Article: iOS Not-As-Low-Hanging Fruit

by on May 15, 2013

While watching the coverage of Google’s I/O event, I got grumpy. It may be easy to jump to the assumption that I’m mad that Google took some digs at Apple, or created some sort of feature that is easily dismissed as useless or something that would be appreciated in Eureka. A year ago, John Gruber mentioned some obvious improvements that Apple could make to the then-next version of iOS, and I thought I’d argue what Apple could do with the next big update.


It seems the popular discussion for iOS 7 is the removal of “skeumorphism” (or at least textures in the operating system). Although iOS has kept the same general design since its inception, I see nothing wrong with that. OS X has gradually become flatter, and more muted since 2001, but still works mostly the same—some icons haven’t changed in years. While Apple could tone some things down, I don’t think we need to have a completely transformative redesign like a lot of pundits are clamoring for—a fresh coat of paint won’t fix other areas.


In the area of credit-where-credit-is-due, Google Now has gotten to be a very good service very fast. Although Siri was plagued with inaccuracies early on, in my experience, it has gotten fairly good. My problem is that it still wants to search the web for requests more often than not. If Apple isn’t going to build out frameworks and services, than they should partner with others (like they’ve done with Yelp and Yahoo). According to Apple, it’s actually still in beta—wasn’t Google the company known for leaving products in beta for years?

Additionally, Siri on the iPad is useful, but one frustration I have is that you can’t set your favorite stocks: on the iPhone/iPod touch, it pulls the list from the Stocks app. On the iPad, it’s just a mix of common tech ones and the markets as a whole. Why not sync this data in iCloud?

Better yet, let’s also have Siri on the Mac. Since it’s all handled on the server-side of things, why not have an icon or keystroke that lets you ask the usual things?

Siri has been quite useful in the car, especially for those who have cars that are Siri Eyes Free-capable. Still, I’d like to see continued development in this area, especially since this can potentially improve safety. Even Samsung had a good idea with a driving mode to have simpler controls with larger touch targets for those who don’t have an in-car system that can control everything.


Google also made an effort to unify its messaging platform by rolling everything into Hangouts. While I don’t see Apple opening up iMessages or FaceTime to non-Apple products (that’s fine), I do have to wonder why Messages is still so buggy on the Mac. Sometimes messages appear out of order or not at all, and the badge often reflects odd numbers (unread items when there are none, or negative unread items). I really like iMessage as a platform and use it quite a bit, but it feels like it’s 95% there.

An area where I’d love to see Apple update FaceTime is to include multiple calls at a time. Why can’t we have a three- or four-way conference call? Because of this limitation, Hangouts (in its web form) has become a go-to tool for those recording podcasts or other situations where you’d want a panel of people brought together.


Apple Maps has improved since launch, although I question how quickly they’re getting to submitted corrections. Still, it’s tough to build a mapping platform from scratch, and I think some of the criticism has died down. With Google improving their platform yet again, I’d love to see Apple do something—maybe they should buy Waze before Facebook does. Why does Facebok even need Waze?

My bigger thing is that, once again, the Mac is left out. Maps has gotten quite nice on iOS, but I still have to use something else on my Mac. Google? Microsoft/Nokia? Yahoo? See anything wrong with this strategy? If Apple doesn’t offer it as a web site, how about a standalone app?


I’m a bit disappointed that Passbook hasn’t blossomed into something more in the time that it’s been available. I use it for things like Target, Starbucks, Walgreens, and LivingSocial, but other than those, Apple Store gift cards, airline boarding passes, and some concert tickets, there’s not much else available. I know some of the blame falls on the retailers, but I wish Apple would make it easier for small businesses or individuals to make passes—maybe a Mac-only Passbook development app? It doesn’t need to be that powerful, but it would take the power away from services like PassSource, especially if customers don’t need to link things to a server like balances or expiration dates.

Other Improvements

Federico Viticci shared his list of improvements at MacStories, and I’d agree with a majority of them. There are some things from a functionality standpoint, like deleting contacts, that just seem weird and unintuitive. Others, like AirDrop, are features that Apple has promoted initially, but seems to have lost interest in. There’s also the desire to improve iOS’s faux-file-system and ensure better inter-app communication. Some of Viticci’s list is pie-in-the-sky, but there are some really useful suggestions to make iOS that much more enjoyable for developers and customers.

Not Negative

Google co-founder and CEO Larry Page closed the I/O keynote on cautious, but positive note, and I think that some of his remarks were quite poignant and smart, not just for Google, but for the industry as a whole (as reported on by Adi Robertson of The Verge):

“Every story I read about Google is about us versus some other company, or something else, and I really don’t find that interesting. We should be building things that don’t exist.” Being negative, he said, “is not how we make progress,” and “not every new technology is zero-sum.”

I don’t think Apple is necessarily behind Google or Microsoft or Samsung, but can update and change a few things to keep users happy and maybe quiet critics for a little while. Besides, Page also wanted to set aside some of the world for experimentation and is championing self-driving cars. Apple has to leave some things to its competitors, right?

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