2014 was a huge year for Apple. We saw the larger iPhone 6 and the larger-yet iPhone 6 Plus, the release of the iMac with Retina 5K display, a visual redesign of Mac OS X with 10.10 Yosemite, and a new era of openness in iOS 8 with the surprising announcement of Extensibility. That’s not even counting Apple’s early announcement of the Apple Watch, details about which will remain elusive until its eventual release in 2015.
Though Apple fulfilled many user wishes in 2014, there is still more to be done. Here are some of what the TidBITS crew would like to see from Apple in 2015. We’ll circle back to this article at the end of the year to see what changed.
Clear Rules for Extension Developers -- While Extensibility — which brought Notification Center widgets, third-party keyboards, and Share sheet extensions to iOS — was a welcome change, it also reminded us how hostile Apple can be to its developers.
Apple’s opinion about extensions seems to change with the winds. The company might accept an app, and even feature it in the App Store, only to turn around and demand the removal of features, later changing its mind and allowing the offending features to remain. As Adam Engst pointed out in “iOS 8 App Development Becomes a ‘Bring Me a Rock’ Game,” (15 December 2014), this angers both users and developers, and Apple is playing a dangerous game that challenges the loyalty of both.
So, please, Apple: instead of making an example out of high-profile developers, figure out what is and is not acceptable and put it in writing. Developers will thank you, users will thank you, and in the long run, you’ll save yourself a lot of bad press and bitter feelings.
Snow Leopard 2.0 -- Mac OS X and iOS have seen major changes in the past couple of years, with design overhauls, important new capabilities, and unprecedented levels of interoperability.
But all of that has come with some steep costs. Updates have become less reliable (see “Apple Releases 8.0.1, but Don’t Update Yet!,” 24 September 2014). Update sizes have become so bloated that some users can’t install them. Overall, Apple’s legendary stability and reliability have suffered some major blows.
For the time being, Mac OS X and iOS are effectively feature complete. The one thing we’ve repeatedly heard from users is a cry for stability. We’d like to see OS X 10.11 and iOS 9 be “Snow Leopard” updates that — just as 10.6 Snow Leopard did for 10.5 Leopard — remove cruft, clean up problems, and polish existing features so that we have a stable base going forward.
A Smaller iPhone -- Smartphone sizes have grown continually since the release of the original iPhone, with Android phones outpacing Apple until the release of the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus. While lots of people appreciate being able to see more on screen, or having smaller amounts of information appear at more readable sizes, not everyone is enthusiastic.
For many people with smaller hands, decent vision, and fitted clothing (such as numerous active women, not to mention athletes who want to stow an iPhone in a small bike bag or shorts pocket), the iPhone 6 is too large, and the iPhone 6 Plus is laughably massive. Apple’s 2014 answer to that was to keep the smaller iPhone 5s available, but particularly as Apple Pay (available only in the newest iPhone models) becomes more popular, the older iPhone 5s won’t be a reasonable alternative.
So here’s a vote for a svelte iPhone 6s Mini to join the anticipated iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus in Apple’s 2015 iPhone refresh. And Apple, while you’re at it, could you please move the side-mounted Sleep/Wake button back to the top where it doesn’t get pressed accidentally all the time while changing volume?
Wishes for Pages -- After Michael Cohen spent a year doing a deep dive into Apple’s Pages for “Take Control of Pages,” (see “‘Take Control of Pages’ Documents Apple’s Writing Triumvirate,” 11 December 2014), he has three Pages wishes to submit to the powers-that-be at Apple:
The return of text box linking: The disappearance of this feature in the transition from Pages 4 to Pages 5 made the laying out of newsletters, brochures, and pamphlets far more cumbersome than it used to be. Put it back, Apple, please!
The return of bookmarks: Pages 4 provided links from one part of a document to another, which was great for creating indexes, tables of contents, and cross-references. Such links are missing in Pages 5, and the range of interactive documents you can make in Pages is the poorer for it.
Formula editing in tables in Pages for iOS: In Pages 5, tables are Numbers-style spreadsheets, complete with a huge collection of formulas you can stick in table cells. Not so in Pages for iOS, which only lets you enter or edit text in table cells. Given how hard Apple has worked to make Pages for iOS and Pages for Mac compatible, this is one incompatibility that’s hard to understand — especially since Numbers for iOS can easily handle formula entry and editing in table cells. Apple, put the Pages and Numbers developers in the same room for an afternoon so they can work this thing out!
Stop Skimping on Storage -- We were flabbergasted when the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus debuted with a paltry 16 GB of storage by default.
Granted, many users haven’t been bothered by the lowest tier of iPhone storage in the past. But the ballooning sizes of both iOS and Apple’s own apps and the ever-larger sizes of iPhone photos and videos make 16 GB increasingly untenable. As Kirk McElhearn has pointed out (see “Apple’s iOS Apps Consume Significant Device Space,” 14 November 2014), a 16 GB iOS 8 device comes with only 12.73 GB of usable space, and if all of Apple’s suggested apps are installed, it drops to a bit over 8 GB. Plus, photos taken by the iPhone 6 hover between 1 and 3 MB each, with one 72-second video taking up over 150 MB! Even without installing other apps, it won’t take long for the average user to fill up that space.
The lack of free space has significantly hurt iOS 8’s adoption rate. iOS 7 was installed by 74 percent of users in early December 2013, but with a full month more time, iOS 8 is still only at 64 percent penetration. The most likely reason is that an over-the-air upgrade is possible only if the device has more than 5 GB of free space, which is exceedingly uncommon, particularly for those 16 GB devices. (When upgrading via iTunes, space considerations are far less significant.)
To be fair to Apple, how many of us would have opted to spend an extra $100 for a 64 GB device if 32 GB were the default? Fewer, certainly, but Tim Cook has stated in the past that he’s willing to choose to do the right thing over seeking additional profit (see “Tim Cook Chooses the Environment Over Profit,” 28 February 2014). Do the right thing here, Apple, because it’s painful when users unwittingly fail to anticipate just how much storage they will need.
Photos for Mac -- Photo management on Apple devices is in a complete state of disarray. Currently, there are three options for bringing photos from an iOS device to a Mac:
Import using iPhoto (which is on its deathbed) or the ancient Image Capture (which can be confusing)
Use a third-party solution, like Dropbox
View photos in iCloud Photo Library from the iCloud.com beta, assuming you have access
None of these solutions is ideal. iCloud Photo Library is promising, but until it is available for all users on all Apple platforms, it’s merely a tease.
To resolve this ridiculous situation, Apple has promised Photos for Mac early in 2015. We hope the company delivers on that promise, sooner rather than later, with an app that at the very least matches up with iPhoto’s capabilities. Bonus points if the new Photos doesn’t immediately drive orphaned Aperture users to Adobe Lightroom.
iCloud Drive Sharing -- When iCloud Drive was first announced, it seemed that Apple might have created a compelling alternative to Dropbox. That hope was dashed when iCloud Drive finally appeared. As Michael Cohen pointed out, “iCloud Drive Is Not a Dropbox Replacement,” (6 November 2014).
Many of us rely on both Dropbox and iCloud Drive for our work, which is a recipe for confusion. It would be nice if we could store everything in one place (and today, that place would have to be Dropbox). iCloud Drive offers a level of integration that Dropbox can’t match, but iCloud Drive doesn’t allow sharing files and folders with other users. Enabling iCloud Drive users to share documents would go a long way to reducing our reliance on Dropbox. It would be even better if iCloud Drive could retain and restore past versions of files.
This isn’t merely for user convenience. It can’t be in Apple’s best strategic interests to let millions of Mac and iOS users remain reliant on a system-level service like Dropbox for productivity. That hasn’t been a problem for Apple yet, but it could be in the future unless Apple expands iCloud Drive to compete with Dropbox rather than just ceding the space.
A New Apple TV -- The third-generation Apple TV debuted in 2012, and after nearly three years, it’s time for an update. In the meantime, Google and Amazon have made serious inroads into the living room, pushing the Apple TV to third place in sales behind Roku and Google’s Chromecast, and not far ahead of Amazon’s Fire TV.
What could Apple do with an Apple TV hardware revision? Many of Josh Centers’s ideas from last year’s “The Future of Apple TV,” (21 February 2014) are still viable. Even one thing Josh was skeptical about last year, voice control, has been proven possible by Amazon’s Fire TV.
Right now, the Apple TV is compelling only for iTunes loyalists. Google’s Chromecast and Amazon Fire TV Stick are less expensive, the Roku offers more content options, the full-sized Fire TV offers more features and capabilities, and an ever-increasing number of smart TVs (which integrate many of the capabilities of these boxes) make buying any of them less necessary. It’s time for Apple to up its TV game.
A New Mac mini -- After years of waiting, Apple finally updated the Mac mini in 2014, but what showed up wasn’t exactly what we had in mind. Although the new Mac mini retained the same design it has had for years, it’s actually less expandable than its previous iteration, and suffers from worse multi-core performance. While we were astonished by the iMac with Retina 5K display, the Mac mini warranted only a collective “meh.” (See “Apple Launches iMac with Retina Display, Refreshes Mac mini,” 16 October 2014.)
We’d like to see a redesigned Mac mini with the same sensibilities as the MacBook Air. Imagine a fast, SSD-equipped Mac mini that isn’t much bigger than the current Apple TV. Even if it were a bit over the current Mac mini’s $499 price tag, the tiny form factor would guarantee it a spot on many desks. As it stands, the current Mac mini is the worst of the Mac’s past and present: big, clunky, slow, and non-expandable.
Take Advantage of the iPad’s Screen -- iPad sales have been flagging, and if you look at an iPhone 6 or iPhone 6 Plus, it’s not hard to see why. Both phones feature expanded keyboards and features like Reachability to make screen elements easier to access.
So why is the iPad’s interface just a bigger version of the iPhone’s? It’s time for Apple to differentiate the iPad by taking advantage of all that space. Add additional keyboard keys, bring over Reachability, and make it possible to run apps in split-screen mode. With larger iPhone 6 screen sizes, the iPad isn’t quite as appealing as it once was.
Make the Mac App Store Relevant Again -- The promise of the Mac App Store was compelling, offering as it did a single central marketplace that would be accessible to every Mac user. But today, it would be hard to classify it as anything other than a disappointment.
A number of developers have abandoned the Mac App Store entirely. Most notable was Bare Bones Software (see “BBEdit 11 Overhauls Features for Existing Customers,” 26 October 2014), but Panic was unable to make the Coda 2.5 Web authoring program meet Apple’s sandboxing requirements, Golden Hill Software ditched the Mac App Store rather than work around a rejection of their CloudPull Google data backup software, and Realmac Software hasn’t even submitted RapidWeaver 6 to the Mac App Store because of how it prevents customers from getting support directly.
Dealing with the App Store review process and giving Apple a 30 percent cut made the Mac App Store a tough sell for developers, but Apple’s arcane sandboxing requirements were the last straw for many, particularly utilities like Keyboard Maestro that couldn’t possibly be sandboxed. Equally troubling, developers have no way to offer paid upgrades, forcing awkward and user-unfriendly workarounds so developers can afford to fund ongoing development rather than always chasing new customers. None of these issues is necessarily a deal-breaker on its own, but combined, they make the Mac App Store unpalatable.
It’s time to admit that the Mac App Store is caught in a downward spiral. We can’t see Apple abandoning the Mac App Store, given that it’s how OS X and all Apple apps are distributed, so we’d like to see Apple meet the needs of developers and users alike by relaxing or rolling back the sandboxing requirements, allowing paid upgrades, and letting developers communicate directly with their customers. (The iOS App Store would benefit from the latter two as well.)
Other Ideas? -- We have no monopoly on wishes for Apple, so if there are other things you’d like to see Apple focus on in 2015, please share them in the comments.