Dreaming of iOS 5

8 April, 2011
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It’s getting close to the time of year when Apple previews the next revision of iOS, arguably its most important asset. It’s hard to believe that, in just five years, we’ve had yearly revisions to a mobile platform that is so young, yet so mature.

Before I get into my wish list I need to put the past five years in context.

Five years ago the iPhone didn’t exist but it now accounts for over 50 percent of Apple’s revenue. I recently read that if you consider the iPhone business as a standalone business it would be in the top 10 most valuable businesses in the world.

Unlike the iPod, where Apple still enjoys a virtual monopoly, the smartphone business is still very competitive.

If you believe the reports, Android may soon be the most popular mobile OS. My take on Android, however, is that it’s simply a generic platform that phone makers use to deliver their own branded interface. Developers aren’t making money from Android apps. As a side note, Symbian has tens of millions of users but try finding any developers making money from it.
Android is not a real competitive threat to the success of iOS, but its existence is important because it keeps pressure on other smartphone vendors, Apple included, to keep innovating. The net result is that now, for a few hundred dollars, you and I – the consumer – can have a handheld computer so powerful that it can almost replace a desktop.

But, getting back to the topic of this column, you want to know my thoughts for iOS 5. Here they are:

Notifications. The single-popup, modal notifications on iOS don’t really work anymore. They can be disruptive and, once dismissed, they disappear. I think Android has a clever notification system that presents a ‘drawer’ that can be summoned from the top of every screen.

Apple also needs to improve the notifications on the lock screen and should take some hints from Windows Phone 7 in this regard. Why should I have to unlock my phone to see how many unread emails I have?

More multitasking. iOS 4 ushered in multitasking, but only for some app types. For example, a VoIP app can continue running in the background. iOS 5 will allow many other apps to continue running in the background.

File access. With the iPad and iPhone on the same version of the OS, the requirements for access to a file system is becoming important. Apps need to be able to read and write to the same file and users should be able to open the same version of a file in multiple apps. Look for Apple to address this in an innovative way.

A better home screen. Other platforms allow quick-access widgets, or small programs, to exist on the home screen. While folders arrived in iOS 4 it’s time Apple made the home screen available for more than apps.

Dump iTunes. Apple should remove the requirement to activate iOS devices via iTunes.

Backups in the cloud. For users who don’t have MobileMe or similar, Apple should provide an over-the-air backup mechanism.

Apple would worry about backing up important data like photos and contacts. If your phone ever breaks or gets stolen, restoring information should be as simple as entering in your user name and password.

Better developer support. Developers for iOS already have a great experience but some annoyances, such as distributing beta builds to users, should be improved and should be possible over the air, rather than through iTunes.

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