iOS 6: Higher hanging fruit

Higher hanging fruit: Features and functionality from Android, BlackBerry, webOS, Windows Phone and more, still ripe for iOS 6 inspiration

Features and functionality from Android, BlackBerry, webOS, Windows Phone and more, still ripe for iOS 6 inspiration

What will Apple bring to iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad with iOS 6? What will be the "tentpole" features to take Apple's mobile software into 2013? With WWDC 2012 coming in just over a week, and an iOS 6 beta widely expected to come with it, now's the perfect time to take a look and see what makes sense.

We've already seen some of what is likely coming in iOS 6, including a new version of the Maps app that replaces Google data with Apple data. It wouldn't surprise us in the least if it brings turn-by-turn navigation with it either, by way of Siri...

But what else could Apple bring with iOS 6?

Making smart choices

No company can do everything at once. Opportunity cost means that when you spend time developing feature A, you can't spend that same time also developing feature B. Even if you pull engineers from other projects, even if you work around the clock, there are limits to how much any company, even Apple, can do at one time. You have to choose. The key is choosing smartly.

When Apple launched the original iPhone in 2007, it didn't have many of the traditional features that established smartphone platforms had for years already. But it didn't matter. The revolution in user interface was enough that people simply didn't care (or were willing to carry two devices to make up for it.)

Obviously, prioritizing the multitouch interface was the right choice to make.

Apple then proceeded to add back those smartphone staples. Among other things, iOS 2 (then iPhone OS 2) got the App Store, iOS 3 got MMS (outside the U.S.), video, push notifications, and copy and paste, iOS 4 got folders, better email, and limited 3rd party multitasking, iOS 5 got better notifications, Siri voice control, and went PC free with iCloud.

The rest of the industry didn't stand still, however. Android was released and is now at version 4.x, Ice Cream Sandwich, with more on the way. Palm rebooted with webOS, and while their business failed, their interface work was more than impressive. Microsoft rebooted with Windows Phone and let the world know that some people in Redmond did indeed have taste. And now RIM is poised to reboot with BlackBerry 10, and take gesture-based phone interfaces to the next level.

Interestingly, many of the newly rebooted operating systems lacked -- and some still lack -- all the features of their predecessors. And because they rebooted, Apple's iOS, once the new smartphone operating system on the block, is now one of the oldest.

That doesn't mean Apple can and should replicate each and every feature of their competitors. I'd argue many of the ones listed below shouldn't be copied, perhaps shouldn't even be re-imagined with an iOS twist. But they should be considered. Apple is famous for saying "no" more than they say "yes", but they're just as famous for the arduous design and prototyping process they go through to get there.

In fact, as we approach iOS 6, Apple might have already reached feature parity, and it might be hard to look at other platforms and see what else needs to be matched -- that there's no longer any low hanging fruit.

But what about the (slightly) higher hanging fruit?

What iOS could take from Android

Android isn't a singular phenomena the way the iPhone is. There are multiple versions of Android currently on the market, and multiple manufacturer interfaces layered on top of them. Still, there are a few common threads in Android that iOS could draw inspiration from.

Better home screen information density

The current iOS Home screen system (Springboard) is an app launcher. With very few exceptions, an icon on an app launcher tells you only which app will launch when and if you tap it. They're static images and there's typically no information about the current state of the app, or any relevant data beyond the static image.

In the case of Apple's iOS, Calendar will show you the current date on its icon, and Apple created a badging system to overlay the number of outstanding alerts an app has pending. But that's it. With Notification Center, with a little extra effort, you can pull down snippets of those alerts, and see widgets for Weather and Stocks. However, the level of immediately available, glanceable data remains low.

While Apple has widgets in Notification Center and Siri, Android lets you pin them to Home screens as well.

The iOS Home screen isn't designed as a place to hang around, but as a launcher to get you quickly into apps. With widgets, however, you don't have to get into apps to get high level data, and sometimes that's more efficient. If rumors of a 16:9, 4-inch iPhone are to be believed, there could also be an extra 117 pixels on the Home screen to house a swipe-able widget space.

Here are some more examples and concepts for what Apple could do to with the Home screen, both in general and if they do go with a 4-in, 16:9 display.

Direct file access

If I start writing an email in iOS, then decide I want to attach a document, I can't. It's not just difficult, it's impossible. Even if I trash the email, go to a document app, and share via email, I can only share what's in that app. I simply can't attach a Keynote, PDF, and image file to an email in iOS. I can only send out a bunch of emails, from a bunch of apps, with the document they support.

Likewise, If I have a text document in iOS, I have no way to directly access that text document. I have to go to an app and hope that I can access the document from that app. If I created a text document in Simple Note, I have to remember I created it in Simple Note because chances are I can't easily open it in Drafts, much less in Apple's Notes app. If I have a Document in the Cloud, it's the same problem only worse. I can't just see Documents in the Cloud. I have to keep a mental list of what I've created over time and their associations, which is a lot of overhead for something that's supposed to be simple.

A document picker, done almost exactly the same way iOS currently handles the image picker, and a Files.app with an interface in the same spirit as the Photos.app would go a long way to making iOS more convenient. Here are some examples:

More granular privacy settings

Right now if an app, any app, even a built-in Apple app, wants to know your location, it has to ask for permission. If it wants to send you Push Notifications, it has to ask for permission. If it wants to access Twitter integration, it has to ask for permission. If it wants access to any of your personal information, however, like Contacts, it doesn't have to ask at all.

Just like with Push Notifications back before iOS 5, however, the popup requester system doesn't scale. If you launch a new Twitter app for the first time, you get popup after popup, asking you to tap to approve Twitter account access, location, and Push Notification. Imagine when Contact access, Calendar access, and conceivably other information is added to the list. As the number of popups grow, the likelihood that a user will read and consider each one falls precipitously. They'll just start tapping through to get to their app.

Here's an attempt at a better solution beyond popups, and beyond Android's overkill, using a permissions sheet:

More personalization options

Android has a stock interface, but with manufacturer layers like Sense, TouchWhiz, and Blur, alternative keyboards like SwiftKey and Swype, and many other options, you can usually change the appearance of your phone.

Apple won't be making a Theme Store any time soon, but they could increase customization options in Settings, even if only for the Home screen and built-in apps (UIKit). Rather than Aqua and Graphite like OS X, they could even call upon iOS conventions...

Here are some examples of the default iOS interface (UIKit) made-over in felt, leather, linen, wood, silver, and more.

What iOS could take from BlackBerry

The traditional BlackBerry OS is a dinosaur soon to go the way of the dinosaurs, but there's still a few things iOS could learn from the old beast. Likewise, BlackBerry 10 won't be out until later this fall -- maybe around the same time as iPhone 5 and iOS 6 -- but what little we've seen of it shows potential.

More granular notification control

What if I want my iPhone to beep and buzz if my wife calls, but to go dead silent if it's my mother-in-law? What if I want different tones or vibration patterns for work and personal email, or for my boss's or partner's email? What if I want notifications to demand my attention during the day, but mute themselves and let me sleep at night? What if I want a work-centric set of options when I'm at the job site, but a I don't want work following me home? While iOS currently has per-app settings for notifications, it doesn't have anywhere near BlackBerry's level of granularity.

That leaves implementing more specific settings up to individual apps, like Tweetbot and it's sleep options. iOS could handle that, both globally (a Notifications on/off toggle), per Contact, and including time and location.

(And, in the name of all that's civilized, there should be a way to suppress notifications when on a call so we no longer feel the shock of an unexpected tone/vibe combo punch to the ear.)

Arguably this might all be better handled as part of a greater iOS time- and location-based profile system that includes additional elements like network settings, Home screen layouts, and more but functionality always needs to be balanced by simplicity. While more granular notification options sound more complex, examples already exist in iOS -- like per-Contact ringtones -- that could be built out.

Better gesture shortcuts

With BlackBerry 10, RIM is trying to solve the problem of maintaining one-handed ease-of-use on larger screen sizes. For example, reaching all the way to the top of the screen to pull down the Notification Center shade is just doable for most users on a 3.5 inch screen, but as screens blow past 4 inches and approach 5, it breaks down. Like on the iPad's 9.6 inch screen, it requires a second hand.

RIM is relying far more heavily on gestures as a way around this. Start swiping with your thumb from offscreen to on, and a transitional notification bar comes up letting you "peek" at your alerts. Keep swiping, and it takes you into the messaging center where you can handle them. Swipe the other way, and you're in the app switcher grid, and then the app launcher.

Gestures are typically much harder to discover than buttons, and suffer from the potential for collision between system and app, (e.g. trying to slash something in Fruit Ninja and ending up in Mail), and the limits of manual dexterity and accuracy on small screen sizes.

That's probably why Apple restricted gesture shortcuts to the iPad in iOS 5 (and to developers only in iOS 4). However, there should be a balance that can be reached where gestures allow more advanced, adept users to more quickly navigate and triage elements of the OS and apps, even if the gestures to do so remain gross and few.

What iOS could take from webOS

webOS debuted at CES 2009 and was shown off by former Apple executive, Jon Rubenstein. It was the most impressive mobile product introduction since the iPhone in 2007, in part because Palm seemed to specifically target things the iPhone wouldn't, or couldn't yet do. And to this day, webOS still does some of those things better than iOS.

Better fast app switching interface

The current iOS fast app switcher does a good job listing open apps by putting them in a horizontally scrollable list, sorted in reverse chronological order. It does a great job making them easy to visually distinguish by using their icons. It does an okay job making them quick to switch between -- great if they're chronologically proximate, like jumping back and forth between two to four apps. (It's basically alt/cmd + tab for mobile, with some controls thrown in.) It also lets you kill apps.

webOS uses a metaphor called Cards, the early implementations of which showed one app or window (e.g. a website or email) in very similar fashion to iPhone Safari Pages. You could horizontally swipe between them but could also, very naturally, touch and flick a Card away to close an app or window. Palm later expanded the Cards visualization beyond what Apple did with Safari Pages by introducing Stacks in webOS 2.0.

It's a more approachable, more informational way of showing open apps and their state, and a more natural way of navigating and closing them. That's probably why Apple chose it for Safari Pages in iOS 1., and why almost every major OS uses some variation of it today. It's also probably why Apple supposedly experimented with a grid-based, Exposé version of it in iOS 4 before settling on the current, Dock-based model.

As the iPhone continues to evolve, and the mainstream market becomes more mobile-sophisticated, it could be worth re-assessing fast app switching on iOS.

Here's a more complete rundown of the history of fast app switching in mobile, and what some of those concepts might look like rendered in iOS.

Better account and social handling

My iCloud, Gmail, and Exchange contacts currently sit in the Contacts tab of my Phone app and in the Contacts app proper. My Twitter contacts have been recently integrated with them, but my Facebook, LinkedIn, and other social contacts still live in their own apps, though they can impregnate themselves into my Contacts app resulting in varying levels of chaos and confusion. It's a mess.

webOS Synergy handles this much, much more elegantly. You enter you account info, much as you do for email and Twitter in iOS now, but also Facebook, LinkedIn, and other sources that plug in to the system. Then all of that information is kept in neat silos behind the scenes, but presented as a unified view in the interface. I don't have to care where any particular bit of data comes from -- Gmail, Facebook, whatever -- I just see it all in one place, and any time any of those sources update, I see the updates.

Taking it a step further, messaging could be unified as well. Rather than having to go from Messages to Twitter to Facebook to Mail to see what Leanna is saying, a unified view of recent public status updates and private messages could be presented.

If I said something, and a contact of mine wants to find it, it makes a lot more sense for them to go right to my card than than to jump to and scour through a half dozen separate apps.

More actionable notifications

webOS still handles the arrival of notification banners, and the subsequent stacking of them, in a more elegant manner than iOS. But there seems like much more that could be done.

Currently, in iOS, notifications aren't actionable within the notification system. I can't "quick view" a Tweet or a Facebook message, I have to go to the Twitter or Facebook app. I can't "quick reply" to them in-app, I have to go back to the associated apps to respond. That either causes me to ignore messages I may not really wish to ignore, or to wrench myself out of what I'm doing to go handle them immediately.

By contrast, jailbreak apps like BiteSMS let you quickly respond to a text no matter which app you're in. Your app (or game) pauses, a text entry box is overlayed, you enter your message, you hit send, and you're current app resumes. With apps like LockInfo, you see an email notification, and you can tap a button, and read it without even unlocking your device.

Those may seem like subtle differences -- a pause of state rather than change of state and back -- but in practice it's far more efficient. It reduces a lot of friction, and makes the experience far, far better.

Here's some more behind the idea:

What iOS could take from Windows Phone

Better inter-app communication

Currently the only way for iOS apps to exchange information is via the limited URL schemes protocol. Some amazing things can and have been done with it, perhaps none better than Launch Center and the upcoming Launch Center Pro. However, developers and users keep knocking their heads against that "limited" part.

Windows Phone 8 will employ something called "contracts", which will allow sandboxed apps to communicate with each other under certain, secure circumstances. For example, Instagram could present itself as a camera option, Sparrow as an email client, Elements as a text editor.

Then, other apps can hand off to those apps when they want or need to. We already see this done as a work around in iOS, for example, Tweetbot now gives you the option to take a photo with Camera+ instead of the built in Camera app, if you have Camera+ installed. The aforementioned Launch Center lets you tap a button to jump into an app and start an action, for example launch Tweetbot right into the new tweet sheet, or launch Safari right into a specific search.

It's tough to see Apple letting users set their own default apps, for example, set an alternate default browser to Safari. However, it's easier to see Apple creating a more robust system for inter-app communications than URL schemes.

Better gaming network

Microsoft is still kicking and screaming its way out of decades of disparate, non-interoperable systems, but they're starting to get it right. Xbox Live is an example of that. Sure, it costs a silly $50 a year for the far more useful Gold version, but it's otherwise well executed and is being pushed from TV to mobile with increasing efficiency.

Sure, Microsoft botched things badly by not calling their new mobile devices Xphones and having Halo-branded, Halo playing versions available at launch, but what they lack in smarts they make up for in tenacity.

Luckily for them, gaming is something Apple doesn't yet "get". But Apple's also showing signs that might change. Apple has already announced they're bringing Game Center to OS X Mountain Lion, for example.

But it needs to do more. Game Data sync, via iCloud, across devices is a start. If I'm playing Angry Birds on iPhone, I should be able to pick up my iPad and keep going, and then switch to Mac and keep on keeping on.

Cross-platform multiplayer will be a must-have soon as well. If I'm at the coffee shop gunning in N.O.V.A on my iPhone, I should be able to pwn Chad at home on his iMac, and Georgia at work on her iPad. (And, eventually, Simon on his Apple TV as well.) And hey, voice chat and beacons to let friends know what you're doing, and when, and to talk while doing it, would be nifty.

It's a lot of heavy lifting, but it's heavy stuff that needs to be lifted. (And yeah, I wouldn't say no to niftier avatars either.)

Better non-gaming network

Xbox live, wisely, wasn't called Xbox Gaming Live, because it's used for more than just gaming. All of Microsoft's living room ambitions are channeled through it, from Netfilx to social parties.

Even less than Apple gaming, Apple has repeatedly shown they don't understand social yet. Apple chose not to call their network Apple Live, but Game Center, for example. And they released Ping. But they do seem to know it's important. They're partnering with Twitter and might one day partner with Facebook. But Apple tends to like to own core technology.

iCloud is a good example and a good start towards a personal cloud. It needs an accompanying social cloud. Not just for sharing personal data like Calendars and Photo Streams with spouses and partners, but to share everything -- movie watching, music listening, app usage. Everything.

What iOS could take from jailbreak

Jailbreak concepts Apple should implement in iOS 6

Instead of competing platforms, Apple can also draw inspiration from their own platform -- as it's been tweaked and modified by jailbreak developers. They've done it before, so there's no reason they can't do it again.

A lot of it is similar to what I've already listed above -- the jailbreak community has been picking the slightly higher hanging fruit for years and years. The way they've implemented it is often different, however, and often several different implementations exist. That makes it an incredibly fertile ground, and a free, pro-level beta pool for Apple when it comes to large scale testing deployments of new features and interfaces.

Here's more on what Apple could explore from the jailbreak community this time around:

What iOS could take from OS X

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For a while now Apple has been working to take iOS "Back to the Mac" -- to take what worked best in iOS in general, and the iPad in specific back to the Mac. To make an Apple experience that's more consistent across their two platforms.

But how about a little quid pro quo? There are several aspects of OS X, including some of what's being implemented in Mountain Lion, that would be great to see in iOS.

More app loading options

The thing most power iPhone users have dreamed of since the original, no-third-party-apps iPhone launched in 2007 -- the thing that led to the jailbreak scene -- is the ability to side-load apps. The ability to run apps not approved by Apple. The ability to run app that come from outside the App Store.

With Gatekeeper in OS X Mountain Lion, users have a choice -- run only App Store apps, run App Store apps and non-App Store apps signed by identified developers, and run any app, no matter where it comes from. The App Store provides a lot of security -- it minimizes the chance for malware or other malicious software. It creates user trust. Non-App Store apps signed by identified developers is a good middle-ground, however. They don't need Apple approval but if any of them are found to be malicious, their certificate can be revoked.

Unfortunately, I don't think Apple would do this. It wouldn't really change the type of apps that are available -- for example, the system-level hacks of jailbreak -- and it would almost certainly lead to developers cutting Apple out of the 30% share of app sales Apple takes to maintain the App Store. Apple has shown they're not fond of end runs around the App Store for subscriptions, and they'd likely be even less so for paid apps.

More minor enhancements

  • FaceTime conference calls. Like the iChat that Mountain Lion kills off, the big iPad screen -- especially a Retina display on a quad-core iPad 3! -- should allow for multi-person calling.
  • Print to PDF. A built-in PDF printer option, perhaps added to AirPrint, that goes right to Documents in the Cloud, would be great for everything from Mail to Safari.
  • Per-account mail signatures. No reason the current signature setting can't be moved down a step in the Settings hierarchy. Work and play can't always have the same signature.
  • Top Sites for Safari. I could do without the forced curve effect, but quickly getting my most common sites as thumbnails is very convenient.
  • Development options. Beyond Xcode, HTML5, and cross-compilers, support for other development options exists on OS X but not iOS.
  • AirDrop. Quickly send files (from Files.app!) or photos from one iOS or OS X device to another over local Wi-Fi.

Here's more on what Apple could take from OS X and bring "Back to the iPhone and iPad":

Conclusion

Operating systems are like art -- you add material then take away what you don't need. You add features and trim away bloat. While iOS may now be one of the older, more mature mobile operating systems, it's not perfect.

Just like OS X, Apple will keep adding features, then it will pause and re-soldify like it did with Snow Leopard, then focus anew like Lion and Mountain Lion.

The question is -- what will they do this time with iOS 6? Apple may or may not have plucked all the low hanging fruit in previous releases, but they haven't plucked all the fruit hanging just a slight bit higher. And they certainly haven't finished polishing it.

Additional resources

Have something to say about this story? Share your comments below! Need help with something else? Submit your question!

Rene Ritchie

Editor-in-Chief of iMore, co-host of Iterate, Debug, Review, Vector, and MacBreak Weekly podcasts. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

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Reader comments

iOS 6: Higher hanging fruit

69 Comments

Rene, spot on, good analysis. Always enjoy these in depth articles that look beyond iOS and appreciate other OSs for what they are (and aren't!).

Agreed. Very well done, Rene! Thanks for the thoughtful analysis. It's quite timely given the impending iOS 6 announcements at WWDC.

I'd prefer it to be on the front not the back because I usually put my phone faced up not not down. I hope Apple adds that cool feature on the iPhone 5 cuz I really miss that on blackberry.

Interesting ideas, but I'm not sure I've convinced that any of those things are good ideas or well implemented on the platforms that have them already. I don't think anything listed would actually improve iOS.

I actually think inter-app communication (similar to Windows Contracts) and social networking integration into the Contacts app (similar to Windows Phone People Hub) would add greatly to the user experience of iOS.
Also, as much as I really like Notification Center, it still needs more improvements to fulfill its potential.

I do not want people's facebook info and twitter info in my contacts. I hate that about windows phone and android. They are social media sites and I communicate with people through those services differently then I use my contacts app. Physical address and phone numbers only for me.

That could be where adding it as an optional feature would be useful. You can cater to both sides. Give people the option to sync with Facebook and Twitter if they like, but leave it off by default.

Isn't there already an option to sync most social networks with contacts? I think its more complicated than Android, but still an option. It doesn't really interest me, so I haven't tried...

Whst information you want displayed is completely optional on windows phone even if you add all your social networks to the phone. You can also choose to do play contacts from different sources separately or together for each contact.

Are you kidding??? None of the ideas or concepts listed would improve ios??? That is almost comical. What exactly do you use your iOS device for? If all the os is just for launching your games, then sure. There is no purpose for any of that stuff. But if you actually use it to manage and simplify your life and to get things done, I don't think you can effectively argue that any of the above mentioned isn helpful, even in as crude an implementation as bitesms or some of the mockups.

Despite what some think, its always good to see certain ideas implememted different ways. And thats good for the consumer.
As far as most of these ideas are concerned though, Android pretty much does all of them. In some form or another. Especially app communication.
That one feature would be a revelation. Its crazy how i cant share instantly to FB or other apps.

A well-thought out list. Since, as you say, not even Apple can do anything, the most powerful option would be to open things up to third parties. Apple is not likely to open up the floodgates, but Gatekeeper on iOS would be a good start. Some public (signed, Gatekeepered) APIs for other things -- notification center, widgets, lock screen access, Siri, system level tweaks (SBSettings), or enhanced background permissions (Sparrow) would be great, too.
Better inter-app communication would be nice, but it seems un-Apple like to make the user configure or select every partnership between applications. Better would be a central place to register preferred handlers for actions, which applications could optionally override, but that seems even more unlikely, especially since the whole concept is mostly useful if you can switch from Apple's default apps (email, camera, etc), which unfortunately ain't gonna happen.

Very well-written article. At first, I thought it was just going to be soliciting wish lists from readers. Instead, it was a fairly unbiased way of comparing iOS, and the evolution of iOS, and what the competition offers.
The biggest mistake Apple, or any company, could make is to compare themselves to themselves. They need to always remember that the consumer has options, and there are some real good ones out there.

I would be thrilled to have improved notification features and. Also the flashing red light top of phone would be most welcome (ala BB and old Treo days)

Synergy would be a perfect addition to iOS especially with how they are trying to have more twitter and facebook integration throughout the OS. It is such a simple, elegant solution for organizing your contacts and accounts.

I can agree with almost everything...except the ))(&)(*& desire of "data density" on the springboard...Apple, if you are reading this...please..PLEASE...shoot anybody and everybody that comes up with this idea inside your campus? This is one of the reasons why android phones use battleship-sized batteries and can't last a day working...data density on the springboard = mindless battery use...please don't...stay away from it...my battery is too important for it to be wasted in useless refresh of icons on my springboard.

i think for the home screen, instead of just the weather widget, they should have the option to make it a stock widget. or a calendar. or reminders where you could check stuff off of your to-do's. maybe a world clock. and add the option to swipe through all of them....

hahaha, do you really think Apple would do any of these things. I expect very little, just like every year. It took them 5 years just to be able to let us change the email sound.

as a former ios user, android's homescreen is much better than the springboard for sure. so is multitasking.

Excellent write-up! I might add another -- improve the text-input experience. Having dabbled with Android on occasion, I really came to appreciate its predictive text keyboard. The Iphone keyboard is quite good a guessing what you "meant" to type, but you still essentially have to enter every letter of every word before you get a correction option (if needed). Seems like if i type "tomor", "tomorrow" should pop up, since there's not much else that word is going to turn out to be.
Given that there are whole websites that make fun of iPhone typos, clearly the keyboard input could stand to be improved.

Agreed. Having used the keyboards on both Android and WP7, the iphone keyboard is the worst of the 3 in that respect.

"Top Sites for Safari. I could do without the forced curve effect, but quickly getting my most common sites as thumbnails is very convenient."
? Isn't this just "Add to Home Screen"?

You should send all of those suggestions to Apple. They might actually consider some of them. I'd have to agree with you that more could be done with the iOS interface, particularly the ability to attach documents to e-mails and a manner to access files. It would be great to be able to synch files from your Mac (or PC). Those go a long way to making iOS devices true workhorses for work use. Those are the areas where Android does surpass iOS, but we all seem to be willing to do without them.

What about adding Profiles to iOS? Especially on an iPad, and even on an iPhone, I often share my device with a number of people that use it for different things. I would love to have a Profile setup for my kids with only their apps and a specific set of settings best for them. Maybe these profiles could be used to automatically filter my easily accessible apps or reconfigure my settings at a certain time or location which would be fantastic for driving, when I'm at work, or when I'm going to bed.

The "profiles" idea is a good one. But one thing I am thinking about is something similar to bedside mode or "sound profiles" per location like: home, work, docked. This could be a subset setting under sound in settings, so if you want to have just the phone ring but no other notification sound but would like to quickly re-activate the other notifications without having to remember what you chose.

Profiles....man, that was the ONE feature that kept me on a BlackBerry for so long. I finally had to move away, but that is the one feature I miss more than anything else. You don't have to use it, ever, but for those who do and get used to it, it is a hard thing to not have. I still struggle with that daily not having it.
Also, webOS notifications. I love the way they implement that.

Great write up Rene! The one thing I really miss - A customizable dictionary! I would think that wouldn't be such a difficult thing to implement...

Simple file management system for documents/photos/videos/etc. simply to attach to emails. Also, one of the low-hanging fruit ideas they could implement would be to allow me to select multiple contacts to SMS/MMS at once without having to create groups for my contacts.

Rene, you are going about this totally bass ackwards. You are falling into a speed trap of speeds and feeds.
Start at the beginning. The beginning is not what features are available in other platforms and not available on iOS. The beginning is what problems are 90% of the users having and how do we solve them in iOS. And you have to be honest about it. I hear a lot of folks say that they want quick access to WiFi, Bluetooth, screen brightness and whatnot system settings. To that, I must say WTF! What portion of the userbase really has this problem that they need to access certain system settings in 1 or 2 user actions compared to 3 or 4? Is it really the 90%? No I don't think so. Not only that, Apple's supposedly has designed iOS and iOS devices to have a lot of that stuff be automatic and have good battery performance with them all on.
Many of these features from other platforms serve the needs of the few, not the many. I don't consider the needs of the few higher hanging fruit. Higher hanging fruit are things that many will use, but that are hard to implement. Features for the 1% are like little features that are feature 97 out of 100 new features kind of thing.

  1. Siri needs a gargantuan amount of work to be done still, and be done across 3 or 4 years, not 1. If there is a number one priority for iOS 6, it is Siri. It needs better performance and offer a 3rd party API.
  2. I think number 2 is more and better iCloud integration into applications. This is another 3 to 4 year thing.
  3. Simultaneous display of applications is the last low hanging fruit. Ie, an idea that everyone knows that'll be useful, but we're not at a CPU power, battery life tradeoff point where it could be implemented yet.
  4. I definitely agree that inter-app communication must be improved including a drag-n-drop mechanism, commensurate with a good UI design.
  5. I think system settings and app settings need to be adjusted in some way. A better balance must be made. With hundreds of apps, it overloads the current design.

But generally, after about 5 years of evolution, 99% of the problems have been solved and the gear-ratio for user experience improvements is getting smaller and smaller and smaller. That's why Siri is so important.

Small point ... in the description of multi-tasking and specifically "stacks," it's pretty clear from your own screen shot that stacks are unnecessary. Of the four applications shown, only two have more than one "screen" and one of those is a bit of a dodge.
An app like Safari (the only one that "really" needs multiple screens), is different from almost all other iOS apps. To mangle multi-tasking by adding stacks when almost all iOS apps won't need stacks is arguably a bad design choice.

This is a great article, hopefully Apple would read it and draw inspiration from it! This certainly voices many people's wants and needs.

as usual they are going to add 1 or 2 features that is all ready on other os's and rename it and call it revolutionary and as usual the loyal apple fans will claim apple were first to it...just like how many claim ios had multitasking,folders and notifications first when they wernt

I'd like to be able to the delete default apps I don't use (Stocks/Game Centre/Weather etc.), not just push them into a folder (or in the case of Newsstand, push it to a separate page/screen).
As for hardware, I'd love the home button to last more than a year before not responding. Thank God for the AssistiveTouch.

Agree, iphone really needs a way to set up alerts that are specific to each email account. It's amazing that iphone is supposed to be great at sound & music, yet it falls short on alerts & ease of adding custom ringtones.

It took 5 years just to get a user choice of a different email alert tone. Apple often times seems more concerned with the sizzle and not the steak.

This was the most stupid list! Hope none of it gets into iOS 6. You seem to have missed the point of the trouble-free iPhone.
Really glad you are not working for apple.
What they should take from Android: multi-user logins.

Glad you're not designing anything. I hate to be mean, but there's a lot of interesting ideas offered in this article and you seemed to have missed them.
As a UX designer who designs mobile applications there's not a day that goes by where I don't imagine where things can be improved with whatever platform I'm designing for at the time. Everything can be improved. There's still a lot of opportunities to improve all the current mobile platforms.

Coming from WebOS (still using a pre3) I would have no reason not to get a iPhone if they got the notifications , gesture and synergy implemented on iOS. Customization is needed desperately, the home screen is so boring. I guess you can never have everything but still. P.S. I'm pretty sure they poached the talent from WebOS that did the notifications. I thought that's how they got the improvements to the notification area (banners) etc. Now that WebOS is being open sourced can't they just use it ? Or would giving someone else credit for something be to much ?

Yet another great article Rene. Keep up the awesome work.
I really like the "4-inch widget area concept for the iPhone" idea. The way you've show it, it would need to be a permanent fixture at the top of one or more home screens. And of course it could slide down like the current notifications "window shade." But a "partial window shade" that only slides down part way would be terrible. It would either need to cover up the top row of icons or force the icons to reposition themselves, which means moving the bottom icons to the next home page, which might cascade all the way through hundreds of icons. So it needs to be a dedicated window, as you have shown, at a fixed size and position.
Re: "Direct file access"
No. One of the great strengths of iOS is that it insulates the user from the file system. Yes, each app can pick documents or photos that it knows about. No, a Files.app for picking arbitrary files is a bad idea. The less the user knows about the file system, the better. If you want to attach a PDF file to an email, then "Better inter-app communication" is the key.

My jailbroken "The new" Ipad has all those features from android, webos, jailbreak tweaks, and OS X. Technically I am running iOS 6.

A lot of your file system complaints can be solved by installing Air Sharing, which acts as a Finder.
I really hate when people say Apple should steal Exposé from WebOS. And in your Android section, you recommend that Apple steal Dashboard from Android. iOS is just OS X’s touch user/app interface. There isn't really anything that OS X has to learn from anyone else, and if there were, it would be from big iron or possibly from NT or maybe even a game console, but definitely not from any other mobile system. That is all baby software. And other than Android 2.3, the user base of all the phones you mention here is almost nil.

Why is it that these "needed features" almost never consider the tradeoffs that are involved in making the interface and programming changes that would be necessary? Sure, Google and Microsoft have more extensive interapp communication options. It's because neither of them has ever really cared that much about security. Even Microsoft's "contracting" system can be spoofed, as their Windows patches have allowed new security risks to emerge over the years. Android and Windows Metro are at the early stages of their product life, and Android already has spawned numerous trojans. When hackers start getting serious about mobile malware, watch out!

I would appreciate in the new IOS 6 to give all the iPhones Siri because I bought my phone before Siri came out. Please apple Siri is amazing anyone with a iPhone 4 would love to have her :)

Comprehensive, thank you! One of the best write ups on the possibilities I have seen ever.
Regardless of what Apple does, this article presents a serious possibility for a roadmap for smartphones.
And thanks for the nod to webos. Although I personally dont like the aesthetics of webOS they did a hell of a lot of nice things that will be lost as a result of its market failure.
Kudos.

Although these are great features to "learn" from other platform, they will not make iOS6 great and they do not represent the future. Like app store, Siri, and etc. Apple reinvented the existing and made them usable. What iOS6 needs most is a feature that keep it one step ahead of the others.

Apple should add some kind of file system, even if it is not called that. Apps can read from and write to the camera roll. How about sharing text files? PDFs? .csv files? audio files?
I'd like to see Apple open an API that lets apps find other phones or iPads a la FaceTime to make collaboration easier and to make it easier to VNC into your home computer.
One thing I expect we'll see soon is better integration of iWork with the cloud. Getting at files in the cloud from OS X is awkward.

How by apple revolutionize the POS iphone keyboard. That thing sucks large hairy monkey testiculars. Perhaps they should consider bundling thumb sized electric pencil sharpeners with the iphone. ...so I can chisel my thumbs down to a point.

Why do I feel that each of these or at least most of these is already available on Android 4.0?

The only things Apple can learn from MS is a better gaming experience and inter-app communication?
How about baked-in functionality with social media? Having my personal tile display recent Facebook and Twitter notifications to me is extremely useful, and being able to post an update to either without needing to open an app is incredibly efficient.

But I already noted the sign from a previous Democratic President which isn't up on the Resolute Desk this time. He wanted higher energy prices, and his most loyal supporters think that higher energy prices are just dandy, but now that they're worried that higher gasoline prices might cost Teh Won some votes, well maybe the buck really doesn't stop with this President.

So now that the apple dude's want to put more in their functionality like taking them from android, then sue htc and the others for taking "their" function as they allways have done?

My favorite part of this article is that Android already has every single one of these features (except maybe the card stacks, but 4.0's got something similar). Most of them, it's had for a while :)
A well written article, though. I would agree with most of it. I especially like the idea of the permissions concept presented. Well done.
One thing though, Rene, the iPad 3 (new, whatever) isn't quad-core. It's dual-core A5, with a quad-core graphics chip.