Last week I ruminated out loud about whether or not Apple needs to redesign the iOS Home screen. We've continued to discuss it on the podcast and in the forums and I realized something: as much as it'd be nice to information from apps and make it glanceable on the Home Screen, it'd be even better to take functionality of apps and make it accessibly from within other apps.
Sure, it's nice to be able to see today's date on the Calendar icon, and it would be nice to see today's weather on the Weather icon and so forth, and information density could absolutely stand to be improved on the Home screen. And yes, there's an argument to be made that familiarity is a feature and Apple won't mess with the app launcher, the familiar mechanic by which hundreds of millions of users feel comfortable using iOS. But either way, that's a fleeting concern -- I don't spend much time hanging out on the Home screen.
Apple has said all along that the goal of the iPhone and iPad was to get out of the way. They're essentially giant screens so that, when you launch an app, the device becomes the app. When you're in Calendar, it becomes a calendar. When you're in Phone, it becomes a phone. When you're in a game, it becomes that game. Arguably, the Home screen is just a simple app launcher because all Apple wants you to do is unlock your iPhone or iPad and launch apps as quickly as possible. They want you in apps. And that's exactly where I am. I'm in Twitter. I'm in Campfire. I'm in Safari.
The problem is, when I'm in an app, if anything else happens, I'm forced out of that app and into another app. If a notification pops up alerting me to an iMessage or an email, and I want to either read all of it or respond, I have to stop what I'm doing, leave the app I'm in, go to the source app, and then respond.
Notifications aren't actionable within the notification interface. 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.
There's more to this equation as well -- Windows Phone-style contracts so apps can better communicate with each other, and an iCloud aware Files.app so documents can be picked in-app as easily as photos and videos.
We may no longer have model alerts in iOS that you can only ignore or act on immediately, but in some ways, notifications today remain as binary as they ever were.
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.
It could be implemented as a popup or added to an existing layer like Notification Center (tapping the icon goes to the app, tapping the snippet flips Notification Center around and shows a preview/reply bow, for example). Apple has all the tools to make it happen.
So rather than widgets, which take app data and put it on the Home screen, I'd far prefer functional notifications that take app interactions and put them wherever I happen to be.
And I'd like it in iOS 6.