Now that Apple’s 2012 Worldwide Developer Conference has been announced and the tickets have sold out, it’s time to kick back and prognosticate on what the company will be presenting to developers — specifically, the next version of iOS.
iOS 5 is barely six months old, but that’s not going to stop us from assembling a wish list of things we’d like to see from the next version. With Apple’s annual WWDC event now scribbled on the calendar for June 11-15 this year, there’s little doubt that Cupertino will be showing off some of what it has in store for the iPhone, iPad and iPod touch later this year.
That’s easier said than done — after all, iOS has come a long way from its humble beginnings with the original iPhone in 2007, and over the years, gaps both large and small have mostly been filled. Remember how maddening it was not to have copy and paste, or the ability to send or receive MMS messages? And Apple just finally improved notifications with iOS 5 last year, after years of users suffering through disruptive pop-ups.
Journey with us now as we take a ride into the near future and rattle off a list of the things we’d like to see in the next operating system — admittedly, a much tougher task than a few years ago!
Push Email (IMAP IDLE)
If your email needs are limited to iCloud, Yahoo or Microsoft Exchange accounts, lucky you — the rest of us have had to turn to third-party apps to be alerted to incoming missives from our peers. Admittedly, this is a first-world problem, given that we can simply tweak our device to automatically check for incoming email every 15 minutes, but that’s not really the point.
On Mac OS X, Apple’s Mail.app uses technology known as IMAP IDLE to poll for incoming email. It’s not perfect, but it generally works just fine. All we’re asking for is the same thing on our iOS devices — particularly the iPhone and iPad, which are capable of an always-on data connection.
Data Usage Settings
Like it or not, unlimited data plans are mostly a thing of the past, despite what Sprint would have us believe. But who among us can know how many kilobytes, megabytes or gigabytes we’re using each month — and why should we be forced into policing this on our own?
Apple should completely lift the Data Usage settings from Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich (shown above). This handy setting allows those of us with capped data plans to set a monthly threshold where the handset can alert you, then another where the device essentially shuts off data to avoid costly overages. Very handy stuff!
Notification Center Improvements
iOS 5, we love what you’ve done with the place, but we just have a few thoughts on how notifications can improve a little bit more. For example, we’re driven a little bit insane every time we have to tap and then tap again to clear out notifications for a specific app, so we really need a “Clear All” button to eradicate this nuisance in one fell sweep.
In general, however, notifications need to be opened up more to third-party apps. It’s nice to have weather and stocks available, but why not widgets of our choosing to control media — think of the Netflix app displaying a notification reminding you which movie or TV show you were watching previously, with the ability to jump back into it with only a tap. There’s a whole lot of room for improvement here.
We’re digging what Apple has done here, but again, it doesn’t feel quite finished. It’s great to display notifications and be able to act on them directly with a swipe, but why should be have to go to the notifications center to see the weather? We’d really like to see some widgets of our choosing here as well.
That swanky camera shortcut is another thing that really makes us love iOS 5, but you know what would make it even more fantastic? The ability to choose a different third-party camera app. Apple’s built-in Camera app is nice, but we’d love to be able to jump straight into Camera Awesome or Camera+ the same way.
And what about lock screen photos? If you get tired of seeing the same image and are too lazy to change it all the time, why not have the ability to choose a series of images that alternate so users can see a different photo each time?
Microsoft is doing some great stuff with live tiles over on Windows Phone, and Android has some decent widgets — meanwhile, our iPhone, iPad and iPod touch home screens look pretty much the same as they have since 2007, with the addition of folders and wallpaper.
Imagine how much handier that home screen would be if Apple created their own style of widget that could be pinned amongst your app icons or folders — especially if the same functionality could be used with the aforementioned notifications and lock screen as well?
We’d certainly like to see dedicated widgets for Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and Airplane Mode, for instance, allowing us to switch these settings on or off without digging through several layers of screens to do so.
App Store Improvements
iTunes in the Cloud is great for buying new music, books and having them beamed directly to any device you have set up for automatic download, but Google’s Play Store has this beat with the ability to purchase an app and send it to a specific device. Amazon’s Appstore for Android even allows you to purchase an app without actually installing it at that exact moment — something that comes in handy when there’s a deal on a large app and Wi-Fi isn’t available.
But our most pressing App Store wish is that automatic downloads get even smarter: Ideally with the ability to select key apps that we want to receive updates without us having to think about it, or at least the ability to download updates from one place and have them automatically pushed to our other devices at the same time.
Don’t get us wrong: iOS has one of the best virtual keyboards around. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for improvement after all these years. For example, why not pilfer that great layout from webOS which put a full row of number keys above the standard QWERTY keyboard? That would be quite awesome on the iPad, to avoid constantly switching to numeric input when entering an address, for instance.
Most of all, though, we’d like to finally see the actual keys reflect the state of the Shift key — uppercase letters when typing in uppercase, and lowercase when typing in lowercase. But if Apple wants to really stir things up, they could offer support for alternate keyboards, such as those offered on Android. SwiftKey X on iOS? Now we’d buy that for (more than) a dollar…
Make It Mine
While we’re on that subject, the App Store has an increasing number of third-party browsers and even email clients like Sparrow now — so why not allow users to decide which one they want to use as the default? Imagine having Opera (or God willing, even Chrome or Firefox) open whenever you you want to go surfing from your iOS device?
Many of us would prefer to see Apple put the hardware-based home button out to pasture, perhaps in favor of a software-based solution or even a capacitive button that could better stand the test of time.
While that’s something for the next generation of iOS hardware to deliver, we’d like to throw out the idea of adding the home button to the software parental controls. Parents often toss an iPhone in their toddler’s direction to keep them amused, only to find they’ve not only switched out of Angry Birds but started making international calls to Eastern Europe before we can stop them. Ouch!
The Little Things
Last but not least, there are a small mountain of tiny changes we’d love to see incorporated into iOS 6, such as even more data syncing with iCloud (open tabs in Safari, for example), deep Facebook integration, Siri in more languages (and why not for other devices while we’re at it?), FaceTime over 3G (and presumably 4G LTE) networks and even further improvements with how apps communicate and share data. The jailbreak community has also come up with many improvements to iOS over the years, some of which Apple has taken to heart in later versions of the operating system.
As iOS matures, it gets harder to make one of these lists without simply picking small nits about this or that feature. Developers will likely have a first beta of iOS 6 in their hands in less than six weeks, so we’ll know soon enough what Apple has in store for us later this year, and how it plans to keep leapfrogging the competition.