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An iOS 6 Wish List, by the Numbers

My comrades here at iSource already weighed in on what they expect to happen, but I am a slacker, so my take on WWDC and iOS 6 is a little late. So,what am I hoping to hear about at the WWDC keynote on Monday, and what are the odds they will actually get mentioned? Based on all of the items that I have here, I’d probably have more luck waiting for Santa in June, but let’s take a look at yet another list of hopes and dreams for iOS 6.

1. Siri Improvements and Additions

Ok, I know Siri is everybody’s favorite whipping girl right now, but even after six months, I’m still a fan. Because I drive a lot, I use Siri ALL THE TIME. Many times a day, every day for appointments, reminders, phone calls, texts, and emails. I also love being able to get fast answers when I need a unit conversions and mathematical calculations for work. Unlike others who complain about outages, I can count the number of times Siri has failed for me on my appendages, probably with some to spare. That probably has something to do with the fact that I live in an area with abnormally solid AT&T signal, and have good cable Internet and WiFi at home, but that’s just my guess. However, I know that this isn’t the case for everyone, and that also isn’t the only complaint with Siri.

To make Siri better, Apple needs to make progress on three fronts. First, they need to make it more reliable. They are already beefing up their end, with improvements and additions to their server facility. However, what good is that for people who live in areas with terrible signal or data congestion? Not much. If Apple wants Siri to become a true killer feature that users feel they can trust to work when they need it, then they have to find a way to make some features available offline, even if in a limited form. This is especially true if they expand it to control more aspects of iOS devices.

Second, Apple needs to add some more commonly requested features, such as the ability to open apps, toggle services on and off, change system settings, and compose Tweets. Lastly, Apple needs to open up the Siri to 3rd party developers, allowing them to innovate and use the service in new and interesting ways. If they can work out service issues, the creativity of developers is what will take Siri to the next level and make it a true must-have feature.

Odds: Offline Siri Access beyond phone calls- Apple is all in on the cloud right now. Only 20%. Broadened iOS integration- Beta time is drawing to a close. This will happen. 99%. 3rd Party Access and APIs- Definitely maybe. 70%  

2. Unified Document Store

I understand the need for and reasoning behind sandboxing apps. Letting every dev have unfettered access to the entire OS is a recipe for problems that I used to experience first-hand every day with Windows Mobile. Integration is cool until you can’t make a phone call because of crashes, or because a renegade process has killed your battery. Then there is the ever-present need for tight data security. Even Apple has struggled a bit with this lately.Well, sandboxing is an elegant way to insure stability and security system-wide. However, sandboxing apps and their features shouldn’t prevent file access between apps.

Apple needs to implement a unified file store that is accessible by all apps. If they want to give iCloud and iTunes a leg up as the primary “off device” access methods to this system, that’s fine. iOS is their playground. However, this is an area that HAS to be addressed, and fast, to make life easier to power users who need to pass files between several apps for their workflow. Having to email a file to yourself to go from one app to another is absolutely ridiculous at this stage of the game.

With many corporations rapidly adopting the iPad for all kinds of tasks, it’s time for Apple to introduce an organized way to use and share content between apps. Also, not all of these corporations are going to use iCloud for file sharing, especially those using Windows, so Apple is also going to have to play nice with Dropbox, Box, SugarSync, and yes, even Google Drive. Android may currently have a leg up on iOS when it comes to on-board file management, but it doesn’t seem to matter. With Google’s rumored move toward the lower end of the tablet market, and the abysmal failure of their entire ecosystem on the high-end tablet front, it looks like they won’t be a true challenge for Apple in the tablet space.

However, Windows 8 is going to be attractive to a lot of corporate users thanks to the blend of familiarity and additional power and flexibility that it will provide. Apple needs to make the iPad a more refined productivity device to keep their early toehold in the enterprise tablet market, and beating Microsoft to the punch with these file management improvements is the way to go.

Odds: Unified File Store- Need to do and will do don’t always line up when talking about Apple. 40%. Making the current “Open In” easier to implement and use- 75%. 3rd Party Access to a Unified File Store- Apple play well with others? Not so much. 20%

3. iCloud Expansion

Along with file system improvements, Apple definitely needs to expand the scope of iCloud. It doesn’t necessarily need to be a full-on Dropbox clone, but to gain wider adoption by both users and developers, it has to give them more access to files beyond the iWork apps. Access to more than Photo Stream, Bookmarks, and PIM data for Windows users would be very helpful, as well.

Also, while the seamless background device backup that includes all app data was an absolute home run feature in my book, Apple needs to loosen the reigns a bit, and give users more control over the data. It’s nice that we can choose which apps get backed up, and see how large individual app backups are, but Apple needs to give users the option to keep data for deleted apps on the device, as well as allowing them to restore the data for individual apps, if they need to.

Odds: iCloud Expansion and Improvements- Something will happen. We just don’t know how much. 95%. An iCloud iDisk replacement- Apple continues it’s war on the file system. 30%.

4. Live Tile/Widget Hybrid

I guess I am on the conservative side when it comes to the topic of widgets. I agree that Apple’s interface is showing its age, which makes sense considering that when RIM releases it’s completely remade Blackberry 10 later this year, iOS will be the oldest mobile operating system still under active development (Sorry Symbian users, I said ACTIVE development).

However, when you consider that this interface is what originally drew many users to the platform, and that it is still very appealing and non-threatening to many less technical users, I am realistic. Power users can hold out hope, but don’t hold your breath. Apple isn’t going to throw out its most identifiable iOS brand trait. Want proof? Look no further than the direction that OS X and Apple TV are rapidly heading. It just isn’t going to happen.

What I would like to see Apple do first is to give developers the ability to show live data updates and animations on top of the current icon-based Springboard structure. We already have the Application Badge that can show a number updated by the app. Just take that to the logical next step, with full animation and updates allowed over the entire icon surface.

If Apple wants to really get crazy, they could go even further and allow devs to create separate, larger, live tile-like icons, which users would have the option to switch to if they wanted to get more dynamic information from that app. Apple would just have to determine how much freedom to give developers in terms of size and shapes allowed on the screen. For instance, they could be the size of two icons horizontally, four horizontally, or a square with two above and two in the row below. I’m sure Apple would lock things down to keep the interface organized, but having double-sized dynamic icons for the apps you would like updates from, and limited extended information from others at the normal icon size would definitely satisfy me.

At the iPhone’s pixel density, this method would be adequate to get readable information at a glance, while also not going too far off of Apple’s familiar iOS look and feel. On the iPad’s huge Retina Display, it could be absolutely beautiful. The best part about this implementation is that users who don’t want to change won’t have to at all, and those who do will have the freedom to do so without resorting to jailbreaking. Also, devs would also have the same freedom to update their apps and icons, or choose not to do anything at all.

Combine this solution with allowing users more access to interact with notification data in the Notification Center and the on Lock Screen, and more robust folder organization, and I think Apple will strike enough of a balance between modernizing change, brand preservation, and UI consistency.

Odds: Allowing minor animations and live updates to icons- This is easy and non-intrusive enough for Apple to seriously consider. Whether it is this year or not is up for debate. 50%. Expanded Notification Center and Lock Screen control- Something will happen. 75%. Everything else I mentioned here- 5% I can dream, can’t I. 

5. Enhanced Gesture Support

This is a no-brainer. The app navigation and multasking gestures available on the iPad significantly improve the user experience over that of the iPhone and iPod Touch. However, four finger gestures don’t work very well on a smaller screen, so Apple will have to tweak things a bit, but this needs to happen. Home Buttons everywhere will be thankful for the rest.

Odds: We will at least get a swipe up gesture for the fast app switcher. 90% The rest? We’ll see. 

6. Give developers more leeway to include robust features

I don’t mind a lot of the restrictions that Apple puts in place for the App Store. Personally, I don’t want a bunch of porn and malware apps crapping up the store. If you want that stuff, there are other mobile platforms that have it and the web is full of it.

No matter is Apple is justified or not, the media loves to sensationalize every move they make. The most recent example- apps getting rejected by Apple for Dropbox support because of their implementation of Dropbox account signup. No matter what the media and mobile users think, Apple is a business, and has every right to protect the revenue stream provided by the ecosystem they created. They get to make the rules. Devs have the option to play ball or take a hike and ply their wares elsewhere. The vast majority have opted to play ball, because Apple’s App Store is where the money is right now.

However, there is again, a balance that needs to be struck here. I can understand that Apple wants consistency in their ecosystem, but that doesn’t mean that developers should be prevented from adding new features that push the platform forward. A great example is the app, Panes, from Inglorious Apps, which I reviewed earlier this week. The webOS version of this app, called Glimpse, which I have had the pleasure to use when I briefly owned a Touchpad, allowed you to have your browser open in a large window, while also displaying up to four additional widgets for RSS, Google Reader, Twitter, and Facebook in other panes.

Unfortunately, despite the best efforts of the developer, Apple decided not to allow this feature when Panes came to the App Store. Instead, while all of the same services are included in the iOS app, only one can be shown on the screen at a time. In essence, it just becomes an app switcher for a collection of widgets. It’s alright, but it could be *amazing*. (And if you enter the unlock code provided by the developer, Panes becomes amazing in spite of Apple.) They need to do a better job of encouraging and allowing *amazing* while they are busy tending their walled garden. 

Odds: Considering that Apple is even putting the squeeze on the Mac App Store with sandboxing, 35% for allowing widgets in apps. 25% for the 3rd party widgets in Notification Center. 0% for the Springboard. Sigh.

7. Native Rich Text Editing added to SDK 

To this point, Apple has taken the lazy way out, only including the limited editing tools available in Webkit to devs natively in the SDK. If I understand correctly, if a developer wants their app to have richer editing and creation tools available in their apps, they have to code the entire interface themselves. Not every developer, especially the smaller ones, has the time or resources to create these basic tools from scratch, so it would be nice if Apple would help everyone out a little, and include broader support for rich text editing natively in iOS. 

Odds: I think Apple is slowly heading this way. 60%  

8. Enhanced Keyboard Integration and Magic Trackpad support

As the iPad continues to gain more and more enterprise support, more and more people are going to be interested in tools to aid them with input. To help with this, Apple first needs to go all-in, and implement keyboard support throughout the OS. They need to include all of the keyboard shortcuts that users expect, as well as the ability to navigate between app screens, launch apps, and multitask.

Second, whether Apple likes it or not, users are pushing the iPad further and further toward being a full computer replacement. I’m not necessarily advocating full fledged mouse support, and I’m pretty sure Apple would never include it. However, there is absolutely no reason that users shouldn’t be able to use a Magic Trackpad for gesture support. This would be easy enough to implement since it would allow users to keep the same gestures they are used to. It just makes sense, especially while using the iPad’s Screen Mirroring features with the Apple TV or the Digital AV Adapter. 

Odds: Better Keyboard Support- Maybe. 50%. Magic Trackpad- Not so much. 10%.   

9. Gaming Improvements in AirPlay Mirroring and Hardware Controller Support 

Apple’s inclusion of AirPlay Mirroring was one of my favorite features in iOS 5, as it adds so much potential in terms of presentations, education, and gaming. But note that I said potential. This feature does work well for running presentations of all kinds, especially since the Apple TV and a good HDTV are a whole lot cheaper and more flexible than a high-end projector and screen. However, the gaming end of things still needs work.

To be fair, Apple didn’t exactly promote AirPlay Mirroring as a feature to turn your iPad into a HD gaming console. However, it was kind of a no-brainer that users and developers would take it in this direction. I wrote an article not so long ago with some tips I have gleaned and tested to make AirPlay Mirroring work more consistently, and for the most part, I’ve had a lot of success with it lately.

I played the latest update of Sonic and Sega All-Stars Racing after its most recent update, which includes full-screen mirroring support, and the framerate and experience were so good that I didn’t even notice how good until after I finished playing. I forgot that I was using AirPlay. Then I remembered the frustrations of the past, and was even more impressed.

So it is possible to get AirPlay Mirroring working well for you, but the kind of experience that’s so good that you almost don’t notice has to become the norm for users to go out and buy Apple TVs specifically for gaming. Apple would do well to add some optimizations into iOS 6 to allow the OS to dynamically downgrade the graphical experience or throttle the framerate to make the gaming experience flow more smoothly when bandwidth is limited. These measures would annoy a bit, but a far preferable to the stutter and freezes that completely kill the experience for many right now. Try playing a racing game with a stutter every 30-60 seconds. Lot’s of quality time with the wall will ensue.

Apple also needs to include testing tools in all mirroring-capable iOS devices, most especially the Apple TV, so that users can get an idea of the experience they can expect with their setup, and where the weaknesses in their network might lie. Since Apple can’t control the entire experience here, they need to at least help users do it for themselves. The AirPlay Mirroring setup is still too much of a guessing game and troubleshooting lag is like chasing a ghost right now.

Also on the gaming front, there have been a few hardware gaming controller solutions that have been released for iOS devices, with the now-famous iCade being chief among them. However, Apple hasn’t exactly helped this effort along. Sure, they do allow devs access to the dock connector and to other devices through Bluetooth. Unfortunately, though, they don’t allow FULL access. All of the current controller solutions available are basically using workarounds, such as acting like keyboards, to interface with apps. Also, apps also have to be specifically coded to support these controllers. That’s just not good enough.

Apple currently has the lead in mobile gaming, and they need to make sure they do everything they can to keep it. Making it hard on developers isn’t the way to do that. I understand that they want to push touch as the solution for everything, so I don’t expect them to bake universal gaming controller support into iOS. However, they can at least give devs the level of access they need to make it work right, and eventually a standard that everyone can agree on will come together. 

Odds: AirPlay Mirroring improvement- This may be on the back-burner until the rumored Apple HDTV is closer to release. 65%. Controller Support- I think the iCade had opened enough eyes for this to happen. Apple even sells the Atari version in Apple Stores now. 85%. 

10. Last, and definitely least in my book, Maps

I don’t think any topic of mobile conversation annoys me more than hearing or reading pundits and users fawn over built-in mapping solutions. I shake my head anytime I hear an Android fanboy singing the praises of Google Maps and Navigator. Sure, it’s nice to have something free that will handle basic directions and traffic, but in my opinion, you get exactly what you pay for, even with the almighty Google. I’ve used Google Navigator, and frankly, it’s nothing but a toy compared to any of the fully featured turn-by-turn GPS navigation apps I have tested on iOS devices.

Do I expect anything better than this from Apple? Not really. Their new maps will look cool. There’s no doubt about that. That’s Apple’s specialty. And I’m sure the revamped iOS Maps app will do an even better job of helping you find nearby stores, restaurants, gas stations and the like, or to do basic address lookups. It will work well with Siri, which is nice. However, if you have to do any traveling as part of your job, you would be wise to not leave that in the hands of either Google or Apple.

For example, I had to go to a job site in an unfamiliar area of a small town I rarely drive through. I used Navigon MobileNavigator, my trusty standby for several years, to get my directions. However, I made the mistake of using the Google Local Search that is built into many iOS GPS apps to pull up the address of the business. It took me to a remote residential area 10 miles from where I was going. Nice. And this wasn’t the first time Google has let me down while trying to get to a job site. Their Local Search can be a real mixed bag. So, I looked up the correct address online, which for some reason Google couldn’t seem to find (I had to get it off of YP Mobile), and then plugged it into Navigon. I was at the front door in 10 minutes, but 10 minutes late for my meeting. Grrrrrr.

So, if you are looking for pretty 3D pictures, street views, restaurant reviews, and neat visual hooks, and don’t want to pay, Google and Apple’s mapping solutions will make you very happy. However, if you need to get somewhere on time, especially if it has to do with work, do yourself a favor and get a real GPS app. They range from free with limitations (Waze, Skobbler, Mapquest), to fremium (Motion-X GPS Drive and Garmin StreetPilot), to fully featured GPS apps with complete offline mapping and traffic included (Navigon, ALK CoPilot, Magellan RoadMate, TomTom). Navigon has even had 3-D views based on NASA elevation data included in MobileNavigator for around three years now. Nice to see Apple and Google catching up. (shaking head)

Odds: The one feature I couldn’t possibly care less about- 100% Book it. Thanks for spending your time and money wisely Apple! 

If you put any stock into the odds above, and think that I have any special insight into Apple, then you would be wrong. I have absolutely no idea what Apple will do. These are just my guesses based on features I would like to see, and how much hope I hold out that we will get them based on how Apple usually does things. However, if there is one thing we know about Apple, it’s not to get too comfortable. Every so often they really surprise us with something new totally out of left field, so you never can tell. That’s why their events are fun to predict.

Have a different opinion? Think I’m an idiot? Got some odds of your own? Let us know in the comments.

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  • JR

    It wouldn’t surprise me at all to see free navigation as part of iOS, especially with the new map app. Seems like part of that “thermo-nuclear war” Jobs talked about, sine Adroid has has free navigation for a while now.

    Of course, it wouldn’t be a surprise if they didnt, either 🙂

  • FlyerSG

    SMS delivery receipts, please. Every other mobile phone on the planet has it, but not Iphone. Embarassing if they don’t put it into IOS 6 finally.