Features Apple needs in iOS 7
The World Wide Developer's Conference is next week, and preparations are already under way. While Apple is predictably tight-lipped about what exactly it will announce, it's all but certain we'll hear about an update for iOS 7. The question is, will the new features and tweaks be enough to keep people from jumping ship to other smartphones?
Tune in to CNET's live blog on Monday, about an hour before the 10 a.m. PT start time:
Probably the biggest rumors are about a newly redesigned look with flattened buttons and interface elements, and a move away from the skeuomorphic design aesthetic (think of the "leather-bound" Find My Friends app) of the core Apple apps. But with Android and Windows Phone 8 continuing to bring new OS innovations to the latest devices, a redesign alone won't be enough to keep Apple in the game.
What Apple needs to do in iOS 7 is play a little catchup with other devices to bring some of Android's and Windows Phone's best features to iPhones, then add new features to give people more flexibility with the apps already on the device. There's no way of knowing whether Apple has new killer features or apps up its sleeve, but I have some ideas for improving the OS now to make it more attractive for current iPhone users and people in the market for a new smartphone.
A fancy new interface is not enough
The Home Screen hasn't changed much since the first iPhone in 2007, so it's definitely a good idea to refresh the look overall. I think it's starting to get a little boring, and from what I've read around the tech sites and in my comment threads, I'm not alone.
Beyond the flattening of buttons and modernizing the look, iOS 7 needs to give users some flexibility. I think there should also be customization options or themes you can switch in and out at will. Imagine being able to pick your color scheme so your iPhone screen looks different from your friends' screens. Sure, strictly aesthetic changes are superficial, but even without my themes idea, a new look would go a long way.
Still, if the new redesign is the only big news for iOS at WWDC, I think a lot of people are going to be disappointed, myself included.
A new top tools screen
One of the most annoying things about iOS is digging through settings menus to do common tasks. Things like adjusting the brightness, toggling Bluetooth, and managing Wi-Fi connections require far too many taps. I think it needs an interface button (or slide-out menu) that brings these tools front and center. Not only that, but this new "top tools" screen needs to be customizable so you can add and remove the settings you use most. Some Android phones (depending on manufacturer) already have similar features, and all you need to do is swipe downward to get a bunch of quick tools for easy access. Apple desperately needs to make something similar for iPhones.
AirDrop and/or local sharing
We've all seen the Samsung TV commercials where Galaxy users tap their phones together to share a photo while iPhone users in line at an Apple store jealously look on. It may not be as big of a deal as the commercials make it out to be, but it would certainly be useful to have a quick local sharing button in iOS 7.
I envision a screen that shows you iPhone users nearby and a confirm button to add them to your sharing buddy list (both parties would need to accept, but only once). Once on your buddy list, you could quickly hit a button to share something immediately with a friend who is in your vicinity. We already have AirDrop in Mac OS X Lion that has a similar feel, but I think we need this functionality on iOS. And rumors point to this coming in iOS 7.
Ideally, this would work with all smartphones, but I suppose it's a bit early to hope the big smartphone companies would play nice and allow the quick and free exchange of files with everyone. Hopefully that's something that will come in the not-too-far-off future.
Make Notes more robust
Our simple yellow notepad on iOS is one of things that will probably get a design overhaul in iOS 7, but I don't think it should stop there. Along with text, we should be able to drop in photos, videos, live hyperlinks, audio...you name it. Notes is already my main place to quickly jot something down, but if I could add anything I want then share any part of it with others, it would be a lot more useful.
Maybe it's too much to ask, but to be able to invite another person to share a notepad with me would be a huge bonus. Imagine sharing a shopping list with a spouse or roommate, and you'll understand what I mean.
Need I say it? Apple Maps needs work
Apple Maps got off to a rocky start (to put it mildly), and has been slowly getting better with time. But what we really need with the announcement of iOS 7 are some major upgrades to the Maps app along with assurances that the updates are going to keep coming at regular intervals. If Apple came on stage demoing better points of interest, airport layouts, and other details that drive most people to Google Maps, people might be willing to give Apple Maps another try. If the company also announces a plan to double down on Apple Maps with regular updates (or the acquisition of a trusted mapping service), Apple Maps could be on course for a complete turn around among iPhone users.
The other thing Apple Maps needs to address is street view. Google clearly dominates in this area and it's kind of the best show in town for street level (and in-store) exploration. Is it possible for Apple and Google to come together just to license Street View? I won't hold my breath, but Flyover views simply aren't cutting it, and multiple-step third-party apps like Streets are only passable alternatives when you have a separate Google Maps app already.
We need widgets
One of the most common complaints about the iPhone I hear from Android users is the lack of widgets in iOS. At first I was skeptical, but later realized widgets could be extremely useful if the feature is done right. I'm envisioning a left or right swipe from the (hopefully redesigned) notifications pull-down menu where you could pick from several useful widgets and put them in any order you want. From there you would just swipe down, then to the left to check sports scores or maybe you could quickly control your music as examples. These little apps would be bare bones as far as functionality, but would just give you the pertinent info you need at a glance. I'm no UI design expert, obviously, but if Apple can find a way to work in some useful widgets to give me easy access to important info, that would be great.
Custom lock screen
The iOS lock screen has been mostly the same since the iPhone was released. As it is, you can only check the time and date or open the camera without unlocking your iPhone. But it would be really cool if I could add any number of info modules that I wanted right on the lock screen. I recognize this is a little like the widgets section above, but if I could pick and choose things like weather, latest e-mail, and other useful information that only required me to wake up my iPhone without unlocking, that would be extremely convenient. I would hope Apple could use some of its legendary design sense to make it look elegant without being too busy, but I think a lot of people would be interested in getting more from a quick glance at the lock screen.
Can iOS 7 keep people excited?
It's going to be hard for Apple to get people excited about iPhone hardware in 2013 mostly because we are in an "S" year. In other words, Apple is due to release the iPhone 5S sometime this fall rather than the bigger upgrade to the iPhone 6 next year. So what iOS users like me (with a year left on contract) are left hoping for are big changes to the operating system that runs our hardware. With iOS 7, A redesigned interface is definitely a start, but it's clearly going to take a bit more to keep people excited about the iPhone when the competitors continue to improve and come out with new innovative features.
No matter what happens on Monday morning, I'll be there at the WWDC 2013 keynote ready to bring you the news of iOS 7 and see if it has enough new features to get Apple firmly back into the smartphone game.