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VidBITS: Ways that Apple Could Improve iOS

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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