Wherein I Throw Darts At A Dartboard And Guess The Direction Apple Takes iOS 5

MobileCrunch/AOL recently published a post ripe for linking: 10 Things That Simply Need To Be In iOS 5. If you’d rather not be as susceptible to the link-bait as I was, allow me to highlight their ten list items here:

  1. Better notifications
  2. Turn-by-turn navigation
  3. Custom text notifications
  4. Proper Gmail support
  5. Third-party side loading of apps
  6. Wireless media syncing
  7. Improved file handling
  8. Customization of the lock screen
  9. NFC support
  10. Cloud sync

With the exception of the last item and possibly number six, all of these items are things that a technology enthusiast who writes for a gadget site thinks are imperative to make iOS on par with their needs and matching feature sets with Android. Luckily Apple does not cater to these types of people and instead focuses their talents on adding features and improving functionality that appeals to all iOS users no matter their comfort level with the platform.

When I see a list of iOS requirements lead off with demands of a better notification system, I know the target audience is not the same one Apple has in mind. If you want to begin to guess what Apple will take iOS 5 look at the current limitations that frustrate your friends. No, not the ones who know Gizmodo bought an iPhone prototype. The ones who have a life offline.

An OS update is more than just cramming more features into the operating system. It is about improving the experience while simultaneously not degrading it. If you think that is hard to do for a shareware app that sells a few thousand copies, imagine doing it for an operating system that is on 40 million phones.

If I were to place a bet in Vegas on where Apple takes iOS 5 this summer, these would be the items I’d place my chips on.

Improved Multitasking

Apple’s multitasking functionality does 90% of what I would ever want out of it. I can now stream my favorite radio stations out of RadioTime or the SiriusXM app while using my iPad for actual work and apps complete their data heavy tasks in the background. All I ever wanted. Thanks, Apple.

The biggest problem with multitasking is that most people don’t know it exists. This is great. A feature that just works and the user doesn’t have to even think about is the best feature. Where I find most people get hung up is when an app misbehaves and they need to force quit it. Most people do not even know an app switcher is just a double-tap of the home button away.

One of my pet peeves in user interface design is the concept of hidden UI. It is a delicate balancing act to build a great user experience that is powerful and functional. You want to ensure that all of the power of your app is available for every user, not just the ones who find the secret tricks and workarounds.

Having the user interface hidden behind double-tapping the home button is non-obvious for most people, especially since no other app has any similar mechanism. Like Guy English, I also do not believe the hidden gestures in iOS 4.3 for the iPad are the solution to this problem.

Given the current layout of iOS it is hard to imagine how Apple could improve the experience. Luckily there are far smarter people working there than who are writing on this site.

Permissions

One of my favorite aspects of the Android third-party app experience is its permissions. Each app must explicitly state what portions of the device’s hardware and OS services it plans to access. Failure to do so, prevents the app from being able to use those features. Prior to installing an application from the Android Marketplace, that listing is shown to the user so they can make a decision on whether they want to use the app.

Color, the social app no one understands, turns on the microphone on your phone. Android users are more aware of this because Color has to declare it in their permissions manifest. As an iPhone user I didn’t find out until Robert Scoble told me.

Along with product descriptions, ratings, reviews and screenshots, the App Store would certainly benefit from having a declaration of the hardware and software services each app is taking advantage of. I am much more hesitant to download a “free” app that is turning on a variety of services it shouldn’t be.

Cloud Sync

This is the one item I agree with the AOL/MobileCrunch article. MobileMe users enjoy having their calendar and contact information synced to the cloud. Exposing that to every iPhone or iPod touch user seems like the right thing to do. Taking it a step further, backing up the user’s app data and settings to the cloud so restoring to a new iPhone or iPad is as simple as entering your Apple ID makes sense. Training people to regularly plug a phone into a Mac or PC to back it up or sync new data to it is almost as hard as getting them to remember to backup their desktop PC’s data.

Storage is cheap these days. Cut the USB cord requirement and just handle it magically in the background.

Integration

People use Facebook. They use Twitter. They don’t use Ping. Having deeper integration with both social services seems like a logical next step.

One of my favorite aspects of Windows Phone 7 is how deeply integrated Facebook is into the experience. My Facebook contacts sync to my Windows Phone contact list, update the user’s avatar based on their current Facebook profile pick1 and show their latest status update.

iOS has a small bit of third-party integration at present time with YouTube, so it is not unheard of. If you record a video, you have the option to export it to YouTube directly from the Photos or Camera app. Adding export options to share those photos or videos to Facebook would seem logical as well.

Spotlight

I will admit this one has personal appeal to me given my development of an iOS text editor, but it seems logical. If you scroll to the far left of the iOS Springboard, there is a search interface that lets you search your contacts, iPod library, applications, mail and more. Exposing that to third-party app developers makes sense.

I rarely use the search functionality on my phone because it is limited to a subset of Apple apps, but having it available to every app on my phone would change that instantly. In the case of Elements, users could search for a specific word and see a listing of the files in my application that match the criteria as well as any other app on their device.

  1. Profile pictures were designed to be an identifying photograph of you. Not an 8-bit avatar or a picture of your newborn.

About Justin

Justin Williams is the Crew Chief of Second Gear, makers of Glassboard. He writes about consumer technology, running a bootstrapped software business, and more from Denver, Colorado.

Follow @justin on Twitter or get new articles via @carpeaqua.