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VidBITS: Ways that Apple Could Improve iOS

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On the one hand, given how magical the iPhone and iPad remain, it almost seems ungrateful to cavil about problems in iOS 6 that we’d like to see Apple address, but on the other, we’re as much Apple’s customers as anyone else, and probably more so than most. And so, constructive criticism is the goal of this 45-minute staff roundtable in which we run through a number of suggestions for ways that Apple could improve iOS for our everyday use, if only they’d listen to feedback (which Matt Neuburg equates, memorably, to the lack of feedback in the toilet industry). A lot of the suggestions fall under the general rubric of making iOS more flexible and acknowledging the fact that some people really do have more significant needs than others, something that Apple seems to have lost track of while focusing on the lowest-common-denominator market. The discussion hit the following main points:

  • Centralized file system. Apple has long avoided allowing iOS apps to access any sort of central file storage area, forcing each app to maintain separate copies of its documents and relying on the clumsy Open In system for copying documents between apps. Increasingly, Dropbox has become the de facto file system for iOS, with numerous apps integrating support. If Apple wanted to regain control over this space from Dropbox and move away from the per-app file storage approach, we could imagine an iCloud-based service that goes beyond the traditional folder-based filesystem by automatically scanning files for malicious code, presenting only appropriate file types to different apps, and generally updating the conceptual model that we use to think about documents.

  • Open Siri up to other apps. As we’ve become more accustomed to using Siri, the technology’s limitations become increasingly obvious. Most notably, why can’t we use Siri to work in apps other than Apple’s? Apple could allow iOS apps to register a Siri dictionary of sorts, in much the same way a Mac app can have an AppleScript dictionary, that would lay out what phrases Siri would recognize and what actions those phrases would trigger. We’d also like to see Siri gain some alternative voices.

  • Extend the home screen. The iOS home screen — technically known as the Springboard — is completely broken. It’s nearly impossible to find any apps after the first screen or two, and many of us have fallen back on Spotlight and Siri to open apps. Worse, unlike Android and Windows Phone, iOS can only display app icons on the home screen, which seems downright quaint in a world where information rules. There’s a site displaying Android home screens that puts iOS to shame, given how gorgeous and useful these screens look. Apple needs to make some serious strides in this area, if iOS is to continue to compete against the alternatives.

  • Fix the bugs! From what we can tell, iOS 6 is the buggiest version of iOS yet. Matt explains one of the low-level bugs he’s run into, and notes that he has reported more bugs against iOS 6 than all other versions of iOS combined. Our theory is that the problems stem from a lack of communication within teams at Apple, and the hope is that the shakeup that ousted Scott Forstall might improve internal communication. But even still, we’d like to see more resources devoted to testing.

  • Give us a look under the hood. There’s no question that Apple has done, and should continue to do, a good job of hiding complexity in iOS. But that has come at the cost of technical transparency for those of us who both want more detail and aren’t offended by complexity. For instance, we’d like to be able to find out exactly what is taking space in that “Other” category (which often seems unreasonably large), we’d like to have an Activity Monitor-like app that would show which apps were using a lot of CPU or battery power, we’d like more feedback about and control over the Wi-Fi networks to which we connect, and we desperately want to be able to find out exactly which individual apps are consuming cellular bandwidth (Apple has once again removed DataMan Pro from the App Store — see “Track Per-App Data Usage in iOS with DataMan Pro,” 20 November 2012). We’re fully aware that this goes against Apple’s grain, but hey, as long as we’re wishing for things that would make our iOS lives better, more visibility into the workings would certainly do so.

  • More-granular parental controls. Apple acknowledges that parents might want some control over how their children use iOS devices, but iOS’s current parental controls aren’t nearly focused enough to be useful. We’d like to see the capability to restrict particular apps by time (no game playing after bedtime) and by overall usage amount (no more than 30 minutes of a particular game per day). Plus, it would be nice to be able to eliminate the possibility of cellular data overuse.

  • A more-coherent approach for Settings. It has become increasingly difficult to find any given setting in the Settings app, particularly on the iPhone, because there are so many, and if you return to the Settings app from another app, it’s difficult to figure out where you are.

  • A unified approach to alarms and reminders. With iMessage and iCloud-synced reminders, we’re all being inundated with notifications on multiple devices, with very little acknowledgment that if you’ve seen an alarm on one device, you don’t need to see it on all the others. iMessage even does a little of this, but Apple needs to extend iCloud’s awareness of what device is currently in use appropriately so we aren’t just being nagged non-stop.

Though it may be easier to figure out who is talking by watching the video, you won’t miss anything important if you instead listen to the audio-only version, which you can do by clicking the Listen link above, or by subscribing to the TidBITS podcast to listen during your commute or workout.

 

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Comments about VidBITS: Ways that Apple Could Improve iOS
(Comments are closed.)

Bob Ryan  2013-01-18 05:37
You say (Give us a look under the hood.)
I say NO THANK YOU, It will let every hacker into the system
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2013-01-18 07:34
I beg to disagree. Being able to see what processes are consuming CPU and thus battery life, what apps are consuming cellular data, what cruft is taking up space in "Other" and so on doesn't reduce security in any significant way, but it certainly makes iOS friendlier to those of us who work to help other people with their problems.
John Bowden  An apple icon for a TidBITS Supporter 2013-01-18 08:23
Yesterday saw the release of Dataman Next in the App Store. I only discovered this because I tried to perform an over-the-air download of Dataman Pro to a replacement iPhone and, of course, it wasn't "out there."

Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2013-01-18 09:10
Just talked with Johnny Ixe about that. DataMan Next is like the non-Pro version of DataMan with a new interface, so while it looks pretty neat, it won't report on the per-app usage. Apple is still "reviewing" DataMan Pro (again), but I gather it will get the new interface once it's approved too.
Keith Crook  2013-01-22 03:15
Previously, when in another app, iTunes could be paused by activating a floating control panel. iOS 6.0.1 takes you via the home button and a swipe to the dock which disappears when you go back to, say, reading a pdf. Not helpful if you are stop/ starting in order to learn a foreign language by an audio magazine, as you have to repeat the double tap and swipe each time. Why lose the functionality of the floating panel?
juandesant  2013-01-22 04:15
Re: the Siri hooks for external apps, it is a dangerous avenue, because the way Siri works, you have to trust the source of your results. So a Siri API would mostly be:

a) reduced to actions in applications, not to result display;
b) needs vocabulary orthogonal to that of other applications, so that there is no ambiguity in the question;

So it is not just a matter of providing the hooks, but it also needs to be _very well_ thought out.

More on Kicking Bear's "A Dynamic Siri":
http://kickingbear.com/blog/archives/264
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2013-01-22 06:02
A very interesting post, indeed, thanks! I do wonder, though, if the trust issue is as big a deal as all that, given that Apple is already evaluating every application.

I'd also wonder how voice works on Android...
Andrew Edsor  2013-01-22 07:55
"...some people really do have more
significant needs than others, something that Apple seems to have
lost track of while focusing on the lowest-common-denominator
market." Well said Sir! Something I've been thinking for ages.
Peter Sichel  2013-01-24 09:50
Apple recently asserted having the Mac and iPhone work together smoothly was part of their strategy, yet Bluetooth between the iPhone and Mac has been relatively neglected.

(1) The only way to access the mobile phone capability of the iPhone via Bluetooth is through the HandsFree Profile (HFP) which insists on routing call audio to the Mac. This limitation prevents using telephone integration like Phone Amego and a Bluetooth headset at the same time. Exposing SPP would help.

(2) No echo cancellation support on Mac OS X. Can we get VPIO?

(3) No handsfree way to enable the iPhone's built-in speakerphone via Bluetooth.  Kind of ironic since the point of a speakerphone is to allow handsfree operation. This is standard on VoIP SIP phones. Answering the phone by CTI control uses the built-in Speakerphone.

(4) Audio driver issues on some Macs which make it unreliable.

I'm sure other developers have their own list. Thanks for adding SMS access in iOS6 (using MAP).
abridge  2013-01-27 09:17
I would like Do Not Disturb to be location sensitive so I could stand in the lobby of a movie theatre and say "When enter this space turn on Do Not Disturb" When I'm outside this space turn it off. Tricky problem, but solvable, I feel perhaps by sensing the strength of GPS or (waves hands) something. This alone would be a killer feature in my life. When I get to my seat at the ballgame I don't want to be bothered. Technology should make things easy, not more difficult.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2013-01-27 10:32
That's a great idea - Do Not Disturb should be location and time sensitive, in addition to its current schedule. I frankly think that's easy to add, since iOS does geofencing and timers just fine.
Steven Rosen  2013-01-27 09:51
There is much that is confounding, confusing, and incomplete about the iOS--especially from the point of view of non-IT person. Frankly, I want the power of my MacBook in the package of an iPadMini. Naive? Perhaps but that's what I want. But let's start with a very annoying "miss" in the calendar: duplicating an event. You are at the doctor's office and making a follow up appointment. What you really want to do is duplicate today's event then modify it for the upcoming event--but NOOOOOO says Apple. At one point I downloaded and paid for an app, Easy Calendar, that allows this feature of event duplication but it is kludgy and teeny-tiny. Come on Apple, let us duplicate calendar events!
Dave in Dallas  2013-01-27 16:17
How about Apple buying some of the best and most creative Jailbreak apps out there? Many of the roundtable mentioned items already exist in "JB-Land"
1. "Unread" unified email box? When I went to the iPhone5 and lost my jailbreak, that was one of the hardest losses to endure.
2. Color coding by account in Unified mailbox.
3. SBS Settings in notifications......
My first Mac was a SE30 and I've been Apple ever since. I find myself looking wistfully at "the dark side" more and more often now.
I'd like to see a better way of switching apps, especially on the iPad. The current situation makes it difficult to get work done when you need to switch between several apps often. I made a quick concept video exploring an alternate app switching UI here:

http://rarebitstudio.com/blog/2013/1/more-on-ipad-multitasking