Top 10 Changes iOS 7 Needs

Apr 04, 2013 (07:04 AM EDT)

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The first iPhone was introduced in 2007 to great anticipation and fanfare. It quickly became a hot commodity, featuring cool stuff everyone had to have. It's now 2013 and we're quickly approaching the six-year anniversary for the device that would rule them all.

When the iPhone was introduced, it brought PDA/PIM data together with your cell phone, your music and videos, and made everything work, and work well. Since its introduction, Android has matured. Windows Phone has been reinvented and revised and even BlackBerry is worth looking at again. The iPhone isn't the only player on the block that can do convergence and content consumption.

With the iPhone turning six and still sporting the same interface and launcher as it did when it was introduced, many here at BYTE think it's definitely time for a UI refresh, as well as other OS level improvements. In short, here are our suggestions for an anticipated update in the upcoming release of iOS 7.

1. Redesigned Launcher

Currently, iOS users can put app shortcuts on any number of home pages. Users can also organize icons and create folders to hold application icons by placing one icon on top of another. The interface has remained largely unchanged over the past six years.

A launcher is really nothing more than a way to sort through, manage and launch applications. The launcher in iOS is used on all iDevices, and it's clearly in need of some sort of improvement, update or change. Android allows users to install a number of different third-party launchers, such as the innovative Paranoid Android shown at the left. While I'm certain that Apple isn't going to allow users to install a custom launcher, a lot of ideas can be gleaned from apps of this type from other OSs. Maybe even from Windows. Have at it Apple. Wow us and give us something modern and new. However, choice is important. It would be nice if in giving us a new UI, Apple would allow users to revert to the current UI as well.

2. Take a Note from Cydia and the Jailbreakers

I recently ventured outside of Apple's walled garden before upgrading to iOS 6.1.3 and jailbroke my iPhone 5...for all of about 27.5 minutes. The stuff I installed was a disaster and looped the phone into a perpetual "safe mode" state. Upgrading removed the jailbreak and fixed the problems, but I learned a great deal about variety and choice during my "half hour of freedom." There's a great deal of customizations out there.

There's a heck of a lot that can be done with iOS, and it would be really cool if Apple would take a walk on the other side of the wall and find out what jailbreak software authors are publishing. Some of those customizations might fit very nicely with the new vision that Jony Ive is constructing for iOS 7. Some may not. It might be nice if iOS 7 incorporated some of those software ideas and designs. At the very least, it would bring a fresh look and some new options to an OS that's six years old, literally a digital eternity.

3. Logical Settings Locations

A general reorg of settings would be helpful. Some of the stuff, as my colleague, Contributing Editor Serdar Yegulalp notes, is quite buried.

One of my biggest complaints with iOS 5 was that it was really difficult to get to the settings switch to turn Bluetooth on and off. You had to go into Settings, get to General, Wireless and then Bluetooth before you could get to the switch. iOS6 changed that a bit, by bringing both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth settings up to the top of the Settings menu. However, you still have to dive in to each category to get to the switch and any other options, like pairing with a specific device.

I'd really like to see a complete tear down and rebuild here. The way Apple has all of its underpinnings and options set up and configured is also long in the tooth. I know I'm likely to not get what I want here, but it would be nice to see some work on organization and logical groupings. It isn't always clear what is and isn't stuffed into settings and what might be tweaked in the actual app.

4. SaaS Interoperability

SaaS Interoperability — Apple services are not an island, and thinking I'm just going to use iCloud and Apple PIM apps is silly. We need to return to interoperability. Yes. I'd be willing to pay an (albeit, nominal annual fee) for this.

Attention major computer vendors of the world, specifically Apple, Google and Microsoft: You are NOT an island. I use tools that are offered because they solve problems for me, and not any other reason. I have Gmail that I use on both Windows and Mac machines. I have an iPhone and an iPad. My kids have iPhones and Android tablets. Everyone else in the house uses a Windows PC, though my daughter runs Windows 7 on a 13-inch aluminum unibody MacBook.

Until recently, you could use just about any device with just about any service available from any vendor. Recently, both Google and Apple announced changes to their interoperability options by discontinuing support for Exchange ActiveSync. Google did this on the desktop and on mobile devices. Apple did this mainly on the desktop, but with the way that iOS and OS X interact, it's eventually going to affect how mail works on your idevice.

The effect here is that Android phones that want to sync data must do so via the Gmail app and not through Android Mail. On the iPhone, unless you've got a paid Google Apps account, you can't sync new accounts with iOS Mail. The same can be said on Windows 8 devices and Windows Phone.

I know most everyone is going to paid services now, and that's fine. The problem here is that you've taken away something I was relying on without giving me the ability to pay to keep it where it is. This one is easy to fix:

  1. Put it back
  2. Make it affordable
  3. Sign me up

5. Siri Improvements

If an idevice can do it, then Siri should be able to do it for you. This means that your iPhone should be able to do things like, Siri, turn on/off, Siri connect a conference call between .

While Siri's accuracy has improved since its introduction, I seriously expect some major enhancements here. I'd also like to be able to do this in my car without having to install some major accessory or have to dump the car I have and buy a new eyes-free compatible vehicle.

6. Serious Battery Life Improvements

Given that abilities between devices are shoring up, it's clear battery life is going to be the more important spec going forward. If you can't use it all day without having to charge it, there's a problem. iOS 7 should improve on battery life from existing idevices by at least 10 percent. There's gotta be a way of making existing iPhones last longer without diminishing capabilities.

I'm cool with things if it means that you have to learn how I use my device and then only turn certain radios on when I'm in specific locations, or at specific times of the day, etc. What I need is to be able to use my iPhone for more of the day without fearing that I'll run out of juice.

7. Fix iCloud Core Synching

I don't use iCloud a lot. My free 5GB of space really just backs up my iPhone and that's about it. I don't use it because I use other sync services and because figuring out how to use the thing isn't nearly as easy as Steve Jobs said it would be.

I'd like to bring over contacts and calendar data, say from Google, and then have it sync with iCloud; but every time I do that, I end up with a God-awful amount of duplicates on all devices and services and it shouldn't work that way.

Apple isn't the only one that's having trouble with its core sync capabilities. Many third-party developers are in the same boat. They have simply given up on using iCloud and have either stripped the features they wanted to build in with it out, or have switched to another service. This needs to get resolved in both iOS and OS X, and sooner rather than later.

8. Widgets

On Android an app can work as a "widget" that stays open on the desktop and can change to provide, for example, weather updates or other notifications. Windows has "Live Tiles," which change all the time -- either to show something informative, like an upcoming appointment -- or just for fun.

There's a little of this in iOS: Apps can display a number, typically to show unread messages. The Phone, Mail and Messages apps do this as well as some third-party apps, such as Facebook and Gmail. But that's as fancy as it gets, and it's far less sophisticated than on other mobile operating systems, compounding the Launcher problem in the second slide: The iOS desktop is flat and lifeless, and iOS's development restrictions don't allow modification of the desktop.

9. The Keyboard

Just about every other mobile OS has a better default soft keyboard than iOS's. It may have been state-of-the-art in 2007, but not much has changed since.

The newest keyboard out there, the BlackBerry 10 soft keyboard, is the current state-of-the-art keyboard. It predicts what you intend to type and spreads the predictions around the keyboard, allowing you to select and "flick" them up to the display. It's clearly generations ahead of the iOS keyboard.

Android's default keyboard is OK, but it also allows developers to create installable keyboards to replace the system keyboard. This has led to innovative products like the ones below: Swype, TouchPal and SlideIT.

iOS needs either to have a world-class keyboard or to allow third parties to install new ones. Both would be even better.

10. Mobile Application Management APIs

Apple spawned a large Mobile Device Management industry when it created an MDM API for iOS. (Perhaps "created" is generous. The API is essentially a clone of the BlackBerry MDM API.)

But MDM, as defined in Apple's API, is inadequate to the task of truly securing these devices and the industry has moved on to new techniques, including MAM (Mobile Application Management), TEM (Telecom Expense Management) and session virtualization, all of which are sometimes referred to collectively as EMM (Enterprise Mobility Management). Companies like Good Technology, MobileIron, AirWatch, Zenprise and Apperian all provide tools for developers and IT to secure the use of iOS devices in more sophisticated ways.

The problem with this is twofold: The EMM products all work within severe constraints set by Apple, which won't allow apps into the app store if they employ certain techniques like remote control of the phone. Apple may be able to raise the security level of all enterprises by building some of these EMM techniques into the OS and exposing APIs to qualified developers.

The second problem is the incompatibility of all the implementations, a problem we have mentioned recently. If Apple were to set a standard for a secured app, or build security interfaces right into the package format, this would be good for customers.