My Wish List for WWDC
With WWDC coming up next week and many rumors and reports about what we’re likely to see, not the least of which is more detail on the Beats deal, Healthbook and a smart home solution, I thought I’d take a step back from the predictions and simply offer up my wish list for what I’d like to see at WWDC. These aren’t predictions but rather a list of things I as a user of various Apple products would like to see in the next versions of iOS 8, OS X and Apple TV, as well as in the integration between these products.
With such major changes in look and feel last time around, it’ll be great to get back to an iOS release focused more on adding features and functionality. Here are the things I’d most like to see from the next version of iOS (some of which I’m sure others have talked about previously):
- Parental controls and a kid mode. It’s telling that Apple stores have turned over their kid corner from iMacs to iPads over the last couple of years – it clearly recognizes iPads and iPhones are regularly used by very small children. But iOS barely reflects this. iOS’s Restrictions function still feels like it’s designed for trade show exhibitors rather than parents. It badly needs the option to quickly switch into a protected mode which lets a parent lock kids into or out of certain apps. I’ve lost count of the number of times our kids have deleted apps off my wife’s iPhone or moved them around to places she can’t find them, even within a five minute period she’s making dinner or we’re waiting for our food to arrive at a restaurant. Kid mode would be a godsend, and a function that’s already in other major mobile operating systems.
- Improved voice recognition in Siri. I use Siri almost exclusively for two things: setting timers and sending and receiving texts while driving (to the extent every time our three year old inadvertently activates Siri, he starts yelling “set timer!”). But while setting a timer is hassle free, dictating texts and many other interactions are still hopelessly frustrating. The voice recognition just doesn’t work as well as it should and is notably inferior to Google’s voice recognition, even in Google apps on the iPhone. If Siri’s voice recognition was better, it would go a long way toward increasing my use of the feature.
- Third party Siri integration. The other major factor limiting my use of Siri is the lack of third party integration beyond a couple of officially sanctioned apps like OpenTable. I can’t tell Siri to use Google Maps to navigate somewhere, I can’t have it open Spotify and play a song, and I can’t use it to dictate a voice note into Evernote. Though Apple’s own services (including Maps) have improved immeasurably, I still spend a lot of my time in third party apps.
- Better keyboard options including a swiping keyboard. For all that Siri can be useful, I still find (as I suspect most people do) most of the time voice interaction simply isn’t appropriate for contextual reasons. As such, the keyboard is still enormously important. I regularly switch between phones from different vendors and use different operating systems, and one of my biggest regrets when switching back to the iPhone is always leaving behind Swype and other similar keyboards. Especially given Microsoft now also has a swiping keyboard, this feels like an obvious addition to iOS. Assuming Apple executes well on its own (or a licensed) keyboard, I’m fine with that rather than opening up the keyboard function to third parties, which was rumored but never showed up in last year’s iOS 7.
- Third party Touch ID integration. I was surprised by how much of a difference Touch ID made when it was introduced with the iPhone 5s. Then and now, I keep confidential data on my phone and so have to use a lock code, but Touch ID allows me to simply unlock the phone with an almost imperceptible delay after pressing the home button. As such, I barely remember I have a lock code anymore. I can only imagine the additional uses that could be found for Touch ID beyond unlocking and App Store purchases if it were opened to third parties. Two-factor authentication, payment approval, mobile banking PINs and so on could all be improved with Touch ID integration.
- Better photo management. I’d like to be able to simply tell my phone to store just the latest photos while shunting the rest off to iCloud storage. I back up my photos to Dropbox and Google+ and occasionally manually delete older photos by connecting to my computer and using the Mac Image Capture app to delete them in bulk. But it would be so much simpler just to tell my phone to save the last 100 pictures at any given time, and back up the rest to iCloud when on WiFi and connected to power. Increased iCloud storage (ideally for free) would be an important part of such a solution too.
- Third party widget integration into the Notification shade. It’s OK to have the somewhat vague weather forecast and some other bits and pieces there from Apple’s own services but it would be great to be able to have sports scores, more detailed weather, or other information of my choosing there instead. If Apple won’t do widgets on the home screen in iOS (and I’m of two minds about whether they should) it would still be useful to be able to add widgets here.
I actually have far fewer requests for OS X than iOS, I think because a computer interface is so much less constrained than a smartphone or tablet one. But here are a few:
- Siri – given I work from home, voice interaction is actually a much more appropriate medium on my computer than on my smartphone. But although OS X has voice dictation, which is actually very good, it doesn’t have Siri yet. It would be great to have it there, especially for quickly adding calendar items, initiating emails, checking the calendar and so on. The requests I listed above for Siri on iOS apply here too, though (although voice dictation in OS X is already better than Siri’s).
- iCloud backup – I used to use a Time Capsule and the Time Machine functionality in OS X, but I found it too buggy and too dependent on physical hardware located in the same place as my Mac to be fully redundant. As such I use CrashPlan for backups to both local and remote storage, but it doesn’t save preferences and so on in the same way Time Machine does. A Time Machine that backed up to iCloud and therefore allowed easy restoration to the same or a new Mac would be much more useful.
- Better iTunes software – Apple’s iTunes software remains one of the most baffling things about the company. It’s slow and kludgey even on a very fast machine, and it feels like the interface for moving apps around on a tethered iPhone or iPad has actually gone backwards in recent iterations. It should be so much better (more on this under integration below).
Apple TV isn’t on the same annual release cycle as iOS and OS X, but I’d still like to see some advancements there:
- An app store for third party apps/channels – there’s a very long tail of stuff that won’t ever be important enough for Apple to add as one of the small number of sanctioned apps it offers on the Apple TV but will nonetheless be relevant to a large number of potential customers. Just look at the top channels on Roku TV and how many of them serve large niches and are not available on the Apple TV. We use both a Roku and an Apple TV — in part because of this lack of support for long tail apps.
- Voice control – I have to say, I was skeptical about the voice control on the Fire TV when I first saw it demoed, but I got one to try out and was very impressed by it. It even understood my kids (which frequently flummox both Siri and Google’s voice recognition). The big downside with Fire TV was the lack of support for Netflix, which we watch more than any other TV service in our house, but proper integration with third party services as well as Apple’s own would make this a killer new feature.
- Audio output separate from the TV output. Though I know many people these days have big surround sound systems plugged into their TVs, we don’t, and as such our Apple TV is useless as an audio output unless the TV is on and the input switched to the right HDMI port. Being able to use the Apple TV as an Airport Express-like audio destination via an audio output separate from the TV input would be useful.
Many of my wish list items involve better integration between iOS and OS X (and to a lesser extent Apple TV), something Apple has improved in the last several versions of these operating systems:
- Better notification sync – it would be ideal if my Mac, iPhone and iPad could all use Bluetooth LE to know when I’m sitting in front of my computer or actively using another device, and only serve up notifications on the one I’m currently using. I’m a bit extreme in that I test a lot of devices and thus usually have several lying around and there’s often a cacophony of alarms every time I get a notification or calendar reminder. This seems totally unnecessary and better integration should be able to solve it. It would also be great if third party notifications I’ve seen on my iPhone, Mac or iPad would disappear from the others (though I suspect app developers rather than Apple are partly to blame here). Tweetbot would be top of my list for this one.
- iTunes on the web. Let me buy stuff from iTunes on the web, in any browser, and have it delivered to my iPhone or iPad in the background, so I don’t have to use iTunes software. Making the iTunes software better would ameliorate the situation somewhat, but why should I have to fire up software on my Mac in order to install an app I’ve seen in a browser and only want to install on my smartphone? Google Play has worked this way from the beginning and it seems like the way iTunes should work too, especially in a “post PC” world.
- AirDrop between OS X and iOS. This is an obvious one others have raised too. But the fact is I hardly ever need to transfer an item from one Mac to another or one iPhone to another, but it would frequently be useful to transfer a file or two from my iPhone to my Mac or vice versa. Seems an obvious addition to the functionality that already exists on both iOS and OS X.
Will I get everything I’m asking for here? Not a chance. But hopefully some of my wishes will be granted, and if past WWDCs are anything to go by, others will have to wait until next time around.