Everything Missing From iOS 9 Part 4 (or What I Want From iOS 10)

This post continues my list of  iOS 10 features I want to see. Want to read the previous posts? Click here for part 1, part 2 and part 3.

Notification Center

Notifications need better organization. I don’t mean having the ability to go into settings and change it as a preference but to change it on the fly as you are browsing the Notification Center. Right now we have Today and Notifications listed in Notification Center. Under Notifications itself you could have yet another row of columns to pick for sorting the notification objects. Being able to sort by time and date vs sorted by app vs combination app and date are very useful choices. That’s real message management like you have with email.

Notification Center is still missing stock sharing panes that were removed in iOS6. I’d love to see those social sharing panes come back. A few apps have similar widgets that appear in the notification center but they do not work the same way.

Home Screen

While Notification Center is a great place to have widgets, the home screen itself can be too. I think it is reasonable to believe that Apple could allow widgets in the place of icons in 1×1, 1×2, 2×1, 2×2, etc layouts while following the same rules that the Apple Watch icons have of only updating about once an hour, to avoid draining your battery. This works out very well for the home screen clock icon which even has a second hand that constantly animates smoothly as you see it on the screen, so it should be allowed for other app icons. I think a large square icon that can update live once per hour would still be better than the now static display of icons.

When the iPad Pro came out, Apple made the gap between home screen icons more ridiculously large than ever. The fact that you can place an original iPhone screen in between the icons (by resolution, not actual phone size) highlights the fact that the original idea no longer scales. I would really like to get icons as close together as possible, mainly because I prefer as few swipes as necessary to find my apps. This would also allow more icons to be visible in folders on these bigger screens, especially if we can get the icons to be as close on iPad Pro as they are on an iPhone SE. The current limitations on visible icons seems very out of date; it is not beautiful looking on the iPad Pro, it is silly. Either allow me to make the icons seem smaller or allow me to reduce the gap between them, or give me a combination of the two.  I’m not asking for hexagonal Apple Watch style icon arrangement, as that would not work for the larger screens that allow many more icons; it would just be a confusing mess. What I’m asking for is:

  • the ability to custom place icons without snapping to grid in the current 3×3 folder layout or the 6×4 home screen icon layouts.
  • the ability to tightly pack icons together into a row or pile of icons, scaling up for bigger sized displays from iPad mini all the way up to iPad Pro, that then expand when clicked.
  • something more evolved than the current grid that would allow us to sort things the way we want and would let me switch between views of sort by date last used, the usual manual layout, sort by date last installed/updated, sort by last notified.
  • folder tagging, more than just the name. Icons already have the little blue dot next to them for indicating the app has been updated, or an orange dot for TestFlight beta apps. How about allowing me to set a little green or purple square or triangle next to a folder to tag it in a fashion that is clear to me.

We need the home screen to be closer to the more intuitive real desktop pile metaphor that we use in our daily lives. I don’t advocate the terrible photo pile of icons that old photo collage used to skeuomorphically emulate. I just want something more manipulatable. Launcher by Cromulent Labs has a great interface for resizing widget icons that could be adapted to the OS itself.

Dragging icons around the page or across pages has also become a messy job that should be more painless. Mistakenly slide wrong and you have icons flowing into other pages. A move icon in another corner after a long press could let you accurately place an icon on another page without having to slide many icons back into place after a mistake.

(Continued in Part 5)

Everything Missing From iOS 9 Part 3 (or What I Want From iOS 10)

This post continues my list of  iOS 10 features I want to see. Looking for my previous posts? Click here for part 1 or part 2.

Keyboards

Recent releases of software and hardware keyboards for iOS have proven to be welcome new changes.  The typing interface  is powerful but still has more to go before it matches that which we expect in other keyboards. Just as alternate physical keyboards are needed for localization on desktops and laptops, there should be customized keyboards for iPad that allow pro functionality such as trackpad and Esc key for a premium. I would say $269 for such a premium Smart Keyboard is a fair price vs $169 for the current Smart Keyboard cover. This would make iPad more like a Mac for those of us ready to make the switch to a true PC replacement. Citrix has even come out with the X1 its own mouse for working with remote desktops. Migrating from Windows can be less jarring if all the trappings are there for users to switch to more seamlessly. While the idea of working on Windows is scary for some, it’s a fact of life for many. The move to Apple was easy for me back in 2008 with the Mac Mini and then the MacBook – the move to iPad Pro should be easier.

For third party software keyboards, access to transcription, the system dictionary, improved stability, and improved startup speed are sorely needed. Third party keyboards are so slow to start up, can crash more often, and do not allow you to immediately switch back to a specific keyboard unless it is the only third party keyboard installed. They also do not allow access to the system spellcheck, meaning every keyboard you use has its own dictionary to build for predictive typing. They are effectively (seems purposely) painful to use despite the noise Apple made about this welcome feature back in iOS 8. Apple either either ignored further development of third party software keyboards in iOS 9 or they originally intended to only provide enough functionality to shut up critics who claimed the feature was missing.

Keyboards like Slash, Reboard and Touchpal offer great features but each seem to have one unique feature that the others do not and which cannot be combined in any way with the others. For instance, ReBoard can let you set the globe icon to require a doubletap to switch keyboards so that you don’t mistakenly get some other keyboard popping on your screen in the middle one typing frenzy, while Slash pops up a menu that let’s you access settings and switching. ReBoard has an emoji key and a function key in the top row, where Slash has only a function key that requires more typing to get to emoji (the next most common mobile use after the actual alphanumerics). ReBoard has access to network services like Dropbox and Google Drive. ReBoard also has a really cool swipe up feature on keys for alternate characters that keeps you from having to look for the most commonly used punctuation and alternate characters. Slash has themes and a dark mode while Reboard has themes and no dark mode. Note that the stock Apple keyboards already have some great features, but wouldn’t they be better with more?

If there was some way to combine features of these and still keep it stable, I would use nothing else but the third party keyboard. At the moment I find myself switching right back to the stock system keyboard the moment I try going back to using one of those special features, reminded of how badly crippled that software is. Although it would increase the complexity, iOS keyboards are begging to be much more modular. The idea behind these is revolutionary and should be expanded. If I could have a row of small modular keys like Drafts 4 does to give me text manipulation and media management, I can build a system keyboard for use everywhere in all apps. I can imagine a keyboard using ReBoard’s swipe up idea that allows me to set the alternate characters you want, since everyone’s alternatives are going to be different. A gif search from Slash. Arrow keys from Drafts and Prompt. Etc.

Requiring each and every developer to reinvent things like spell check is extremely redundant and wasteful. Denying access to important functions like transcription can be a real deterrent to using third party keyboards. Make this a revolutionary change that we can all use of to improve quick interaction with our device when we aren’t using Siri. Allowing physical keyboards some way to interact with these virtual keyboards would go even further.

UPDATE 05-13-2016: Google has release GBoard which has some of the great features of the other third party keyboards listed. The argument then becomes, why does’t Apple now evolve the keyboard to allow these features that everyone is trying to put forth. Google’s opportunistic play at grabbing searches is obvious now that iPhone no longer comes with Google Search by default, but the idea of search from the keyboard as a point.

UPDATE 05-14-2016: The always-brilliant Federico Viticci has posted a fantastic summary on third party keyboards, the problems they still face, the reasons for Apple’s restrictions, and some great ways that Apple can let developers work around the limitations to improve them all.

iMessage

For iMessage, bringing Apple Watch style Digital Touch drawing would be a cute addition. These are touch devices at heart and drawing is one of the best ways we communicate via touch. Stickers are a big deal in all the messaging apps, cute or not. A modular stickers capability could give designers more opportunity in the app market. “Anyone can make stickers” is as valid as saying anybody can paint a painting. Just like with the App Store, you are guaranteed to get some poor quality content. The better quality items will always come shining through, however. A picture could really be worth a few thousand words here.

iMessage has some real issues cross platform especially when it comes to SMS support. There are times where I have deleted a conversation on my phone, yet it still appears on my iPad, and as unread to boot. Even rarer but still annoying is when it happens on the Apple Watch. We know that those green bubble texts are not actually a part of iMessage, but in displaying them Apple now owns the handling and it looks sloppier than what we expect.

(Continued in Part 4)

Everything Missing From iOS 9 Part 2 (or What I Want From iOS 10)

This post continues my list of  iOS 10 features I want to see. Click here for the first part. Other parts will be posted leading up to WWDC 2016.

Location

This could be seen as a continuation of the Maps topic but I want more location features. If Apple is so concerned with their customers, allow more people to define when they are in their car than just those that buy into CarPlay. I own an Automatic OBD2 Bluetooth device and it would be great if the iPhone understood that when I am in very close proximity of the adapter, I am driving in my car.

Triggering specific actions for travel as if you would for an iBeacon would save time: open my Plex Music and start my favorite playlist, automatically open Maps if I have an appointment in my calendar, set my favorite stations when I’m driving my car but set my wife’s favorite stations when she is, allow notification via text/iMessage or third party app when I arrive at a location or if I’m running behind, allow that notification if I arrive at a travel hub such as a train station or airport, if I arrive at a train station and have an appointment scheduled then send me to the URL I’ve defined for a train schedule, etc. Proactive Siri seems like the right tool for this but would it be able to handle location triggers without killing your battery?

I also work in two locations for the same company, alternating between sites on an irregular schedule. Both should be defined as “Work” but for most software that only means one single address. Allow more flexibility since even in the above example, a family can have more than one car. Maybe I also have a vacation home or visit my parents home, places that I would stay at more than a couple of days at a time and could use some automation triggers other than an alarm clock and reminders.

Improving safety between locations is also within the power of handset manufacturers. There has to be a way to strongly suggest that customers driving in cars stop texting. Shocking photos like those posted on cigarette packs in other countries in dialog boxes would be too strong, but making the phone’s use annoying at certain speeds would be a real life saver; obviously the logic behind that would be a hard problem given that it would also annoy commuters. For instance a bus or train car full of people could be within a box defined by beacons as being passengers but a car would be required to beacon so that you have to correctly identify as passenger or driver under penalty of law. Here is a beautiful example of tech used to enumerate objects within a vehicle using Bluetooth.

Siri Eyes Free is a step in the right direction but a physical button still needs to be located on the steering wheel. Studies show that anything requiring interaction with something physical in the car takes seconds away from the average driver, seconds that can be disastrous at high speeds. Muscle memory cannot always be counted on since every vehicle still insists on unique layouts of wipers and turn signals and paddles. A voice activated system is still the best solution not only because being conversational is more subconscious but because it is also something a passenger can participate in as a copilot rather than always have the driver putting lives at risk. Our handheld friends are great devices that we are all obviously addicted to, but we have to smarten up and let ourselves be guided in this case.

Contacts

Another long standing omission is not allowing contact groups to be managed from iOS. The great app Interact came about to help with that missing feature although there have been many apps that have attempted to fix this over the years. Right now you really only have the Favorites group (for allowing calls through from Do Not Disturb) or the VIP group  (for those special people in your email inbox) unless you go into iCloud.com or your Mac to manage contacts. That seems like a crippling speed bump to anyone’s workflow if they never sync their mobile device, are mobile-only, or just don’t have a Mac. That sounds like a corner case but it really is a majority of iPhone users.

Contact duplicates are also a pain. Somehow between all the different mail systems I use (iCloud, Gmail, Yahoo, Exchange, Hotmail) I end up with duplicate contacts that I occasionally review and Link. This is a total waste of time now that my contacts number in the thousands after 20 years in IT. I would love for something like LinkedIn to come along and intelligently manage my contact updates but the fear of them spamming everyone in my address book again still lingers. Improve on the idea of LinkedIn by bilaterally recommending a contact based on sets that others I may know: you have a sales person in your contacts but not the technical engineer that works with him. Just don’t turn it into a giant cold call sheet like LinkedIn has become lately.

With circles of friendship or defined relationships you can start allowing certain groups of people access to your free/busy time (and your calendar details if you so choose), contact sharing, media sharing. Wouldn’t it be great if this linked into Facebook permissions somehow? That would be a great place to start since it’s a mature permissions standard. Otherwise if there is no further development for Find My Friends, it has to be one of the dumbest wastes of time Apple has ever made.

iCloud photos gallery

Apple may not realize this, but I do have friends that have Android devices. I would like to share photos with these non-Apple people, despite their judgement in choice of mobile devices. Currently Flickr and Facebook fill this role for me but they are separate from where I take my photos. Experiments like Facebook’s Moments really show that we are still struggling to figure out how and where we want this to be controlled in a manner simple enough for most to understand. Sharing from iOS 9 into these services is great but it is only a one way flow, and there is no real management going on. Something like this should hook into other social media where we save photos, to aggregate our media: Flickr, Google Photos, Facebook, Twitter, etc to aggregate our images into one view and work with some of the mature controls such as Facebook’s friend permissions for family and acquaintances. This leads us right to more collaborative album sharing where photos taken by people at the same event can be grouped to provide even more dimension. Find My Friends could hook into this to become more useful by managing contacts in a role sense and give some security to where we allow this all to flow. Is that too much for the average user to understand? The confusion surrounding Facebook’s permissions may suggest that is sometimes the case. This can be solved by “interviewing” the user with a sharing wizard and settings some rules managed by some AI: I have kids so do not show photos with kids to anyone outside my immediate family or my closet circle of friends; these are photos at my office, it’s ok to share with coworkers; these are pictures of forms that have health data picked up by OCR so share with nobody.

Additionally, Apple should see that sharing with Android users is another avenue for connecting to Android users to bring them into the Apple fold. Just as Google Photos is available on the iPhone, an iCloud Photos app on other platforms is not a bad idea.

(continued in Part 3)


Everything Missing From iOS 9 Part 1 (or What I Want From iOS 10)

image

This is the first of an 11 part series on what was originally just a bullet list of features I thought iOS 10 could use and then somehow became a 6000 word essay. I thought breaking this up would be more digestible.)

Everyone who pays attention to Apple knows that June is WWDC month. I’ve gotten so used to the excitement surrounding it that every year, months before June I start thinking of all the things I hope that the next version of iOS will bring. This is my wish list of features I hope that Apple will promise at WWDC for the next version of iOS, a bit longer than my previous list 4 years ago. To my surprise almost all of those items are not yet part of the OS. Some of the items below are flaws in the OS which should fixed at some point and some of them would just be nice to have. None of these are major reimaginings of the OS; they are the incremental features we have become used to each year with new iOS releases. It is these types of feature requests that provide fertile ground for the hacking communities to provide jailbreak tweaks that make the device just that much more efficient and productive. While I never jailbreak any of my devices, I can see the point. Some very creative minds are out there constantly improving their iOS device with perfectly valid enhancements in the jailbreak community. Surely the minds at Apple are dreaming up similar big ideas.

Wifi Priority

While our family has a 30 GB data plan for all of our phones, I’m thankful that my cable company provides Wifi around town. Unfortunately, that wifi has plenty of issues – it acts up at random times, has dead spots where you can only get weak signal, and seems to have APs that are broadcasting but not connected to anything. I’m sick of forcing myself off of it when I’m at a location that provides better wifi, so I would like to see a listing of known SSIDs under an Advanced menu that I can reorder as a priority list. If I’m at home, I don’t want to get caught connected to my neighbor’s cable company provided wifi, I want to be on my own wifi. I purposely turned it off at home because I don’t want the rest of my home network directly attached to their network, no matter how security they claim it is, and it don’t want other customers of this cable company using my bandwidth. Right now my choice is to either go into iOS settings and swap networks each and every night I come home, or just leave wifi off when I am away from home. I also don’t want to delete the cable provider wifi profile because it comes in handy at local businesses and other places I stop around town. I want to keep it as a last resort when there are absolutely no other options. Those are not great choices, so please give me a way of controlling wifi network priority through my digital companion’s smarts.

Maps

The mapping software space is a very hot and crowded spot on mobile devices. Apple is quite behind on this and has lots of room to improve compared to Google Maps and Waze. A quick list of missing features:

  • Maps lane guidance accuracy
  • Maps waypoints insertions
  • Select visual theme (night mode all the time)
  • Alternate route choices showing increased or decreased arrival times.Uber/left
  • More transportation choices (biking)
  • Integrate Uber/Lyft

Maps Nearby feature plus Find My Friends – Apple just seems to be flirting with the location game concept. It is begging to be taken all the way into the world of checkins. What the heck, just finally buy Foursquare for cryin out loud!
Allow Find My Friends to have more circles of friendship along with contact groups that iOS still doesn’t allow you to do. More on that later.

(Continued in Part 2