iOS 8 wants: Privacy Sheets to make permissions manageable

Back in February 2012 I wrote about, in part, the need for more granular privacy controls for the iPhone and iPad. Later that year we got them in the form of iOS 6 Privacy Settings. Apps had to ask you for permission to use each and every one of them, but they'd ask one after the other. "[App] would like to use your current location", tap, "[App] would like to access your Twitter account", tap, "[App] would like to send you push notifications", tap, "[App] would like to—" You know the modal pain to which I'm referring. That's why I also wrote about the need for a saner, simpler management system — a Privacy Sheet. And that's why, on the eve of iOS 8, I'm writing about it again.

Here's the problem, as previously described:

Just like with Push Notifications back before iOS 5, however, their popup requester system doesn't scale. Right now, if you launch a new Twitter app for the first time and 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.

There's a school of thought that says inattentive users deserve what they get — if they don't read, they abdicate their right to complain later. Apple doesn't usually subscribe to that school of thought, however. That's probably why they've kept permission requesters to a minimum for now.

for iOS 6, Apple could do what they did with Notification Center in iOS 5, remove the cumbersome nature of popups, simplify Android's implementation, and, when an app launches, present a simple sheet of toggles allowing a user to pick and choose which ones they're willing to grant access to.

So now, heading into iOS 8, we're still here:

A single Privacy Sheet feels like it would be a better, stronger user experience. Sheets are a terrific part of iOS. Instead of sending you zooming to other apps, they bring bits of other apps to you. Mail sheets, App Store sheets, and other on-demand interface elements make the iPhone and iPad feel perceptively faster because they bring the functionality to you instead of sending you to the functionality. They're the beginnings of push interface.

The same could be done for privacy and permissions. Whenever a newly installed (or re-installed) app is launched for the first time, a Privacy Sheet could automatically come up before anything else is allowed to happen. Here's a quick and dirty mockup of what it could look like (with apologies to Apple's HI team for the hack job):

The functionality would remain the same but the experience would become less percussive than it is now with the sequential modal popups. A unified Privacy Sheet would maintain the better, more granular permissions Apple has already enabled and but make them more manageable as well.

Moreover, an app could (and should) provide a way to access that Privacy Sheet from within its settings as well, so people can more easily find and change them whenever the mood strikes them, without having to go to Settings and hunt through the access controls one by one.

It might seem like a little thing but privacy is important. Permissions need to be presented in a way that's both impossible to miss but easy to manage. They need to empower people to make better more informed choice and enable them to change those choices whenever circumstances change or situations dictate.

I'd love to see Privacy Sheets in iOS 8 or a future version of iOS. How about you?