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Hopes For IOS7

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Apple fans can hardly wait for tomorrow, the day the Worldwide Developer Conference 2013 kicks off in San Francisco. Most of all, everyone wants to be surprised by something – anything. Rumours and leaks from Apple-friendly media have led expectations to center around updates to the operating systems for both Macs and iOS devices. A music-streaming is anticipated – though it may only work in the US and related countries because of music licensing issues. It’s also thought there could be redesigned or refreshed MacBooks and an iPad 5. Then there’s the much talked of iWatch. But no one can say for sure.

Of all of the products that may feature at WWDC, none needs greater attention than iOS, due to move to version 7 and aging even as we speak. Way ahead of its time when it first appeared in 2007, iOS was designed to be easy for computing novices to use. The term easy enough for grandma has been associated with it so often and basic use is indeed well proven to be easy enough. Even chimps have been able to use the iPad, for heaven’s sake. But as users mature in their ability to use the iDevices and as competition from Android spirals, iOS badly needs an overhaul. The tech media in the US harps on about how it needs to get rid of “skeuomorphism’  or the tendency to use real life objects, some of them conventional, as icons for applications. An old clock for the alarm, for example. They believe the user interface needs to be more ‘flat’ and modern. But that, to my mind, is hardly the main issue plaguing iOS6 and previous versions though it needs to be revitalised with a fresh look. My own wishlist for iOS7 reads something like this:

Easier Input
Sorely needed is some way, other than speech recognition, of entering text on to the iPhone or iPad. While users in the US may not feel this need as much, those in other countries do.  Android has a number of downloadable keyboards that use gestures and predictive text to make input fast and relatively error-free. No equivalents seem to exist for iOS and even when they are, there’s no way to make them the default method of input. The app, Fleksy, for example, is a most unusual solution initially meant for the visually challenged and it is amazingly tolerant of typing errors so that you can key in something just approximately and it turns out correct. But, it isn’t full featured and it only works separately, on its own. It would be great to have some new way of typing on glass so that you can just flip the device to landscape and get to work when you’re done browsing and relaxing.

Multitasking For Real

To use a combination of apps on an iOS device, you need to exit one app and get into another. At the most, you can swipe with four fingers to move across one application to another. But this swipe is an awkward and laborious gesture that’s not natural at all. Multiple windows, such as on the PC or on some Android devices, just isn’t possible. Multitasking is quite strong on BlackBerry as well, where you can keep say, a video running, while you swipe into your BlackBerry Hub to glance or reply to a message and then go right back to your video. This sort of capability isn’t present on iOS and would be quite fitting without compromising Apple’s basic principles of design and ease of use. Some new and easy gestures would be nice too.

Getting Along With Others
Apple’s way of ensuring a clean, smooth and beautiful experience has been to wall its products off from others. But it’s practically difficult to have an Apple-only universe, with so many new gadgets born every day. Not being able to communicate with any of these via USB or Bluetooth has been a major frustration. Why can’t my iPad just print something on my Canon printer, for example. Why won’t it play music through a Bluetooth speaker that isn’t meant solely for Apple? Some amount of opening up, though most unlikely, would be most welcome on iOS7.

Easier App Store

Apple’s universe of apps is perhaps its biggest strength. Not only are they incredibly innovate, but they’re a joy to use, in so many cases. When you compare with apps on other ecosystems, including Android, it’s easy to see the difference in the experience and reliability. But the App Store doesn’t behave as well as its apps do. Slow and sluggish and difficult to navigate, it badly needs a shot of smoothness and ease and better discovery and search. Look through any purchased but parked apps that you may have, for example. It is almost impossible to find a specific app again unless you remember the name. That’s ok for those who have a handful of apps, but not so if you have a growing list and often park them on the App Store to save space.

A Spot Of Customisation

While Apple’s iOS is not Android, even Apple fans would probably not object to some control over how the lockscreen, the ico placement and wallpapers etc look. On the other hand, many who aren’t really ‘geeks’ couldn’t care less and would probably balk at too many changes to the overall look of the interface. Customisation is something the tech savvy really enjoy – which is why they go to the extent of jailbreaking their Apple devices, in some cases – but it would also make iOS a totally different beast. Still, a controlled amount of customization might not be a bad idea. It would also be nice to set default apps, such as something other than Safari, as your browser, but that’s probably hoping for too much.

As Apple’s genius designer Jony Ives works on the iOS interface and gives it a refresh or new look, I think it’s equally important to improve usability in the areas where it’s lagged behind – despite being pioneering and near-magical.

mala(at)pobox(dot)com, (at)malabhargava on Twitter