Opinion

Guest Post: The Realistic iOS 8 Feature Wish List

ios8

In June every year, Apple razzle-dazzles us at the Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) with the next generation of iOS and OS X. Months prior to June, blogs and tech websites talk about what they’d like to see in the next version of iOS. And the reaction is almost the same every year. You end up getting:

  1. A few things that you were asking for
  2. A few things you didn’t ask for, but don’t mind having
  3. That one thing that won’t work in your country (mostly if you don’t live in the US)

Yup, that pretty much sums up how most of the iOS launches have been for us here in India. We got highly requested features such as multitasking in iOS 4, Notification Center in iOS 5, FaceTime over Cellular in iOS 6 and Control Center in iOS 7. Then there’s stuff that won’t work in your country initially (sometimes seemingly forever). With the first version, there was Visual Voicemail. In iOS 5, there was Siri’s limited support for searching location-dependent information. In iOS 6, it was Maps. In iOS 7, there was iTunes Radio. And then there’s everything else in between like PassBook, using the Volume keys to click a photo, Newsstand, Parallax effects in iOS 7 etc; things that we don’t mind having.

Nonetheless, there are many good things about iOS (and the app ecosystem) that keep people like us hooked to the platform. But it is hard to see some of the the rudimentary things that Android has nailed, that makes iOS feel like a mobile operating system from the past. Of course, Apple wouldn’t give it all to you in one go — now that there’s been a major update with iOS 7, in the tick-tock manner that we saw with iOS 5 and iOS 6, we could expect iOS 8 to bring milder, under-the-hood changes.

Not like I’m expecting widgets, multiple homescreens, Bluetooth file transfers or setting 3rd party apps as default; if you know Apple as long as I do, you probably already know that’s not going to happen any time soon. Instead, here’s a list of realistic expectations for iOS 8; which will make this mature yet imperfect platform, a lot more usable. 

1. Consistent 3rd Party Share Sheet

Right now, Android has the best functionality when it comes to 3rd party share sheets. E.g., if you open a photo in the image gallery, you can share that photo using any 3rd party app that supports it like WhatsApp, Evernote etc. Same thing for the web browser or any other app that has the ‘Share’ button — it shows up apps to which data can be handed over for further work.

Now here’s the funny part — Apple does allow interactions between two apps using the custom URL scheme or through the iOS Documents Interaction API; and while most first party apps don’t support it, I saw one place in iOS 7 where it actually does. Just open any photo you’ve received in the Messages app and click the ‘Share’ button, and you’ll see 3rd party apps like WhatsApp listed along with the default Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, etc. because WhatsApp is compliant the above-mentioned interaction techniques.

So why the inconsistency? Why can’t we share a link from Safari using the Mailbox app instead of the default client? This, I feel is quite basic and will reduce the rather irritating process to open the particular app and then share it from there instead, or copy-paste information manually between the two apps.

2. Organizing Screenshots in the Camera Roll

It’s been over five years since iOS supports taking screenshots, and it is still surprising how Apple still clubs them along with all photos and videos into the ‘Camera Roll’ folder. Why can’t screenshots automatically get stored in a folder called ‘Screenshots’?

3. Better way to clear Notifications

There’s no shame in saying Apple ripped off the notification drawer from Android. But Android still has the easier way of clearing notifications by simply swiping them off. While on iOS, it’s hand-eye coordination being put to the test as to try to tap that tiny ‘x’ button twice to remove a single entry from the Notification Center. I don’t know if Apple should outright copy the swiping gesture to dismiss them, but there has to be a better way than this.

4. Consistency of Notifications between iOS Devices

This happens quite often — after I get back home, my iPad is chock-full of the same notifications I have already attended to on my iPhone. Since iOS 7, some first-party apps like Messages have started clearing notifications from one device when viewed on another. Google Hangouts and Facebook being 3rd party apps have also exhibited this behavior when you bring the conversation on your computer in focus.

But for the majority of the apps, you still have to go through the tedious process of clearing all notifications from one iOS device, even if you’ve attended it on the other. Maybe Apple can do something about this since they already know if a person has installed a phone and tablet version of the same app. So, if I manually clear Gmail or Twitter notifications on my iPhone, ideally they should also be cleared off my iPad’s notification center.

5. No Calls ‘Do Not Disturb’

This is a personal request, but maybe you will relate to it, too. There are times when I am unable to take any phone calls, but don’t want to shut my entire connectivity down by going into Airplane mode. I still want to receive my email or instant messages or be able to access the internet. (E.g. when you’re in a meeting or when your phone is streaming music in the car). iOS 7 introduced a mechanism to being able to block callers. Taking this concept forward, it would be nice to flick the DND (Do Not Disturb) switch on and be able to use everything else in the phone, except for the phone.

6. Guest Mode

This feature was probably best implemented in the LG G2 where a ‘Guest Mode’ gives access to a limited set of apps that you can choose; putting all your personal stuff out of reach. This is great when you have to temporarily hand the phone over to someone (especially kids) without the worry that they’ll mess something up.

Also, this feature ties in with the Touch ID fingerprint sensor perfectly; where any scan other than yours will open up Guest Mode; as was explained to me by my friend Preshit.

7. Touch ID access to third party apps

This is low-hanging fruit that is the most probable to make it to iOS 8 of all the features mentioned here. Right now, Touch ID only works when unlocking a phone or while downloading apps from the App Store. Third party apps like 1Password, Banking apps, Payment apps… practically any app that requires a password can take benefit of Touch ID when this happens!

There will obviously be a need for Apple to clarify that the fingerprints will still remain on the device and any third party app cannot get access to them.

8. Quick Reply for Messages

We’ve already seen this feature’s implementation in OS X Mavericks. The real delight would be to bring this to iOS as well. Right now, when you receive a message on either iMessage or WhatsApp or any other client, you see a toast notification at the top that shows you the message and disappears in a few seconds. To reply to that message, you have to tap that which takes you away from the app you’re currently using. After replying, you have to open up multi-tasking to again go back to what you were originally doing.

Quick reply, just like how it works in OS X Mavericks, will provide a reply button in that toast notification, clicking which will open up a popup that lets you type in your reply, hit send, and the app you were using still stays opened.

Rohan Naravane manages the product and content for PriceBaba. He mostly keeps rambling about tech and at times, some uncomfortable humor on Twitter @r0han.