Imagining iOS 5 [Updated]

Imagining iOS 5

Back on March 1, I tried to imagine what we'd see in iOS 5. Unlike preview years, however, there was no iOS 5 event in the spring. Instead, Apple will now be previewing iOS 5 in June, at WWDC 2011. As in this monday. So I'm revisiting my list, updating it with the latest news and rumors, and wondering what Apple could do that'll be big enough to make us forget the lack of a new iPhone introduction this time around.

So what will iOS 5 bring? We'll give you our want list, after the break.

Apple ID activation (via iCloud account?)

Right now before you can use a new iPhone, iPod touch, or iPad you (or the store where you bought it) have to tether it to iTunes on Mac or Windows and "activate" it. How 2007. Android just needs a Gmail address. webOS just needs a Palm profile. Facebook phones (you know they're coming!) will just need your address. Apple has millions and millions of iTunes IDs, Apple IDs, and MobileMe IDs. Let us use those -- or better yet, unify those first and then let us use our unified Apple ID -- an iCloud ID perhaps -- to activate our iOS devices.

Moreover, just like when you login to MobileMe for the first time on a new Mac, let iOS immediately check the iCloud and download our preferences. Let us type in that ID and get our mail, calendar, and contacts accounts, Wi-Fi setups, and all our other Settings synced down to our device.

If we lose our iPhone or iPad, or simply update to a new one, we should be able to login with our Apple ID and immediately have our phone restored to a personalized, working state. Sure huge media, apps, games, etc. will still require iTunes tether to sync, but give us a basic on-device, online way to start.

(Seeing as how the facial recognition login is still likely a few years off...)

Untethered firmware updates (via Airport/Time Capsule?)

Wireless sync and software updates are the dream. Zune tried with the former and Android and webOS already do the latter. The size of iOS updates -- the entire firmware re-installed each time -- require such a solid internet and power connection that tethering to iTunes is often the right choice.

But rumor has it Apple might be using their Airport Extreme + hard drive combo, Time Capsule, to stage firmware updates. Since they're plugged in and on ethernet, much like the Apple TV, they could presumably load up and make firmware updates available on-device, like Apple TV already does.

Even more interesting would be a trickle update, where tiny binary files containing the just the updated bits would constantly become available when online. A bad trickle update could kill your device, so there's a lot to be concerned about still, but that certainly seems like a better future, and one Google's Chrome experiments with today.

Contact and status aggregation (and Twitter integration?)

Once we have the one Apple ID to rule them all, we need a saner way of handling all the other IDs and accounts. Facetiously I'd say just copy webOS' Syngery. Seriously, however, between email, IM, Twitter and Facebook status, contact information, and all the different online stores with often conflicting data it's annoying and unworkable to keep them all sandboxed and separate. We've been asking for this on iOS for years now as well.

If we know a contacts online account, let us enter it. Then pull in their profile information and status, silo it so it stays internally separate, but present it back to us in a unified view.

Facebook is presenting email, IM, SMS, etc. in a unified Facebook message system now and while it's still a little kludgy it shows how the boundary between different communication forms are breaking down. Apple is great at "hiding the pipes" (the backend data sources that bring information into their apps) and showing the user only a single clean, consistent UI. They're doing that now with unified inbox in Mail -- regardless of which account an individual message is in, we see them all in the unified inbox. It would be great to see Apple expand this not just across email accounts but across protocols.

If I bring up Leanna, let me see her latest emails, Twitter and Facebook status, IM's, SMS, etc. all as "messages" (hey, let 3rd parties hook in so I can see Foursquare, Instagram, etc. if she offers them and I approve them on my device.) Then thread them and let me reply back to them automagically using the proper protocol.

We've heard rumors now that Twitter will be deeply integrated into iOS 5. An additional way to share photos, perhaps. A communication protocol to peer email and SMS, potentially. iOS' answer to BlackBerrys BBM, even. That's all fine for Twitter but Twitter isn't the sum total of internet chat. We need more.

App state sync (via iCloud?)

Taking it one step further, right now if we use an app on iPhone and then go and use the same app on iPad -- even if it's a universal binary -- there's no persistency of state. Unless the developer is syncing on their own or with a popular web service like DropBox, there's no way to get to your latest data from different devices. Apple could provide a consistent method for doing this.

We've asked for it before when it comes to games -- let Game Center sync our game progress between devices. If we get to a certain level in Infinity Blade on iPhone we want to pick up iPad and keep going from that level. But really, a general app state sync API would be even better. When iOS saves the information locally, push it up to the cloud and the next time the app is launched on any device, check the cloud for the latest state.

Given Apple has now announced they'll be showing off iCloud services, but haven't uttered a peep about what those services will include, it could be a logical fit for state syncing too. (Like the Data Center, until we know what it's for, it's for everything, right?)

App store upgrades

Originally I wanted App Store trials, subscriptions, and upgrades. To be able to download an app or game, try it for a short period of time, then decide to buy it and if the developer offers a really compelling upgrade, pay for it without having to buy a whole new "2" app would be fantastic for users and developers alike. Over time, with freemium and $0.99 apps with in-app purchases the need to demo has lessened for me. And Apple has already announced subscriptions -- to much controversy -- but upgrades are still needed.

iTunes knows what apps we’ve bought. We know it knows because when we try to buy a paid app we’ve already bought, iTunes tells use we’ve already bought it and that we can download it again for free. Why can’t the same system be used to determine, for example, that we’ve already bought Tweetie 1 and hence we can download Tweetie 2 at an upgrade price. Apple could allow developers to set that upgrade price in iTunes Connect, an extension of how they can set universal sale prices today. We’ve seen some strange screens pop up that seem to indicate Apple is at least experimenting with the idea, but why not pull the trigger? Again, it’s more overhead for Apple but the customer experience boost would be enormous.

Note: With Lodsys now filing suit against developers for using in-app purchase as way to upgrade from free/lite to full apps, the need for real, App Store handled demos is back.

File handling

iPhone iPad files appSimilarly, it's still vexing to try and get your documents onto iOS, to make sure you have the latest version, to be able to edit it and seamlessly save it back to the device and cloud. For years we've asked for a Mobile Finder app, or more recently a Files app, that would work like a system-wide repository for documents the way Photos works for videos and images.

Most users don't need file system access the same way they don't need everything running in the background all the time. What they need is the functionality file access provides in a way that's robust and usable on mobile devices.

In that way a would give us access all our documents the same way we go to the Photos app or call up the picture picker in a 3rd party app today. (Yes, pretty much what Apple does in the online-only iDisk app.)

Good on-device handling is only one piece of the puzzle, however. We need to be able to round-trip the documents from our Windows or Mac PC and our Google or iCloud. Right now we can do some of that, sort of, in a painful and convoluted way. Apple is addressing some of this in the new Mac OS X Lion preview with AirDrop -- a way to move files between Macs as easily as iOS moves video and print jobs with AirPlay and AirPrint. There are also hints of improved WebDAV-based sharing in OS X Lion Server. But that all still sounds disjointed and overly complex.

Something that combines the idea with AirDrop, supported on iOS, Mac, and PC, and able to sync with a far more robust, speedy, and reliable iDisk or WebDAV would be grand. While I don't expect Apple to include support for DropBox,, Google Docs, etc. letting the user configure them in a WebDAV-like manner would be outstanding.

Open Add a sync source if you want one and have one. Let any app, including iWork, Docs to Go, QuickOffice, etc. open, edit, and save back the files. And keep them in sync. (Oh, and add similar cloud sync options to Photos.)

And again, this is the place for a nebulous, "let iCloud handle it" comment. Going from Keynote on Mac to iPad to iPhone could be transparent under a system like that.

System-wide Voice Control

Apple introduced basic VoiceControl a couple years ago in iOS 3 for iPhone 3GS letting us place calls or play music. Google trounced this with system-wide voice commands in Android starting with the Nexus One last year. Apple needs to take the lead back here. There are lots of rumors that Apple will use their SIRI acquisition to bridge the gap but SIRI isn't voice control any more than it's a search engine. It uses voice recognition to tie into popular, existing search engines to provide basic, intelligent services for users. Steve Jobs has called it Artificial Intelligence. SIRI could be a robust extension of voice control and a way to "synergize" multiple sources of online data, but Apple needs to deliver the underpinnings and that's new, home-grown tech.

With rumors of a massive Nuance partnership at work, it looks like the people who bring us Dragon Dictate could be making this a reality. Finally.

Elegant notifications

Apple's current badge, sound, and popup notification system -- virtually unchanged since 2007 -- is so unwieldy that it's difficult to imagine Apple built it knowing 3rd party apps and push notifications were in the pipeline. Android is less obtrusive but can become messy quickly, webOS far more elegant, and while Jailbreak has offered several interesting alternatives for iOS, none of them seem like an Apple solution.

And we need an Apple solution. The status quo is untenable. If you're on the phone or playing a game and one -- or so help you many -- popups appear you have to view them immediately or dismiss them forever and you can't even hang up your call or do any basic screen command while that model dialog remains on screen. It's like being a prisoner. And if you dismiss it out of annoyance you may not even remember what it was for later, and you have no workable way of finding out.

More than just a better system for staking and packing notifications, we need a better way to interact with them. Like Ally said, BiteSMS for Jailbreak runs rings around the current iOS Messages app. That might not be the model Apple implements, but it should be the spirit.

It's the last truly gaping, galling deficiency in iOS. It's the last huge item other mobile OS use to poke fun. It just has to be fixed. Fortunately Apple hired the man who designed the webOS notification system so that's reassuring.

It took 3 years for copy/paste, 4 years for multitasking -- 5 should be notifications.

We've heard Apple is working on it. Apple hired Rich Dellinger, the guy who architected notifications for webOS almost a year ago. My guess is we'll get it, but we'll get it on Apple's terms -- meaning just like how multitasking wasn't the traditional method but addressed a lot of user facing issues, iOS 5 notifications won't be like Android or webOS or Jailbreak, but will address a set of common needs.

Theme Store

Georgia said this well; Apple doesn't need to do themes the way Cydia or BlackBerry does. At least not at first. They could provide their own set of 4-6 themes to start the same way they offer templates in Keynote or Pages. They could sell them in a Theme Store and once the process was hardened, slowly open it up to 3rd parties.

There's a lot of money to be made in themes. Apple likes money. Users like themes. It's simple math, even if implementing it is complex.

I don't think we'll see it in iOS 5 but hey, we'll need something to look forward to for iOS 6...


iWork for iPhone... got dropped in a PR this week. iMovie for iPad and GarageBand came with iPad 2, as did PhotoBooth. There aren't a lot of signature Apple apps missing from iOS anymore, with the notable exception of a real iPhoto or Aperture for image editing.

Apple will be sticking with Google for Map Data but we could see a new Maps app, using Google new vector tiles and Placebase and Poly9 or other differentiating technology would be great. Even at the amazing pace Apple has updated and released a lot of the iOS apps there's still so much that could be done with the built-in and App Store apps that we could easily fill another post. (And likely will!) but this is another area to watch come iOS 5.

A new weather app -- one with landscape mode for more details -- would be good as well. Anything left untouched since iOS 1 really needs some attention...!

NFC, maybe in a discreet mobile payments app, could appear but that feels more like a fall and iPhone 5 announcement.


Like we said in Imagining iPad 2, while Apple is secretive they're also cyclical and subject to the laws of physics and economics, which means they're somewhat predictable. This year's iOS will fill some gaps, shave off some rough edges, surprise and delight us with a few killer features, and disappoint us with a couple inexplicable misses.

If Apple shows off iOS 5 tomorrow our guess is 2011 will be the year of notifications, cloud, and a lot more. What are your guesses?

Have something to say about this story? Leave a comment! Need help with something else? Ask in our forums!

Rene Ritchie

EiC of iMore, EP of Mobile Nations, Apple analyst, co-host of Debug, Iterate, Vector, Review, and MacBreak Weekly podcasts. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

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Reader comments

Imagining iOS 5 [Updated]


Great article as always Rene. I hope they do a lot of these features in the next iOS or they are going to have a lot of disappointed customers.

TechCrunch is reporting that Apple has hired Peter Hajas, the creator of jailbreak MobileNotifier, though this apparently only was in the last week or so, so it is highly unlikely any of his work would be in an iOS5 announcement, unless they had been working on his OSS code before formally announcing a hire.

I read that too. I also read that he tweeted that he was going to california to talk to a "fruit" company. that was ages ago though, so maybe we will see some of his input.

WHOA, nice!!! Personally I prefer Notified Pro, but Hajas's app is still fantastic. Hopefully this brings good things!

AMEN!!! There are 5 of in my office with iPhones and each time someone gets an email, 5 people pick up there phones. ENOUGH ALREADY!!!!

Great article. I'd love everything stated in here. Honestly, it's asking for a lot all at once though. Notifications, twitter integration, icloud integration, cosmetic changes and 1 or 2 other things on the list is what i'm expecting. Maybe they should hire you next so you can educate them on what the consumer really wants next. If i had to make a list. I'd just steal yours lol

"subject to the laws of physics and economics"
I thought they were magical, inspiring and unicorny. Never is Apple subject to anything as mundane as physics and especially economics.

I'm firmly in the camp that themes are a pipe dream. Apple has given no indication that they will support anything theme like except for maybe the color of text highlighting and scroll bars. That has been the case since Mac OS X was first rolled out and stayed that way. I'm also firmly in agreement with what apple must be thinking... themes ruin the UI experience. They change things only for the sake of change. Changing the UI theme changes the experience and makes the device harder to use. Steve wants someone to be able to pick up any iOS device and be able to use it. It's part of the experience. It's also meaningless fluff, it doesn't help me consume content or get work done. I do NOT want themes, they are a bad idea that people continue to delude themselves into thinking they need.
an example of meaningless fluff like this are the motion wallpapers android supports. Great idea, until you realize they drain the battery. What functionality did that motion wallpaper get you? And you don't realize it until you say "OMFG this phone sucks the battery life is awful." So now it becomes a crappy feature. And yet people still to this day think it's an advantage over iPhone. They shut up real quick when ask them what affect that has on their battery life.
I can personalize my phone with a simple non-motion wallpaper and it doesn't interfere with the interface. That's all I need.

Wow. Don't hold back. Tell us what you REALLY think about themes. So because YOU don't like them, mo one else should have them??

What I'd like to hear from iOS 5:
"We admit we were wrong. FOLDERS REALLY DO SUCK. Windows 3.1 isn't the right model. Here the better replacement."
Yeah, I know, not gonna happen (but it should).

Not just the folders are wrong. The fact that Apple presents a bunch of colorful but useless icons in the home screen is a bad idea. It is a poor use of precious screen real-estate and the folders just aggravated the problem. Apple is way behind in widgets (Android) / tiles (Windows Phone 7) and better catches up in iOS 5.

Just do the widgets. Or even a Today's home screen like the old Windows Mobile is better than nothing.

Great article, I really hope Apple fix notifications in iOS 5. Looking forward to hearing the details of iCloud at WWDC.

With everything "iCloud" is any one worried about the trend of metered data cap? I mean, I love the idea of having my info and preferences up in the cloud, but when I start to stream music from the shiny now iCloud service, that 200MB cap doesn't look so big does it.

I know this won't be in it, but I would like fit to screen aspect ratio for videos. Some videos, zooming in almost cuts off half the action. iPhone screen is small enough

As usual iOS5 will be a let down to most people,hype on the build up is always the same with loads of what people want and expect not in it,I love my iPhone 4 but am really boared of the GUI and hope Apple revise this so I stay with them for a few more years until a real iPhone killer takes over,cus it will happen.

It doesn't make sense to say it's a let down to most people. If that was the case then I believe they would be losing share and money, and they're gaining on both.

What about being able to sync and view iTunes LP and Extras content? Way over due in my opinion. I still don't understand why this hadn't been done. Should've at least been on iPad 1 at launch last spring.

I would like to see some automator type functionality. This would allow me to have certain actions occur when something happens, or i can have a task automated. I would like to also see more apps be landscape capable. As a side topic, I would like to see iBooks go to more platforms.

There are already apps that have a "trial" or "demo", then you pay the in-app price to unlock the rest. Mainly, Hidden-Picture games. Most of them are free for the first 1 or 2 chapters, and then $4.99 to upgrade and get access to the rest of the game. My girlfriend is a big hidden picture game fan, and she has loved all of the ones on the iPad. The touch interface + the far better visuals than PC ones really grabbed her.

I'd like to see a decent notifications system and a better way to handle photos. Anything other than that is gravy.Oh, and cuatom text tones - that way people will stop b1tching about them.

I only Jailbreak for Lockinfo, BiteSMS and SBSettings.
Anything that covers these functions without a JB is welcome!

Glad to hear the rumour about the maker of MobileNotifier getting hired by Apple, his recent updates have been nothing short of stunning - just a few settings changes reqd to be perfect for the wider iOS using community
I'm not fussed about iCloud but would like to see tighter integration between apps, why can't facebook or twitter apps open when I get linked to these pages? It's sealed off working & it's less productive & a bad user experience. The mutterings from MS is that WP7 will be looking at tighter integrations & that can only be a good thing

I really wanted to have the ability to chose which song to play on the multitasking tray, we would just click on the iPod icon and a pop up would appear that reassembles the iPhone ipod app, so we would just touch the song we wanted to play

A new notification system is my biggest wish. Another big wish would be greater interoperability between apps. Like being able to add a "share to" menu item. eg. I'm looking at a web page, and I can "share" it to Evernote, etc., without having to mail it to an email address. Or the ability to be looking through the photo album and being able to share it with something that Apple doesn't provide natively (Picasa, Posterous, Photobucket). I don't think we'll see this given Apple's walled garden approach to everything, but I can hope. I also hope that someday that they allow other phone apps to be used (similar to Android) with an optional (i.e. only if the user enables it so as to prevent apps from taking over or confusing less technical users) popup to use Google Voice or Line2 instead of the native phone app. It would make it easier for me to use my iPhone for business yet keep my work and home life separate.

Nice piece Rene. Lots more "visionary" than what I see elsewhere, and that's necessary if an article like this is to be at all useful.
Hopefully in the same vein, I would like to see some visionary and disruptive changes made to FaceTime. In particular, if a FaceTime call fails (busy, or can't answer) that nice new iCloud capability in Virginia should offer to take an audio-visual, or audio only, message, and notify the intended recipient that message(s) await. Apple does not like to be beholden to the carriers, and this would certainly help the emancipation of Apple and the loosening of monopolies, while offering a truly useful service.
Also for FaceTime, it should be possible to play photos or videos from the camera roll in background while having a FaceTime chat (substituting for back-side camera on command). Apple TV 2 should be enabled to accept several FaceTime feeds at once and show them all on the big-screen TV. Might require a protocol permitting simultaneous view but only one 'caster at a time.
On another issue, I really would like to see user accounts on iDevices, combined with immediate implementation of facial recognition to ensure the right account is opened. Unlike what you implied in your article, I think this use for facial recognition could be implemented today. After all it would require actual recognition of only two to four faces in most cases, with all others being "not authorised". I think this could work today even if facial movement (speaking) were required for higher-security recognition. And for very highest security, this could be combined with voice-print recognition. I expect the biggest immediate use would be an families with children. The children would just love being asked by name what they would like to do today. And they would not be able to do or access any 'Adult stuff'. Apple of course would have to make a bunch of policy (read profitability) decisions, like does it sell an App twice for two users on one device, or insist that developers enable the same App to differentiate among users (e.g. Different photo and music collections, different documents in Word, different relationships to iCloud, etc) and charge a little less than double for such differentiated usage.
I think I am beginning to move from 'visionary' to 'death by detail', so time to stop now ....

Most of the items on your wish list would match mine.
I have an Android phone and my Mom has the iPhone.
What I really find old and tiring on the iPhone is the lack of Swype or SwiftKey keyboard. So I would add that one to the list for my Mom.

Dialer. IPhone needs to be able to dial like Blackberry (never used Android so don't know if it can). Just start typing a name and voila! You get a number from contacts. I don't get why this is so hard for Apple to implement? I just bought a cheap $25 Nokia phone for emergencies and it has the same clunky 1990's contact search capability as iphone, just less elegant. It's a pain and less efficient to have to go to my contacts list and search for the number. I just switched from Blackberry and I have to say for ease of use, efficiency, and email, Blackberry has Apple beat (just relax fanboys cause my iphone now unifies all tech in my house - from phone to computer (2) I own all Apple).
Definitely With access to files like Blackberry, maybe it won't be so inefficient to send attachments in emails. I hate when I'm in the middle of typing an quick email, suddenly realise I need to attach something and then "crap!" I have to open up another app to access the file I want and restart my email (yes I can just cut and paste, but its a clunky way of doing it).
As useful and cool as the iphone is, it's just not streamlined for business, especially when you have to move between apps to do something. Some people may not mind, but for the price of an iPhone (unsubsidized) you'd think something like the dialer wouldn't be so "difficult" to use.

Maybe year six will include account specific email alerts and signatures. The iPhone is an amazing device, but its email handling and alerts is about 4 years behind the times. I come from the BB world, and for all the wonderful advancements, the BB still stomps the iPhone when it comes to handling multiple alerts and handling lots of messages. The major leg up for the iPhone is how amazingly well ActiveSync works, which BB has never had the visibility (due to the impact it would have on BEZ) to embrace. These sorts of decisions are what will eventually kill off BB.