As we move one week closer to WWDC, it’s time to take another look at areas that we all hope to see Apple address in iOS 7. In last week’s installment, I went through some ideas for potential improvements to iOS’ Notifications system. This week, we’re going to discuss a topic that has really heated […]
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The iOS 7 Crystal Ball Report- Part 2

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As we move one week closer to WWDC, it’s time to take another look at areas that we all hope to see Apple address in iOS 7. In last week’s installment, I went through some ideas for potential improvements to iOS’ Notifications system. This week, we’re going to discuss a topic that has really heated up over the last few days- potential upgrades to iOS stock applications.

 

Taking Stock

I came up with a loose order for this series last week, but it just so happens that this is the latest hot rumor, so it’s a very fitting right now. The rumor that made the rounds was actually a combination and clarification of some previous information. In a story that Bloomberg ran last Wednesday, Adam Satariano built a narrative around tidbits we’ve heard before, with a few new and interesting wrinkles.

We’ve heard the rumors of people being moved from the OS X team over to iOS (even thought they are now technically under the same umbrella At Apple) before. The rumor of possible delays in the release of iOS 7 aren’t anything new, either. And, it’s pretty natural to combine these two, as they seem to go hand in hand.

However, despite these persistent rumors of delays, saying that a product that hasn’t even been announced is delayed is disingenuous. Apple has shipped iOS as late as the Fall with iOS 5 and the iPhone 4S, and we won’t know the release date for the next iPhone for a while yet. Even if Apple slips just a bit on their internal deadlines, iOS 7 will be seen at WWDC, and will ship sometime this year. It can’t be delayed until there’s a timetable for release that has to be altered (ie- Blackberry 10). Even after the Bloomberg article’s overhyped title, they still admit in the article that iOS 7 will be delivered on time.

While the company still expects to release iOS 7 on time as soon as September, internal deadlines for submitting features for testing are being set later than past releases, people said.

 

Putting It Together

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The other recurring refrain churning in the iOS rumor mill is that Jony Ive will be taking a steamroller to skeuomorphism. The leather, wooden bookshelves, and notebook paper backgrounds that have been a staple of iOS are supposedly on their way out. Considering how hard and how often this one has come at us, and Ive’s past comments about his design sensibilities, a flat makeover of iOS feels like a near certainty at this point. However, this is where the Bloomberg story goes a little deeper. Ive’s changes in iOS 7 may be more than just cosmetic.

According to Mr Satariano, an inside source at Apple has indicated that there is a good reason that personnel that has been shuffled and internal deadlines extended. It seems that the work being done to the stock Calendar and Mail apps goes beyond a coat of paint and some flattened icons.

Ive, 46, has begun revamping iPhone and iPad applications, shunning realistic images, such as wood bookshelves for the Newsstand feature, and he’s exploring more dramatic changes to the e-mail and calendar tools, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the plans are private.

 

It’s About Time

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We’re coming up on six year if iOS. Unfortunately, there are places in the OS that certainly look it. As such, I’ve been excited to see what fresh new look Mr Ive and his team would come up with. However, with a full cosmetic revamp of the entire OS already rumored to be on their plate, I wasn’t expecting too many changes beyond the surface. But this is much more exciting news.

The age and wear of iOS’ stock apps has become a big issue for Apple over the last year. I’m sure there are plenty of people that still use the stock apps, but most advanced users have long since moved on to more powerful options that are available in the App Store. I still use iMessage for most of my messaging, Reminders for shopping lists and personal tasks, Mail for my work Exchange email, and occasionally use Notes, Maps, and Safari, thanks to their integration with Siri. But that’s about it. I use Pocket Informant for calendar and work tasks, Evernote for the majority of my notetaking, Chrome for most of my browsing, Waze and Navigon MobileNavigator for mapping and GPS, the Weather Channel for weather updates, Gmail for personal email, and iCatcher for podcasts.

The growing negative sentiment over Apple’s stock iOS app lineup is a problem for them on two primary fronts. First, because iOS does not allow users to select third party apps as the default option for a specific task (ie- Chrome as the default web browser), the weakness of Apple’s own offerings gets magnified. The fact that the OS handcuffs users to apps that feel inferior and are rarely updated is a big problem. I don’t think it would be as much of an issue if users could remove the stock apps, or simply stick them in a folder and ignore them completely. However, despite the fact that they may use alternatives that better suit their needs, iOS is going to serve up the stock apps in certain situations, giving users a constant reminder of their existence.

 

 

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The second issue for Apple when it comes to their stock iOS apps is their main competitor, Google. While Apple’s Safari browser (which has probably seen more updates and functions better than most of the other stock apps), Mail, and Maps have suffered from either neglect or poor functionality, and the outdated YouTube app faded from existence completely, Google has stepped up its game on iOS in a big way over the last year. Their Maps, YouTube, Gmail, and Chrome, apps currently rank 12, 15, 26, and 61 in the App Store’s Free Apps rankings.

In last year’s iOS 6 release, Apple put the finishing touches on its concerted effort to remove everything Google except web search from the OS. This was a potentially damaging development for Google, since they make a lot of of their mobile revenue off of iOS users. Think of all of the mapping information that could be lost with them no longer being the default mapping provider for iOS. Think of all the search requests that Siri could field. Any of them that don’t go to a web search are being filled by sources other than Google.

Google Maps iOS iconIn response, Google proved just how important iOS users and their high usage statistics are to their mobile revenues. The company completely revamped its lineup of apps for iOS, passing up Apple’s stock offerings in both functionality and interface. Before this overhaul, the Gmail app for iOS was a busted piece of garbage, and Maps, Chrome, and YouTube didn’t even exist. Now, these apps have become the de facto defaults for email, mapping, web browsing, and web video for a large number of iOS users. Apple’s move backfired, and it was largely due to their own hubris.

 

 

The Importance of Stock

If the rumors of Jony Ive pushing a revamp of some of the most used stock apps prove to be true, then I think that is very good news. Like the management shakeup last year, it would indicate that Tim Cook and Co have taken notice of the problems and what they could lead to down the road. In response, they have reorganized the company and rearranged priorities to get things back on track. Who knows how that will work out at this point, but I like what I am hearing. Just ask Nokia and Palm what happens when you don’t react quickly enough.

Apple engineers have spent most of their time from iOS versions 3 to 5 working on new features and services, while occasionally adding polish to some existing ones. This is understandable, considering how barebones iOS was in its initial form. However, the stock apps that seemed revolutionary, at least from an interface and interaction standpoint, six years ago needed to be brought up to speed. Last year was the time to really get working on this, but as we all know iOS 6 was short on new features and updates because Apple spent its time and effort building a beautiful map interface with a cobbled together back end. The company has taken a year’s worth of flack for this, and more recently, a significant stock hit that isn’t completely unrelated. All of the negativity of the last year has fed that monster. The bottom line is that Apple missed an opportunity to get ahead of these issues before going all in on Maps, and they’ve paid a price for it.

All that said, if the core of iOS is being made over, it is very good news for all users of the platform. If I’ve learned anything over the last six years, it’s that Apple isn’t going to budge from its walled garden approach. Unless users jailbreak, they are going to have to interact with the stock apps at some point, so it is vital that Apple make this a workable experience for advanced users. Even if people like myself aren’t going to switch back to these revamped apps, they need to work better than the previous versions so that they are no longer considered to be such an annoyance. For those users who are heavily tied into Google services, being forced to use inferior apps that don’t provide the same functionality could push them toward switching to Android. If Apple is going to have a walled garden, they need to do a better job of tending it.

 

Mainstream Focus

The real importance of this rumored stock app revamp is in its impact on the majority of iOS users. Despite the popularity of Google’s third party apps, there are a large number of users who will never go beyond the stock iOS experience. Remember that iOS’ target audience is mainstream consumers, and that they often don’t often stray too far from the familiar. My father, mother, both sisters, and mother-in-law are all examples of this. I’ve shown all of them various apps and alternatives, but at the end of the day, they all use Calendar, Mail, Maps, and Safari. They are comfortable with these apps, and don’t see any need to replace them with something else.

Even though the users I’m describing don’t tend to stray away from the stock experience, they do have the same two year cell phone contracts as everyone else. The danger for Apple is that Android, Windows Mobile, and even Blackberry have revamped their interfaces and all of them have a more modern look at the moment. When a novice iOS user sees a better stock experience on another OS, what’s going to keep them from moving on? If they haven’t bought tons of apps, music, and movies, what’s going to keep them on iOS? Nothing.

So, for me and probably most of you who are reading this, an update to the stock apps in iOS many not seem like a big deal because it won’t affect how we use our devices that much. However, it’s vital for the platform as a whole. iOS is the oldest modern mobile OS, and it shows in several places. This will eventually become a problem for Apple with their most important market if they don’t deal with it. Thankfully, indications are that they are dealing with the issue, and not just with a coat of paint. Making a Calendar client that can stand toe-to-toe with Fantastical and Pocket Informant and a Mail app that can match Gmail and Mailbox in interface and ease of use will go a long way towards keeping mainstream iOS users happy, which in turn will help to reverse Apple’s negative trends of the last year.

What do you think about these potential stock app updates in iOS? What would you like to see changed or added? I would love to hear your suggestions. Feel free to let m know in the comments below, or on Twitter @jhrogersii, or on Google+.

 

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