What we want from iOS 7
It was almost a year ago that Apple was showing off iOS 6, widely regarded as a disappointment after its banner feature, Apple’s in-house maps solution, proved difficult to love. But there’s been a change at the top in Apple’s iOS division and a chance to bring iOS, largely looking the same as it did in 2007, up to speed with recent innovations from Android and Windows Phone. Here’s what we reckon the OS needs.
- Down with skeuomorphism – It looks like we’re going to get this wish, with rumours suggesting that iOS 7, as the first version to be designed by Sir Jony Ive, will be throwing out the designs so beloved by Scott Forstall, the former iOS design chief who was removed following the maps debacle. Skeuomorphism, the process of simulating real-life equivalents within the software design, such as the green felt gaming table of Game Center or the torn pages of Calendar, has proved controversial since it began appearing in Apple’s software, but its days seem mercifully numbered.
- Let us change default apps – Apple makes a big deal about the size of its app ecosystem, but what happens if you want to use a third-party alternative to the built-in ones? Even with Chrome installed, say, you’re stuck with links in your email opening Safari. Ditto if you want to use Fantastical instead of Apple’s calendar, or Camera+ instead of the usual photo app. What’s more, it would really showcase the sterling work that software developers have been doing. It’s time to loosen the reins a bit. And on that note...
- Make the stock apps removable – Apple’s been showing signs of moving in this direction by putting official apps with non-essential functionality like Podcasts and iTunes U into free downloads on the App Store. Since those can be removed and reinstalled at will, why am I stuck with a bare bones Stocks app that I never use? Why do I have to hide Newsstand, Apple Maps and Passbook on the last page so that I don’t have to see them? Being able to completely define the user experience in this way could have a huge impact on mobile app development.
- Get over the Google aversion – This is probably never going to happen, but it would be nice if Apple would swallow its pride and put Google Maps back into iOS. Making the above two changes would even let it be done without losing face: let us remove Apple Maps and we can add in Google’s equivalent without Apple having to pay Eric Schmidt a visit, cap in hand.
- Make Notification Center more useful – Since the pull-down notification tray was ‘borrowed’ from Android, Apple should take another idea by putting widgets and toggles in there, like allowing users to turn Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and Airplane mode on or off without having to hunt down the settings. This concept video for what iOS 7 could end up looking like has gained a lot of traction and ably showcases the potential of an upgraded, widget-fuelled Notification Center.
- Live tiles – It hasn’t gone unnoticed that iOS has the potential to update app icons in real-time, such as the way Calendar always shows today’s date, but that has remained the only example. Even if Windows 8 has stolen its thunder with live tiles somewhat, Apple should open up this ability, putting the day’s weather on the Weather app icon, for instance, since most days around here it is resolutely not 23 degrees and sunny.
- Open up Siri to developers – It may not be perfect, but Siri is cool and increasingly useful as new features get added. But as it took the App Store and third-party software developers to really let iOS meet its potential, so it goes with Siri. Do it, Apple. Let some mobile app developers get their hands on the Siri API.
- User accounts – As much as Apple might like it to happen, an iPad for everyone in the family just isn’t realistic; unlike a computer these days, it’s still considered a luxury. For that reason, how about making it easier for people to share one? Let users of a single iPad have their own email accounts and calendars, choose which apps to let their children use, turn off in-app purchases for the kids, set their own wallpaper and more. Do something clever with it like using the front camera to recognise you and log you in. Anything to stop other people installing 15 Angry Birds games on our work iPad.
The word is that iOS 7 is a big update, with Apple pulling engineers off the overdue OS X 10.9 and in full-on crunch mode to get it ready for the WWDC reveal. An overhaul of the design is clearly going to consume a lot of resources, so does Apple have the software development manpower to add significant features and redo a design that’s held up for six years now? We’ll find out in a couple of weeks.