular game, for example, would be useful. But huge displays that can take up an entire Home screen? We’ll pass.
Improved app management
As the number of apps in the App Store has increased—and increased, and increased, and increased—the tools for managing those apps hasn’t kept up. For the average user, this isn’t a huge problem, but those of us with hundreds, or even thousands, of apps are continually frustrated by the limited app-management features of iOS: Some of us who rarely used Spotlight for the first few years it was available have found ourselves using it regularly as a way to find apps. Arranging apps into folders is tedious. And trying to arrange and sync apps using iTunes has become a hair-pulling experience. There’s got to be a better way. We’re not sure what it is, but it must exist.
Related to this, each of us has stock apps we simply don’t use, either because we don’t need the apps’ features or because we prefer third-party alternatives. For me, the list of apps that just take up space in my “Unused” folder includes Calculator, Notes, Calendar, Compass, Stocks, and Reminders. Quite a few Macworld readers have asked us if there’s a way to delete these apps from the device, or at least hide them. The answer, for now, is “No.” We’ll see what iOS 8 brings.
As for organizing apps, one of our least-favorite Home screen changes in iOS 7 is that while folders can now hold as many apps as you want (by using multiple “screens” per folder), the number of apps visible at one time was reduced from 20 (on the iPad) or 16 (on recent iPhone and iPod touch models) to just nine, regardless of device or screen size. As we wrote back when iOS 7 debuted, “the nine-apps-at-a-time limit—which appears to have been implemented solely for aesthetic reasons, so folders can zoom out and in gracefully—feels like it’s wasting a lot of useful space. Worse, it forces you to perform more taps and swipes to access a given app.”
iOS apps have become more and more capable, yet one of the biggest hurdles to productivity, and the source of a lot of daily hassle, is the fact that iOS apps still can’t communicate with one another, can’t use each other’s capabilities, and can’t share data.
Sure, we’ve got URL schemes that let third-party developers implement some degree of inter-app communication, but these are—and I mean this in the best sense of the word—hacks. We’d love to see Apple provide an official API that would allow apps to work together on the same data, and to make their features and capabilities available to other apps, without hacks and unsupported tricks. Imagine if every browser, and every app that requires a password, for that matter, could integrate with 1Password; or if any app could easily add TextExpander support; or if you could edit the same photo with three different photo apps in sequence, each adding its own unique tweaks.
Of course, if apps are to better communicate with each other, and to be able to work on common files, iOS will need to gain some sort of accessible file storage that allows multiple apps to work with the same data. Currently, if you’ve got a document in a third-party word processor and you want to open it in Pages, your only option is to use iOS’s Open With command to open a copy of the document in Pages. But it’s just that: a copy. None of the changes you make in Pages will be reflected in the copy you’ve got open in your other word processor, and vice versa. As we mentioned in our Mail wish list, we don’t expect Apple to embrace a fully exposed, desktop-style filesystem on iOS, but it needs a way for multiple apps to work on the same document and to facilitate sharing of data between apps.