iOS 7 thoughts

I am both excited and scared about the upcoming iOS 7 release.  Excited because it’s a chance for Apple to introduce many new and innovative features, and scared that if Apple don’t do this then we could see iOS sales really struggle for the next cycle.

iOS 6 was a relatively small update over iOS 5.  Whilst iOS 5 brought us some hefty new features like iCloud and Siri, iOS 6 brought much smaller improvements, and its main novel feature was the change from Google to Apple for Maps.app, which suffered some serious issues at launch.

If Apple follows its typical timeline for major iOS updates then it’s likely we’ll see the first developer previews of the next major update, iOS 7, in the next couple of months.  Given the increased competition Apple is seeing from the latest versions of Android, I believe iOS 7 has to be a significant upgrade with many new features. Apple have let iOS somewhat stagnate over the last few years, and they have to address that now.

When Steve Jobs first showed the iPhone he boldly stated it was 5 years ahead of the competition.  It’s been over 5 years since its release now, the competition has caught up, and Apple have to innovate with this update.  The new hardware this year will be incremental updates, with the iPhone 5S, a retina iPad mini, and minor form factor changes to the full-size iPad.  So, this is an ideal year for Apple to focus on their mobile software.  With a major change in iOS management, the departure of Scott Forstall, there must surely be momentum for not only a substantial software update, but room for a change in the ethos of iOS.

I expect to see a lot of major changes, and I have an extensive wishlist of improvements and new features that would take pages to write out, but what follows is a condensed list of what I think are reasonable guesses for what we could potentially see in iOS 7.

Integration

For a long time Apple has boasted of not just the ease-of-use of their devices, but of easy integration between devices.  In iOS, there is a great deal that could be improved in this area.  For example, many of us now own both an iPhone, an iPad and a Mac, or some combination of these.  However, when a call comes in on an iPhone, there is absolutely no notification of it on the iPad or Mac.  For me, this is often frustrating.  Sometimes whilst at home I leave the phone in one room whilst I’m on the iPad or Mac in another.  When my phone rings in the other room I don’t hear it, and even although I’m holding my iPad or have my laptop on my lap there is no notification to tell me who is calling.  By simply having the iPhone send a push notification to your other devices in this situation you would never unintentionally miss a call.

A slightly different, but annoying, behaviour occurs just now with FaceTime calls.  When I receive a FaceTime call all my devices ring, which is great.  However, if I answer the call on my iPhone then later on when I pick up my iPad it still has a notification that says one missed call.  However, the call wasn’t missed, I did answer it on my iPhone.

There’s so much more that could be done with improving device-to-device integration in iOS, but I think these are two good, basic examples of where some improvement could be easily implemented.

Remote

I am confident Apple is going to release a full television product, and when they do I think iOS devices should integrate with it to be a remote and a second screen.  I would expect iOS 7 to either have this functionality, or at least the seeds of it.  iOS devices should be able to perform as a remote and/or second screen for Apple TVs in a much more functional manner than they currently do.  For example, when viewing a movie on an Apple TV the iOS device should not just allow you to perform the standard remote controls such as play, pause, forward, rewind.  The device should also show additional useful information and functions.  For example, information about the movie, genre, actors, social functions where you can comment on the movie and participate in discussion.

Quick Access to Settings

I frequently use the Do Not Disturb feature that iOS 6 introduced to silent my phone.  However, accessing the setting that turns this on and off is slow and frustrating, primarily because I first have to find the Settings app.  Similarly, turning Wi-Fi on and off is slow.  Indeed, it is worse as it isn’t at the root level in the Settings app so you have to go into the Wi-Fi section to find the on/off toggle.  Commonly changed settings such as Do Not Disturb, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth power should be easily accessible from the Notification Centre pulldown.

Multitasking Improvements

I’m not sure about this one, as Apple has invested a lot of time and effort in creating a backgrounding system based on apps requesting the right to run in the background as they get location updates or play audio.  However, there are so many reasons for apps to run in the background that Apple have failed to anticipate and have been added in an ad hoc manner over the years that I think it’s time they just gave up and let apps run in the background if they like.  They could still require that users have to give permission for apps to do this, but instead of trying to section backgrounding into location, audio, VoIP the app could simply ask for background permission, which would allow apps to get the right to execute in the background for any reason, rather than just the ones Apple are able to think of right now.  A good example of a reason to run in the background that Apple hasn’t anticipated is to monitor the accelerometer.  I’ve tried to get an app to do this to track user activity levels for a fitness app, but since when it comes to movement Apple only anticipated the need for location backgrounding, an app that wants to track activity simply can’t run in the background (unless it also requests permission for another reason that is sanctioned by Apple, such as location).

Open Up the System

The jailbreak community is still thriving.  Just 24 hours after the release of the Evasi0n jailbreak there were over 1 million people who had used it.  Whilst I don’t normally have my own iOS devices jailbroken, there is a clear demand for it.  Although having iOS tightly locked down initially benefited Apple as they first began releasing iPhones, it’s time they opened up access to the device and OS more for developers.

Android is relatively open, and this allows developers to provide many novel and exciting apps that just aren’t possible in iOS.  Apple have already implemented a solution in OS X where users can decide to allow apps from the Mac App Store only, developer-signed apps, or any apps.  iOS should have the same settings in order to allow users to feel absolutely secure in using iOS Store Apps, whilst at the same time allowing them to experiment with the bleeding edge apps if they so desire.