iOS 8 changes we’d like to see: The OS and Home screen
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.
Another hurdle to productivity on the iPad is that it’s a hassle to work in two applications at once. Sure, you can switch back and forth between, say, a writing app and Safari, but you can’t see both at the same time. (Not to mention that, as we mentioned in our Safari wish list, when you switch away from Safari and then back again, Safari will likely reload any webpage you were viewing.) One of the most-frequent requests we hear from readers is for “real” multitasking on the iPad.
We’ve seen innumerable mockups of a side-by-side interface, where two apps are visible simultaneously. For some types of apps, this could work, though each app’s screen would of course be half its normal size. But there are considerable OS- and app-design challenges here, so we’re not sure it’s the kind of approach Apple will take. Still, some kind of improved multitasking feels like the 2014 version of copy and paste: a feature that’s unquestionably needed and long overdue.
And though we’re focusing on the iPad here, more than a few people would love to see the iPad’s four-finger app-switching gestures—which let you switch between apps with four-finger left/right swipes, and access the multitasking screen by swiping up with four fingers—come to the iPhone and iPod touch. Those gestures would be cramped on the smaller screen (though, ahem, there are plenty of rumors of larger iPhones on the way), but they should be manageable, and we’d prefer them to having to double-press the Home button many, many times each day.
Another multitasking-related feature we’d appreciate would be the capability to see how much power (i.e., battery life) each app is using, much like you can using the Energy Impact statistic in Mavericks’s Activity Monitor utility. iOS could automatically notify you about power-hungry apps, or it could simply include this data in the Usage screen in the General section of the Settings app. In either case, it would be great to know exactly which processes are impacting your battery life the most.
Speaking of multitasking, as attractive as iOS 7’s multitasking switcher is, the app-card interface isn’t very useful when it hosts a dozen or more apps. In this respect, Android’s process screen, which puts all “running” apps in a list, with each entry showing a small preview of the app, is oftentimes a lot more useful. We’d like to see a similar list, even if it’s an alternative to the multitasking screen and it’s buried in the Settings app. Maybe this list could even be integrated with the aforementioned energy-use view.
One more here: Though “killing” apps (force-quitting them using iOS’s multitasking switcher) is hardly ever necessary, it can be useful when troubleshooting. Unfortunately, if you use a lot of apps, quitting them all is a major pain. As a troubleshooting tool, we’d like to be able to quickly quit all apps. This is another option that doesn’t need to be easily accessible—it could be hidden at the bottom of the app/energy-use list in Settings.
Among the myriad iOS 8 wishes we’ve received via Twitter and email, a huge number have focused on keyboards. Perhaps the most common complaint concerns iOS 7’s Shift/Caps Lock key: When people feel the need to write articles about how to figure out if the Shift/Caps Lock key is on or off, there’s a problem. We didn’t have any issues with the iOS 6 Shift key, so we’d be happy reverting to that. Alternatively, one of our readers had a seemingly obvious idea: Display lower-case letters on the onscreen keyboard when the Shift or Caps Lock key is off, and uppercase when either is on. Whatever the solution, the current Shift/Caps Lock appearance needs to go.
Another popular response was a desire for Apple to allow users to replace the stock keyboard with a third-party version. Developers can currently opt to integrate alternate keyboards such as Fleksy into their apps, but there’s currently no way to choose, say, SwiftKey as your systemwide keyboard. As good as the iOS keyboard is—and it’s actually pretty good in many ways—third-party keyboards such as SwiftKey and Fleksy offer features such as text prediction that make it easier to type quickly and more accurately.
As for Apple’s own keyboard, in addition to fixing the Shift/Caps Lock key, we’d also like to see some sort of cursor control when working with text. The simplest approach would be to simply add directional-arrow keys to the keyboard, but third-party apps have shown us that there are even better ways. For example, a number of iOS text-editing apps let you quickly move the cursor by swiping with one or two fingers over the onscreen keyboard—one finger could be to position the cursor, with two for selecting text.
We also heard from many people—and we wholeheartedly agree with each and every one of them—who ache for more keyboard shortcuts when using a Bluetooth keyboard. For several years now, we’ve been able to use basic shortcuts such as Command+C for copy and Command+V for paste. And in iOS 7, Apple added a good number of external-keyboard shortcuts for Safari, Mail, Pages, and Numbers. But we’d like to see more.
For example, the most obvious shortcut (at least among Mac users) would be Command+Tab to quickly switch between apps, even if that shortcut simply brought up iOS’s multitasking screen and let you cycle between active apps. [Edit: Reader Josh deLioncourt points out that Command+Tab and Shift+Command+Tab application switching already work if you’ve got VoiceOver enabled. So the code is actually already there.] But we’d also like to see more keyboard shortcuts across the OS. For example, why can you send an email message in Mail by pressing Shift+Command+D (just as you can in OS X Mail), but there’s no way to send a message in Messages other than tapping the Send button on the screen? And though many Bluetooth keyboards let you bring up Spotlight and type a search query, you can’t navigate the list of results and quickly open one from the keyboard.
Expanded Touch ID
Touch ID, which lets you unlock your iPhone 5s with your fingerprint or thumbprint, is one of the coolest mobile-hardware features around, especially since OS updates have made Touch ID much faster and more reliable. But the limits Apple has placed on Touch ID also make it frustrating. For example, it’s always available when unlocking your phone, but when using Apple services—such as purchasing new apps or media—you’re often required to manually type your password. And Touch ID isn’t available at all within third-party apps.
We’d like to see Apple expand Touch ID so that it’s available for pretty much any Apple-related authentication—especially when using Apple’s online stores, but also in combination with iCloud Keychain for autofilling passwords for especially sensitive sites. We’d also like to see the company provide an API that allows third-party apps to use Touch ID to authenticate. For example, it would be great if, when opening 1Password, we could use Touch ID to unlock the app, rather than tediously typing a long, secure passphrase.
Updated developer rules
We’ll just link to this fine article we published a few months back and leave it at that.
There are a smattering of useful settings we’d like to see added or modified, most of which would likely be found in the Settings app. One of the biggest is Wi-Fi-network priority. Such a feature, long available on OS X, would let you tell iOS that Network A should always be used first if it’s available, with Network B used only if Network A isn’t available. (Currently, iOS connects to the strongest accessible network, or the first one it detects in the area.)
And while I’m talking about locations, I love my Beastie Boys ringtone, but something a bit more…subtle is more appropriate when I’m in the office. Wouldn’t it be great if, like the Sony Ericsson phone I owned over a decade ago, iOS would let me configure groups of settings—preferred Wi-Fi network, VPN status, ringer volume, alert tones, and more—that would be chosen automatically based on my network or physical location?
Another Settings-based option many people have wished for is a way to choose precisely which apps get updated when automatic updates are enabled. For example, maybe the latest version of a particular app has lost an important feature, or gained a show-stopping bug, so you don’t want to update it, but you’d like all your other apps to get the latest version as soon as it’s available.
A tweak that would be minor but nevertheless very welcome would be a dimmer lowest-brightness level. Even at its dimmest, my iPhone 5s’s screen feels blinding when I’m trying to do some last-minute reading before bed. And we’d love the option to mute the Camera’s “shutter release” sound when the phone itself isn’t muted.
Speaking of settings, we mentioned this in several of the other wish-list articles, but we’ll repeat it here, as it’s a system-wide wish: As good as Mail, Safari, and Maps are, some people prefer third-party alternatives. But choosing to use one of those alternatives currently means giving up a good amount of convenience—and putting up with a good amount of hassle. You can’t, for example, tap a URL to open that link in Chrome or iCab. Conversely, tapping a link always opens that webpage in Safari, even if you prefer another browser.
In OS X, on the other hand, you can choose your default browser, email client, music player—your preferred app for pretty much any type of activity. We, and many, many of our readers, would love it if iOS gave us the same freedom, at least for common tasks such as browsing, email, messaging, and maps.
Way back in iOS 4.2, Apple promised to let you print wirelessly from your iOS device to any printer shared by your Mac. That feature never fully arrived—unless you have an AirPrint-capable printer, you need to use a third-party OS X utility, such as the excellent Printopia, to get this useful functionality. But once you have the right components in place, iOS printing actually works well…
…assuming, that is, that the only printing option you want to change is the number of copies to print. We’d like Apple to add a few more options to the iOS Printer Options screen: black-and-white printing, scaling, and n-up printing would be a great start.
Of course, it would also be great if Apple added the entirety of the feature we expected in iOS 4.2.
Do Not Disturb daily schedules
Finally, most Macworld editors religiously use iOS’s Do Not Disturb feature, which lets you configure specific hours during which your device won’t bother you with phone calls, text messages, or notifications. The problem is that you get only a single schedule that’s repeated each and every day. We’d like to be able to configure daily schedules, so that, for example, our do-not-disturb hours begin later on Friday and Saturday nights and extend later on weekend mornings.[Updated 5/30/14, 9:20am to note that Command+Tab and Shift+Command+Tab application switching already work if you’ve got VoiceOver enabled.]