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Day dreaming: Adopting the Dashboard on the iPhone

mac dashboard

News of a new jailbreak app called SmartScreen (via TUAW) has been circulating and people seem to be pretty excited about a widget-based app on the lock screen. I really like playing around with these solutions (Intelliscreen rocked when I used it), but I wonder if these kinds of interfaces wouldn’t be cooler after the lockscreen. The HTC Hero has that cool Sense UI and both Android and WebOS feature an amazingly useful pop-up tray for notifications. Even with the coolness of Push Notifications in iPhone 3.0,  I’d still like to have the option of some Mac OS-like dashboard that isn’t something we swipe to pass. I have no grand design, so I hope you don’t mind a little bit of Tuesday dreaming.

Push comes to shove

Push notifications are a start to better iPhone accessibility and control, but not everything is useful as a pop-up alert, sound, or badge. As many iPhone users know, it’s annoying as hell when you receive multiple alerts from different sources. The first one pops up and cancels all the input on your screen until you close it. But when another one comes in the first one is blocked so that the most recent one is up front. Missing an alert from another app means you have to patrol your home screens until you find an app with a badge icon indicating that “hey, Thomas, you missed something”. It’s not a huge irritation by any means, but it’s definitely not elegant.

Can I haz dashboard now?

I think I’m hoping for something like SBSettings. A customizable little panel with some badges, alerts, and even radio toggles to just come sliding (nay, rappelling!) down the screen in response to touch input. Maybe it’s invoked by the home button, a swipe across the title bar, or even one of those rarely used multitouch gestures. Either way, the idea here is to  improve information and toggle accessibility on the iPhone and work around the fact that we probably won’t see true multi-tasking for a while.

My theory is that it’s mostly the small tasks that take us outside of apps – and that most people would really like multi-tasking to avoid the hassle of having to return to the task or game at hand. Some apps are smart enough to go right back to where you were before and load up so quickly it’s as if you had never quit them – others…not so much.

The other half of this idea is that these minor tasks don’t necessarily need a fullscreen app. The current temperature is really just a number, and so are unread e-mail and SMS counts. SBSettings is close with its sliding panel, but in my experience it still seems a little limited in functionality. SmartScreen and Intelliscreen are approaching the level of functionality I’d like to see, but they’re locked down on the lock screen.

This example might be a bit of a stretch, but I see lock screen apps as something similar to Windows SideShow, which was mainly an external display for laptop PC’s for when the computer was folded shut. SideShow had a great cool factor to it, but I honestly can’t see myself using it all that often. I’d much rather just turn the computer on and use a bigger screen. Widget systems like the one from Yahoo! and the Mac OSX Dashboard seem more useful to me – both on a full-fledged computer and a smartphone. These mini apps or counters are hidden from sight until called upon, but they’re accessible at the tap of a button or a swipe of the finger.

iphone menu bar

The real power of the Dashboard would be the ability to leverage push notifications. It would only show information for apps that have already released alerts, and it could act a lot like the solutions that WebOS and Android already enjoy. We’re not too far off either. The iPhone UI already supports a small, touchable bar above the status bar that displays during certain circumstances.  When you make a voice memo or phone call and leave the respective apps, a flashing bar appears at the top of the iPhone screen. I’d really like for that space to be used better and more often.

Conclusion

So what point am I trying to make here? I’m looking forward to seeing more videos of SmartScreen in action, but I’d really love to see more development that mimics the Dashboard. I only know of one such project by Steven Troughton Smith (creator of the JB app, Stacks), and I’m not sure it’s really gotten anywhere. However, I do think this is an elegant enough solution that Apple themselves could consider running it.  The iPhone is quickly turning into a bona fide pocket computer, and I’d just like to see more UI developments that treat it like one.

If you know of any cool jailbreak-y developments going in this direction, please give us a shout in the comments!

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  • Nice article Thomas, you nailed it! I would love to see some sort of Dashboard Widget working in the background (an answer to the Palm Pre's multi-tasking). It just makes sense since many of the iPhone's elements have been making their way to OSX & vice versa. Both operating systems have becoming connected in a way like: Spotlight Search & QuickTime Video Editing….. Thomas you are right in your statement that Apple needs to start treating this device as they do with any Mac they put out. I would also like to see some kind of SMS & E-mail Alert customization. I was in an elevator the other day and my SMS tone went off. Three other people checked their iPhones to see if they had received an SMS. Everyone has the same tones…. We need more customization!!!!

  • Thanks, Frank!

    Totally hear you on the SMS tones. Coming from dumbphones and a WinMo device that let me set both ring and msg tones, the iPhone was a surprising step down in that regard. How can you "think differently" when everyone in a room full if iPhone users thinks they've received a message? Boo!