Almost no one would argue that iOS is not a capable or fully featured smartphone platform. It handles media elegantly, is amazingly intuitive and offers a vast feature set to accommodate almost any need that a casual user, business user etc. may need. Rather than nitpick about small things that need to change (custom SMS ringtones), I'll outline 3 major areas of change I feel that iOS needs to excel in to move forward as a platform. It also so happens that these three areas come their competitors, as well as their own repertoire. Notification Overhaul/Android The intrusive bubble and badge system system for iOS worked at a time, but in the age of push notifications and an app store with a plethora of different types of apps in the user's hand, it no longer suffices. A bubble that pops up and must be addressed can be incredibly frustrating and distracting dependent upon what the user is doing. Simply disabling pop up notifications is not a solution, such as how one is notified of an e-mail, as one needs to completely stop what they are doing and return to the homescreen and search for the elusive badge (and subsequently differentiate it from other existing notifications). How Android Does it Better Android handles these notifications much more elegantly for three simple reasons: notifications on lock screen, widgets, and the "shade." The customization of Android allows the user to select what kinds of information is displayed on his or her lock screen, such as e-mails, twitter, weather, appointments, etc. This kind of information allows the user to preview the new activity without ever having to unlock the phone. Widgets also allow the user to monitor activity without explicitly entering an app to do so. They are also dynamic homepage content, making the OS feel more "alive." (more on this later with WP7). Finally, the notification bar and drop-down "shade" show the user all of the apps that have new information for the user. The user decides how much this intrudes on their current activity. For example, they can ignore it and not have to address a popup to continue their current action. They can also glance at the notification bar and get a snapshot of all the activity occurring without explicitly addressing the information. Lastly, they can pull down the "shade" and have a concise list of all the apps that have notifications and what type of notification it is. From there, the user can directly address any given one of those notifications. How can Apple take these to heart? Well, it's obvious they'll just need to straight-up copy two of them. Allow the user to have multiple, customized notifications on the lockscreen. Apple can achieve this while still providing a controlled, standardized experience. Second, they'll have to add notifications to the status bar. It's really the only place for these kinds of icons to appear that doesn't interfere with the user's current activities. That leaves two that Apple will have to get creative with. For starters, a carbon copy of the shade would be illegal, unoriginal, and un-Apple. They would need to come up with some sort of way to view current notifications (perhaps a simple tap on the bar?) and present it in a quickly addressable, easy to view format. Perhaps they could do some sort of variant on how multi-tasking is handled. The second area in which they'll need to get creative is widgets. The problem with widgets is that this likely mucks with Apple's treasured user experience more than they're willing to allow. How would Apple address this? Perhaps restricting size, location and being extremely strict on quality control and usefulness. The Grid Is Dead/WP7 One of the hallmarks of iOS's current look and feel is its strict "grid" icon system. Apps are arranged in an equidistant 4x4 grid with a 1x4 dock static dock hanging out at the bottom. Due to the juggernaut march forward of the app store, Apple has introduced folders to mitigate the space issue. However, that's all it's done. The grid remains amazingly simple and wholly non-living. No matter what you do or how you interact with the OS, the grid remains, obstinate in its regularity of lack of imagination. This makes the OS feel "dead" because it has no dynamic nature either in how it looks or how you interact with it. The aforementioned widgets of Android address this in some regard. However, even android can seem a little lackluster at times. Enter the Challenger Windows Phone 7 was announced just today. But with it comes a drastic departure from its lineage and how we think of a smartphone's homescreen. Windows Phone 7 device homescreen are a bright assemblage of rectangles of differing sizes with white text against a plain black background. "That sounds pretty damn plain," you may say. And you're right. But it's how it's plain. This view is entirely minimalistic in its design, which is aesthetically pleasing in and of itself. What's more, these blocks vary in shape and size because Microsoft recognizes that different apps have a different prominence and level of information that they convey to the user. That's why these blocks themselves can give you small tid-bits of information live while you look at them. Instead of a dead assemblage of shapes and text, these boxes are always prepared to tell you something about that app's activity without having to actually fire it up. Additionally, Microsoft seems to recognize something else. Smartphones are small compared to our notebooks and desktops. Rather than confine all the information you need to the small screen you have before you, more information is but a side-swipe away. The title of your current activity (say twitter) shifts partially to the left of the screen with the swipe, or extends beyond the right of the screen to show you that more information exists and is a swipe away. This concocts the mental image that there is a horizontally continuous roll of information that you can access. Whether they wonder if there is more information or features with a scroll up or down (or a venture into app settings through multiple buttons presses), the word at the top is all you need to look at. Again, this word will be simple white text against a black background-- minimalist with a pleasing font. How does this improve over what Apple offers? It's the difference between laying out all the relevant information on a desk and stacking relevant files on a desk. Rather than thumb through the files and look at each label, you can use your eyes and awareness of the UI to scan and pan and gather the information relevant to you. This keeps you in the experience because (hopefully), you never have to execute a pre-determined set uf button presses/taps to get to a particular part of your app. It makes you OS less of a machine and more of a living being. It keeps your experience fresh and dynamic. Now, how can Apple implement this concept in iOS? That's actually a very good question. I'm not quite certain how Apple could do it short of copying Microsoft in some places. In others, they can provide a way for apps to present information other than a badge without entering that app. This may necessitate size incongruity, which means it is not a straightforward concept to execute. As for the in-app experience, that's even tougher. It's not straightforward how to indicate, intuitively, that more options exist in an app and are a gesture, not a sequence of presses, away. Perhaps Apple needs to increase the amount of gestures apps can recognize to make these sorts of actions second nature. This extends into my final point. Share the Love, Man Apple has a lot of examples from the desktop OS market as to how they could improve their mobile device experience. The first one is gestures. They've gone to great pains (trackpad, magic mouse) to make gestures second nature for both desktop and notebook users of full-featured OSs. Multi-finger swipes, flicks, twists; you name it, they all do something different. There's no reason they can't bring this experience to iOS given app providers are given clear instructions on how to interpret these gestures different from actions that are specific to their apps. In some cases, some sort of pause or gesture mode may need to be occur to enter a "gesture" mode. Or perhaps in-app simply isn't the place for these yet. That doesn't mean the springboard can't interpret them. Speaking of the springboard, there's lot of options. It's rumored that el-Jobso himself begrudgingly added the single button the face of the iPhone because it was simply unavoidable. However, it's seemingly a go-to for special springboard behavior. Before, double tap launches a specific app, now double tap launches us into multi-tasking mode. What's the problem with this? It forces us to change our mode of interaction with the device. We go from touchscreen to hard buttons to execute actions. Some people may like this mixture of input methods, even in mundane activities. For others, it infringes upon the fluidity of their experience. Dropping a thumb to that button forces their brain to change how it interacts with the device. It takes them out of the moment. How do they get around that? Simple- vertical swipes. Say, for instance, a two finger swipe down brings you to multi-tasking. A two finger swipe up takes you to the previous app (this is not unlike Palm OS where you 'flick' to quit an app). A twist locks or unlocks orientation. The possibilities are endless (and customizable!). What's better is that you give the home button back to the user. Instead of thinking of an odd gesture to launch a specific app, bring back the double tap for things such as the camera. Precious seconds often matter there. Second, desktop OSs obviously have more power available to them. This makes things like hover-over song previews possible. Some kind of dynamic action in homescreen apps could bring some life to the OS as previously mentioned. Devise a way for the OS, and its apps, to tell the user something without the user explicitly asking for it. I may want to ask my friend a question with my speech (launch the app). I may also want to just shrug my shoulders and offer a quizzical look (gesture). Why would that work? Because he's my friend, and he knows me well enough to know what I mean, even when I don't say it. As smartphones become more powerful, CPU intensive actions like the above don't have to necessarily be seen as infeasible or battery chomping. The next generation of ARM cores (Cortex A9) promise to give us huge performance gains yet again while preserving our precious battery life. Given the competitive nature of the market, it's entirely possible that the iPhone 5 will feature this core(s) as a third consecutive CPU upgrade. Conclusion This discussion is not by any means meant to be exhaustive. In particular, I'm ignoring many of the wonderful things happening in the jailbreak community (lock screen info, biteSMS), which address many of the shortcomings I've outlined above. The problem with these is that they are not Apple provided. While some of them are excellent in quality, it's inevitable that some of them will feel awkward or "bolted-on" simply because of the limitations of the OS environment these developers must deal with. A user should never have to hack to get essential features. Apple is not stupid. They've recently made many app store concessions in the face of anti-competitive practice investigations and heightening pressure from the android platform. It would seem likely that a notification overhaul is in store for iOS 5.x. (After all, what killer must-have feature remains after multi-tasking?) Let's just hope in addition to innovating, they're not afraid to examine where others' platforms beat theirs and adopt some of the core concepts that make those systems great. After all, we only see further by standing on the shoulders of giants.