And here we go. Crunch time. WWDC is tomorrow, so it’s time to bring this series to a close by tying up a few loose ends. Before we move on, let’s take a quick look back.
- Part 1: Notifications
- Part 2: Stock Apps
- Part 3: Messaging and Documents
- Part 4: iCloud and iTunes Match
- Part 5: Maps
- Part 6: Siri
We’ve hit all of the major aspects of iOS at this point. Now let’s take a look at a few loose ends and modest suggestions that didn’t fit in any of the categories above.
1. Enhanced Gesture Support- This feature has been available on the iPad for two years now. It’s time to bring it to the iPhone as well, Apple. The lack of gesture support at the OS level means that developers have had to make up their own gesture systems for their apps. While there is innovation thanks to this fact, there is also a ton of fragmentation, as well. For a company that wants to tightly control their platform’s experience, Apple has sat idly by and let gesture control become the wild west.
2. Get out of the way of developers- Apple has created what is still the top app marketplace in town. While it won’t be the biggest for much longer, it still has a edge in quality titles, and a HUGE advantage when it comes to profits available to developers. We all know that Apple likes to keep a tight reign on things, and that’s fine. It’s their playground. However, they occasionally come up with some head-scratchers when it comes to rules and restrictions.
I understand that Apple isn’t interested in adding widgets to iOS. However, what’s the harm in allowing developers to create apps that have multiple windows and use widgets for different tasks? And why pull the rug out from a top shelf developer like App Cubby, who created the very handy Launcher Center Pro to use HTTP hooks that exposed several iOS commands and settings? I’m hopeful that Tim Cook’s recent comments at D11 indicate that Apple is considering loosening up the reigns a bit, to allow developers more freedom to create innovative apps.
3. Native Rich Text Editing added to SDK- This is LONG overdue. Again, the lack of rich text editing is one of those items that holds developers back. If you are working on an app that includes text editing, you are either stuck with the native tools that don’t have many features that desktop users would be used to, or you have to build your own rich text editor from scratch. This is absolutely ridiculous. I know a lot of users have grown to love using markdown apps to create documents with formatting, but why should they have to? If Apple would make rich text editing part of the native SDK, then it would take this unnecessary burden off of developers, and give users a better experience.
4. Enhanced Keyboard Integration and Magic Trackpad support- There is a reason that Bluetooth keyboards are so popular with with iPad. It is a perfect tool for portable productivity, once you get a good workflow down, and find the apps that work best for what you do. Combine the right document editing and/or note taking apps with a good keyboard, and you might be surprised just how much “real work” you can get done.
Unfortunately, while Apple made iOS compatible with keyboards, there are limits to what yor are able to do with one. Considering how many corporations and business users have adopted the iPad for enterprise use, it would be wise to make Bluetooth keyboard support more flexible, adding things such as arrow key navigation, and native shortcuts other than just the Home Screen. Magic Trackpad support may be a bridge too far, but it would also make some PC users feel more at home in productivity apps. Windows 8 may have gotten off to a rough start, but it will eventually catch on. Apple would be wise to add features that can become future differentiators for Microsoft when Windows 8 becomes more competitive.
5. Gaming Improvements to Apple TV and Hardware Controller Support- Apple has one last shot to move the Apple TV into a competitive role in the gaming space, before one of the other low-end set top competitors finally gets it right. Right now is the perfect time, while that competition is still floundering. Google TV was supposed to be revamped at this year’s IO, but it didn’t get a single mention. The WiiU has been a marketing disaster for Nintendo. The OUYA has garnered a lot of ink and interest, but it still hasn’t truly gotten off the ground. But, it has shown that there IS a market for an inexpensive gaming console that has a physical controller. And now, you have the XBOX One and PS4 coming this Holiday season, both of which will have enhanced media features.
If Apple really wants to make the current design of the Apple TV a hit, the time is now. There are plenty of things they can do. They can open up the platform to third party apps and add an App Store. They could just fix AirPlay Mirroring from iOS andd OS X devices, and make it more reliable and less laggy. Whichever way they go, if Apple really wants to make a serious play in gaming, they need to add hooks for external controllers to the iOS SDK. Even if they don’t make one themselves, wireless controllers are a dime a dozen. Giving developers a uniform way to support them will move gaming forward on ALL iOS devices.
6. Time to update the iOS Keyboard- This should go without saying. The iOS keyboard was revolutionary in 2007, and helped to change the mobile landscape by making typing on glass more natural than ever before. But that was a long time ago in the world of technology. Most of the competition has passed Apple up at this point, so this has really become a must-fix item. Considering that we are likely to see some kind of visual refresh of iOS 7 tomorrow, the keyboard would likely have to be involved. Hopefully that involvement will go beyond just a coat of paint.
I think there is a chance that we will hear one or two of the above items mentioned tomorrow. However, I find it unfortunate that users and developers have been begging for these features for a long time now. In fact, all but one of the items above were on a list in a prediction article I wrote leading up to last year’s WWDC. Apple and I obviously don’t see eye to eye. There have been rumors touching on Apple opening up more APIs for developers, and also a few dealing with enhancements to Apple TV, so maybe things will look a little different tomorrow than they did after Apple took the wraps off of iOS 6. Let’s hope so.
Apple in the Red Zone
For those who may not be familiar with this term, it refers to the area between the 20 Yard Line and the Goal Line on a football field. For a football team to be successful, they need to score Touchdowns the majority of the time that they enter the Red Zone. This indicates that they have an efficient offense, and don’t have to just rely on big plays. They can control a game. Settling for Field Goals, or even worse, coming away with no points at all, is a recipe for trouble.
Sticking with this analogy, Apple had an exemplary record of Red Zone efficiency up until the last two years. When they released a hardware or software product, it was almost always a hit. We could trust that their products would work well, and have great design. Sure, MobileMe was an exception, but it was a fairly lonely one. Consumers grew to have a high level of trust that whatever Apple produced was going to be something they wanted to own, and worth the price that they charged. This track record played a huge role in the reputation that they built over the last decade.
Unfortunately, that reputation has taken a beating over the last two years. As I described over a few entries in this series, iCloud, iTunes Match, and Siri all had ok starts. None of them was perfect, but they worked well enough for their initial releases. They were certainly better than MobileMe. However, Apple’s reputation took a hit over these services when iOS 6 brought few fixes and changes to them. If Apple had come out in year two and pushed the ball across the Goal Line, it would have been seen as a big win for Apple by users and the media alike.
However, as we all know, that didn’t happen. In fact, what Apple did made things much worse. They took that time they needed to be using doing so many other things to fix and improve iOS and their cloud services, and instead used it to create Maps. Unlike iCloud, iTunes Match, and Siri, this product didn’t work to a satisfactory level for many users t launch. Maps generated lots of complaints and negative reviews, and became a big black eye for a company that used to be known for nailing it the first time. Remember the first-gen iPad, and how solid and polished it was for something so new and different? Remember the Retina Display of the iPhone 4? iWork and iLife back when they were released? It doesn’t take many misses to distort and obscure the successes of the past.
This inability to finish the things that they start has been my single biggest issue with Apple over the last couple years. Cloud Services. Voice Integration. Big screen gaming. Mapping. All have been implemented, but left in some state of incompletion or disrepair. Apple isn’t a death’s door, by any means, but their image took a big hit over the last year. When the issues make enough waves that the mainstream media picks it up, then it becomes part of the public consciousness.
For a good football team, Red Zone issues are usually a sign of trouble on the horizon. A good team can get by poor to average competition in spite of them, but they can be their undoing against equal or better competition. Apple is in much the same position now. Most of their remaining competition has improved exponentially over the last three to five years. This makes going head-to-head in the mobile marketplace much more difficult than in the past.
Apple can’t just show up and win on its name anymore. It’s time for them to start scoring touchdowns again. They need to start tomorrow by knocking the WWDC keynote out of the park. We all need to see the first steps of Jony Ive’s vision for Apple UI in iOS 7 and the next version of OS X. They need that big splash to help regain their former initiative. Apple also needs to demonstrate their commitment to follow through and finish what they started in iCloud, Siri, iTunes Match, Maps, and gaming on the Apple TV. It will take time and consistent progress for them to prove this commitment, but laying out the issues and demonstrating an understanding of them tomorrow is the right way to start.
The WWDC keynote is always a pivotal event on the Apple calendar, but I feel that this year’s is the biggest in quite some time. Going into last year, we already had a grasp on everything they would reveal in their keynote thanks to rampant rumors. This time around, there has also been rumors, but they aren’t nearly as concrete as last year. There seems to be a lot more secrecy surrounding iOS 7, and I think that is a good thing. If Apple surprises everyone with a huge iOS 7 reveal tomorrow, it will help to re-ignite their old positive buzz machine. That’s what they really need right now to get back into that prime position in the eyes of the mobile buying public.
The day before WWDC is always fun for an Apple fan. It’s full of possibilities, and since they have a limited number of public events and launches per year, the build up is always huge. I know I’m really excited to see what’s coming, and I’m cautiously optimistic that Apple will pull some rabbits out of the old hat tomorrow. I know that they won’t announce half of the ideas I put forward in this series on iOS 7, but I am hoping that some of these core issues will get the attention that they need. Either way, I am definitely looking forward to seeing Tim Cook take the stage tomorrow, and showing us what Apple is capable of after their big management shakeup months ago.
What do you expect to see tomorrow? Do you think iOS 7 will mark a dramatic shift in the direction of iOS? Will it be a ho hum update, like iOS 6? Will there be fixes for Apple’s problem services and features? Will we see new services, such as the rumored iRadio? I would love to hear your thoughts and suggestions. Feel free to let me know in the comments below, or on Twitter @jhrogersii, or Google+.