Saturday, May 21, 2011

iOS 5 Will Be A Major Upgrade When You Wish Upon An Apple

Though Apple might make some mention of (or even fully unveil!) iOS 5 at June’s WWDC,
no newly-designed features or groundbreaking reimaginings of the world’s finest mobile operating system have yet come to light. Like a kid before Christmas, then, now is the perfect time to share with everyone exactly what I want to see in this sure-to-be-huge upgrade of Apple’s OS.

The first thing Apple needs to address, obviously, is its notification system; and the cat’s been let out of the bag on that elephant in the closet for some time, now. With any luck, something truly different and intuitive is coming. And whatever it is, I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I hope we do not see a webOS- or Android-esque notification banner. Apple is an innovative design leader, and whatever they come up with should be new and exciting, not old and recycled. Additionally, the setup needs to be at least somewhat customizable and play nice with the lock-screen.

While the remaining items on my wish-list won’t be as critical for everyone (or as unanimously-desired), they’re still important enough to put down on paper (or whatever else makes sense in this paperless process). I even posted a memo to our internal AppAdvice forum looking for input in case I’d missed anything, so, for the most part, these ideas should be pretty comprehensive.

For anyone who follows the tech world in general, the “cloud” has been a constant buzzword in recent seasons; and, at  Microsoft’s behest, Apple’s going there. iCloud will probably share any headlining announcement when next month’s developer conference rolls around, and it will definitely be a game-changer in terms of the flexibility and ease of data distribution on both sides of the ball. iOS 5 will be heavily centered around iCloud, make no mistake about it.

Along with iCloud (or, more precisely, via iCloud), Apple is likely to introduce that crowd-sourced traffic service Steve Jobs mentioned in the aftermath of Locationgate. Apple has long been at work on a supposed GPS navigation suite, the implementation of which would be a decided “killer app” for their mobile platform. While current navigation apps are plentiful on iTunes, having an official Apple-made solution integrated at root level — with a system-wide speech engine running things! — would be a huge enticement to current and future customers. It would make any iDevice just that much better for those always running out and about.

For all things local, though, there’s lots left to work on. I think a sourceable “C: drive” (or similar user-accessible storage location) for saving iDevice-created content and uploading it to various websites would help the professional workflow tremendously. For example, I can use my iPad to write every word of this very article, assigning all relevant tags, links, and referenced apps, but I cannot upload the necessary post-completing pictures unless I use a proper desktop or laptop computer.

Speaking of pictures, photo management in iOS has to improve. I should be able set the landscape or portrait orientation of photographs and screenshots with ease and place any selection of photos I choose into any created Album I want. Currently, there are 742 such pictures in my single-Album Camera Roll. I need to be be able to break this up into relevantly categorized groups for quick access to the shots I need, when I need them.

Aside from the aforementioned items (presented so far in descending order of personal importance), there are many small tweaks from which iOS could surely benefit. In mobile Safari, tabs would be nice (but we’re probably not going to get them if we haven’t already), as would the ability to more quickly scroll through text-entry fields. For editing long drafts in an online form, it can be a significant nuisance to tap, hold, and drag that little magnifying bubble through 100 lines of text just to cut out a word or two. While I’m on the topic, the clarity of words behind said bubble should be sharpened and cleaned up, as well.

The last thing worth mentioning here is the iOS keyboard. Don’t misunderstand me: I think both the iPhone and iPad versions are great, easily the best soft keyboards in either size format. However, I am a vehement, thoroughbred “keyboard snob,” and there are some enhancements here worth making. Consider the minimalist iA Writer word processing app, of which I wrote the following in an essay some time ago:

To minimize keyboard switching, there is an ever-present added row atop the standard QWERTY, including cursor controls, smart parentheses, single and double quotation marks, a semicolon, and a dash. This way, you only need switch the keyboard for numbers and other specialized, little-used symbols. It is exceptionally useful and matches Apple’s stock keyboard perfectly.

Apple really needs to adorn the default keyboard with a utility like this. Furthermore, they need to make the “comma” key into a “smart comma” key. Instead of having to hold the comma down to switch to its apostrophe entry, simply let the spacing of the very next letter determine which symbol is used. If a letter is typed directly after tapping a comma, it’s changed to an apostrophe. If there’s a space, it stays as it is. Easy Peasy!

The final bit of keyboard fuss I’d like to make is a call for the option to have a darker- or black-skinned option. Nothing will take you out of a darkened, distraction-free writing rhythm than that big, bright keyboard flooding up into your eyes. With only the current single stock option, beautiful apps like Basho are practically ruined.

Bear with me, folks — I’m nearly finished. But the keyboard issue makes a good segue into the last item on my list: Auto Correct. The program works well, and I have yet to see better, but it lacks customization and app-specific smarts. In the former case, users just need the option to add words to the base dictionary. Nothing fancier or more difficult than that. In the latter case, though, Apple needs to understand that Auto Correct isn’t equally appropriate across all apps and services. I don’t need my text messages or IMs corrected because I write with intentionally bad grammar and carefree punctuation (and capitalization) in these applications. Most of us probably do that. Apple could code such a “smart” Auto Correct for us, but it’d be far easier (and better) to let us simply designate for ourselves which apps get it and which apps don’t. The current five options (capitalization, correction, spelling, caps lock, and the “.” shortcut) should simply be optional on a per-app level.

So that’s my list, as it stands right now. I’ve probably missed something or other I’d intended on adding, but most of what I’d like to see in iOS 5 is pretty well discussed here. And, while I didn’t get to them specifically, I think iTunes, the App Store, and iBooks all need to be comprehensively overhauled and combined into one giant media environment.

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