Apple's upcoming iOS 7 unveil will be hugely important. With Scott Forstall no longer asserting his skeuomorphic ideals upon Apple's ecosystem, Jony Ive has been put in charge of completely revamping the OSes look and feel. That's a lot of pressure, and many onlookers will be expecting an entirely fresh—yet familiar—experience.
So far, we know iOS 7 will be flatter than previous iterations. That means less gradients and shading replaced by more functional, digital designs. Apple's analog preference was charming—for awhile—but companies such as Google and Microsoft have proven that a flatter approach is much more flexible in the longterm. A total shift for iOS 7 isn't in store, but more likely a cleaner, simpler, more minimal looking mobile OS than you're used to staring at already—maybe something like these.
But aside from rumblings of deeper Vimeo and Flickr integration, what can we expect beyond a simple facelift? The flatter UI is an exciting prospect, but certainly not enough by itself to keep iOS on the same level as Android. Sure, Apple's fanbase will still faithfully stick by iPhones and iPads even in the event of minor OS changes. But for many, the small nickel and dime additions aren't satisfying enough.
Something bigger needs to happen.
There are many areas where Apple could improve iOS, and a lot of what we'll cover have carried over from previous versions. Either Apple doesn't think they're valuable suggestions, or the company is completely ignoring customer complaints. Either way, we're going to reiterate and rehash features we feel Apple should introduce in iOS 7. Simple stuff, stuff that wouldn't alienate or confuse even the most illiterate tech user.
For a long time iOS was an impregnable force that competitors were trying to catch up with. But that armor is noticeably kinked, and vulnerabilities are revealing an OS that, for that most part, still looks and acts like it's running on excitement left over from 2007. This year needs to be different.
It would probably take an Apple engineer an hour to properly implement an easier way to access important phone settings. Put it in the pull down shade, or through a double or triple tap. Put it in a screen beyond Spotlight. Something.
The settings app itself is solid, and offers a nice centralized location for accessing and changing everything. But that ease and simplicity is often sacrificed for convenience. Instead of being able to very quickly turn on something like Airplane mode, or even adjust brightness, users are required go to the app, jump into a menu, and then make the adjustment. It's not quick, nor is it very functional.
You could argue that settings aren't toggled very often—maybe once or twice a week. But keeping important ones at the forefront, where you can toggle something at a moment's notice, isn't asking much. Frankly, the lack of a more elegant option makes iOS seem elementary almost to a fault. Navigating and getting around the OS is still dead simple, the top of its class. But even the most basic functions aren't immediately available, which is an embarrassing stain in the Apple ecosystem.
In stock Jelly Bean, settings are available by clicking on a menu toggle in the pull down shade. It's unobtrusive, and offers quick access you can change from anywhere on the phone—you don't have to exit the app you're in, jump into the settings app and then into more menus just to change something super simple. There are concepts and ideas out there for Apple to get inspiration from, and it needs to happen.
iMessage is great, but there's plenty of room for improvement. We'd love improvements in group messaging, particularly by quickly adding a user to an existing chat or letting someone leave a group chat with ease.
Like FaceBook Chat Heads, we would love the ability to reply to a message from within any application. So maybe we could answer an iMessage while playing a game, or from within Safari, for example. It would prevent having to leave an application every single time we just want to provide a quick answer to a friend, and it could, again, make the entire operating system feel much more alive.
iMessage could also take a page out of the MessageMe playbook, which is an amazing third party chat application. You can easily send your location, sketches, previews of iTunes songs, audio clips and more. For now, iMessage allows you to send photos, but the platform has the power to enable so much more.
What about group FaceTime, too? iMessage should allow users to initiate a group FaceTime video chat, sort of like Hangouts, where those who want to participate in the group video call can quickly join in. It seems a bit strange that this isn't already enabled, and we wouldn't be surprised to see it added in the future.
Proprietary Google Now
Google has already introduced one of its biggest services to iOS, and it's great. But it would be even better if Apple developed something of its own. Predictive intelligence is a huge market rife for the taking right now, and Apple already has an enormous userbase to reach with its own home-cooked service. Think of the marketing opportunities. Combine that with Siri and the personal assistant might actually become useful.
If Apple created something of its own, something deeply integrated with stuff like Calendar, Passbook, Weather, Mail and Maps, users on iOS could get info before they even actively ask for it. That's exactly how it works on Android, and it's an enormously convenient feature that makes a smartphone, well, smart. A Google Now-like feature won't be a new concept in the mobile world, but that's not the point. Google out Apple'd Apple with Google Now—the Cupertino company should swallow its pride and drum up its own solution.
We haven't heard any reports that Apple is planning on introducing such a feature, and it's unlikely the company will this generation, or even next. But it's certainly something Tim Cook should consider. With Google Now only available for a minority of Android devices (but growing everyday), Apple could reach iPhone 5, iPhone 4S and iPhone 4 devices with its own service—not to mention the many iPod touch and iPads on the market. That's a lot of data collecting.
One possible way Apple's own predictive intelligence could work is if it takes over the real estate currently dedicated to Spotlight. Quick poll: how many of you actually use Spotlight? I do not, and never have. If you look at the mockup above, Spotlight would still be there, but the screen would be filled with information you could look at quickly, including weather, calendar appointments, Passbook information, traffic, etc. And you can see all that by simply swiping to the left from your home screen.
Better Notification Center
I rarely, if ever, rely on iOS's Notification Center when using my iPhone. And it's not because it doesn't provide the information that I want. But a lot of times the amount of information coming in just becomes too overwhelming, and doing something like X'ing out of the notifications is a huge labor. Notification Center has become more about managing incoming notifications, really undermining the actual functionality.
Apple needs to introduce more granular control by letting users swipe away specific notifications—a perfect example of how Apple could handle this is how the Mailbox app handles email. Instead of getting rid of app notifications in bulk, it would be helpful to be able to swipe away certain ones by themselves. It would make for a cleaner experience, and give much more control back to the user.
If anything, it would be incredibly useful for users to be able to expand and minimize app notifications by clicking on that app's header (where the small X button is). That would at least make the stream of email, texts, calls and everything else more manageable and easier to address. As it stands, Notification Center isn't particularly elegant in its current iteration, but making even these minor changes would make it infinitely less frustrating.
One of the other things Apple should fix in Notification Center—and this one would rely on iCloud—is multiple device syncing. If I swipe away or respond to a notification on one device, it should be dismissed on all other devices. From a user perspective, notifications persisting even when it's dealt with is enormously irritating—you'd think in this day and age Apple would have a solution by now.
Improved Camera App
Apple's Camera app interface has always been simple, but it's about time users were given more control. At the moment, the only flexibility the app offers is HDR, a Grid option for better framing and Panorama, which was only just added in iOS 6. Seriously, that's it—about as bare bones as camera app experiences get. The camera has become one of the iPhone's most widely used features, yet Apple continues to ignore additions that could make the experience—and results—even more coveted.
Take an app like Camera+ for example. Now I'm not suggesting Apple add built-in filters to its default camera app. But it would be nice if users were given the option to set the exposure and focus independently of each other. In Camera+, it's super easy to lock the exposure and focus by tapping on the little plus button on the focus square. How hard would it be for Apple to implement something similar?
Beyond that, Camera+ has features like a handy Horizon Level, Live Exposure menu, Stabilizer, Timer and Burst Mode. Those simple additions can add a lot of value to the experience, especially if Apple plans on making the camera such a talked about feature on each successive iPhone. There are countless apps outside of the default Camera app, sure, but Apple's tight control over iOS means the default is the only one you can launch from the lock screen.
I suppose the amount of third-party options lessens the need for Apple to introduce new features of its own, but that's not the best excuse in the world for a company as big as Apple. When companies such as Nokia, Samsung and HTC are making the camera software a priority as much as the hardware, it becomes hard to forgive Apple for relying so much on outside developers.
Better Lock Screen
Save from being able to quickly launch the camera or change the background, Apple's iOS lock screen is incredibly bland, and hasn't changed much at all over the years. Apple should open it up, make it more flexible—right now, all that space is just being wasted. With a few simple additions, the entire experience can be completely changed for the better, giving users more information and control over what they want to see and launch without having to unlock their phone and then jump into a specific app.
Before we get too far into improving the lock screen, there are obvious privacy concerns when putting more information on a locked device—it's difficult to get around that. Let's suspend that for the sake of suggestions. It's unlikely Apple will ever introduce anything that would compromise a user's security, so I wouldn't expect much to change when iOS 7 is unveiled next week. But even adding a simple weather widget would be nice, or getting at-a-glance calendar information.
Beyond making information more immediately available, users should be able to respond to an email or message right from the lock screen without having to completely jump into that app. In Notification Center, Apple gives users the ability to Tweet and post to Facebook without completely jumping into those apps. Why not give that same treatment to messages and email right from the lock screen? Apple could implement a Facebook Home like UI that could overlay and let people see the entire convo while also being able to respond.
If people are concerned with privacy, Apple could simply give users the option to opt out of the additional lock screen features. More than anything, the lock screen needs to feel more alive, like an actual space that is useful rather than just there—a frustrating wall that stands between a users and their device. And, please, if Apple does add quick settings as mentioned above, make them available from the lock screen, whether it be in a screen you swipe in from the side, or an icon you press to bring them up.
Apple already allows for easy switching between applications, but right now iOS 6 only shows you an icon representing the application that's running. There's a lot of room for improvement in this space.
First, I think Apple should enable live previews of the application that's running, almost similar to what webOS once offered and what's available in the Auxo jailbreak tweak. You might be able to see the current track that's playing in your music player, or the website that's open in Safari, for example.
We imagine being able to use the current system, but with a tile format. So, basically, we'd like to see a small thumbnail of the open applications, sort of like cards in Safari. Perhaps an easy swipe upward, again similar to webOS, could close out a given application.
iOS doesn't feel particularly "alive" and we think that live previews in multitasking could help bring a fresh breath of life into the operating system, if even in a rather minimal way.
Open API for Applications
This is a smaller wish, but it's an important one nonetheless. We'd like to see Apple make it easy to switch the default calendar, email and browser applications. Sure, it means leaving Apple's ecosystem, but users will love iOS even more if they have more granular control of the operating system.
Google Maps, for example, is far superior to Apple Maps, but if you click a link in a web browser it still opens Apple Maps. We should be able to use Google Maps by default. Same goes for other applications: what if we click a phone number inside of a website? Why can't we default the phone to use Google Voice or Skype to place the call instead?
The notification shade also needs an open API, as we've sort of already discussed, so that other app developers can add widgets. Right now we can only see the weather and a stock ticker, why can't we see the latest Facebook updates, FourSquare check-ins or sports scores?
When Apple exits the stage next Monday, and we have time to reflect on the changes to iOS, I really hope the company addresses some of these issues. I'm not asking much, and these ideas really add a lot of value to the platform, especially when a lot of fans are growing tired of the look and feel of the aging OS. Apple will no doubt say iOS 7 is improving in 200 or so different ways, but those improvements need to be tangible—things that will remind people why they loved iOS in the first place.
Really, we're not asking a lot of Apple's engineers—all of these ideas have been floating around for awhile, whether in the Cydia community or over on competing platforms. So the company has certainly had a lot of time to consider and figure out ways to make iOS better. Last year didn't exactly blow people's hair back, and this year is particularly important since Jony Ive is now in control. We don't expect an enormous tectonic shift, but we want assurance the platform is headed in the right direction.
Regardless of what's announced next week, Apple will continue to attract new and returning consumers because of hardware alone. But how long can it sustain that momentum? iOS is still a wonderful platform that offers some of the best—and often exclusive—apps in mobile. But there are obvious areas for improvement, big and small, and these are just some minor adjustments we'd like to see next week.
Images created by Jon Quach. Todd Haselton also contributed to this report.