Apple's smartphone platform is set for some major revisions, which Apple indicated will come to light during the opening keynote address at its WorldWide Developer's Conference next week. iOS has grown vastly in its capabilities over the years, but it is still missing some key features that the competing platforms have capitalized on.
Widgets (or Something Like Them)
One of Android's biggest strengths is its support for widgets. Android 3.0/3.1 Honeycomb, in particular, supports powerful widgets that can be used from the home screen. The widgets are active, mini apps that provide all sorts of information to the user without necessitating that an application be started/loaded. For example, the weather. In iOS, Apple's weather application is static and just sits there until you open it. Only when opened does it update to pull down the current weather conditions. There are numerous widgets for the Android platform that update constantly, so the current conditions can always be gleaned with but a glance at the home screen.
Rather than shoot for the moon, we'd like to see Apple integrate widget support--or its own variation thereof--for a few key apps, such as email, messages, phone functions, and perhaps social networking services such as Facebook and Twitter. This would be tricky for Apple to accomplish given the current architecture of iOS, but it's not impossible.
Probability of happening? I'd give it 50-50.
My biggest complaint about the iOS email program is tied closely to iOS's lack of local file support (see below). It really needs to change. Nearly every other platform allows users to go into the email program, compose an email, and then attach a file to that email before sending it off--just as you would on a computer.
With iOS, this process is reversed. If you want to attach a photo or document to an email, you have to start in the photo gallery or Pages application and attach the document before composing the email. The email application should be able to reach into files stored locally on the iPhone or iPad and attach them to emails after the email has been written.
I'd also like to see improvements to the way threaded email works, and support for more of Gmail's features, such as stars, labels, and folders. Right now, Google's browser-based version of Gmail spanks iOS's email application. Truly, Apple can do better.
Probability of happening? 30%.
Ability to Work Without iTunes Syncing
One of the crutches marring iOS devices is the fact that they must be synced to a computer and an Apple account before they can be activated and used. This is burdensome at best, and unacceptable at worst.
Beyond the ability to sync media, applications, and other files via Wi-Fi, users should be able to create an Apple account and/or sign into an existing account directly on the device without plugging into a computer (Android, for example, allows users to do this). Apple has hinted that Wi-Fi syncing is a possibility, but it hasn't said anything about allowing iOS devices to be used out of the box without requiring an iTunes sync.
Probability of it happening? 20%.
Almost every other platform handles notifications better than iOS at this point. In iOS, new text messages, calendar alerts, and other notifications interrupt any task the user is working on with a pop-up bubble that must be acknowledged before the user can get back to work. It's an extreme hassle. Apple can do better, especially now that iOS supports multitasking.
What's more, the unlock screen provides almost no information about missed calls, emails, text messages, and so on. Apple needs to take a cue from the likes of Android, BlackBerry 7.0, Windows Phone 7, and even webOS, and improve the behavior of notifications. The lock screen can be used to provide a wide variety of data that could help speed up the way people use their devices.
This item was on our list for iOS 4.0. Probability of it happening this year? 75%.
Better File Support
As someone who uses the iPhone and iPad for work, one of the most frustrating aspects is the inability to manage local files on the device. Even if Apple creates one master folder on the device that holds all the documents and/or files in a single spot, that would be better than nothing. Granted, iOS does allow users to sync select files from the device back and forth to a computer, but the process is clunky and requires iTunes on a computer to function.
Adding the ability to manage files directly on the device would be a boon to businesses that need to control enterprise documents. It could also help other programs, such as email and messaging.
Probability of happening? 30%.
Has Apple been working hard on any of these features? Will they be included in iOS 5.0? We'll find out on Monday, June 6, when Apple kicks off the WWDC keynote address.
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