The future of iOS (and what Apple can learn from Android and WP7)

Discussion in 'iPhone' started by chrmjenkins, Oct 11, 2010.

  1. chrmjenkins macrumors 603


    Oct 29, 2007
    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.


    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.
  2. nunes013 macrumors 65816


    May 24, 2010
    i completely agree that ios needs a big time overhaul for ios5. if it doesnt people will start to leave because of the look of competing os's. i used to like the grid but i think apple can so much better and they better push their software engineers.
  3. afireintonto macrumors 6502a


    Jul 22, 2008
    I was thinging the other day, that when you start multitasking by double pressing the home button and the multitasking dock pops up, you could totally put widgets on screen, above the multitasking dock! Why can't there be some glancable dashboard like widgets up there. It's totally wasted screen space right now. You could swipe left and right just like the springboard, and apple could empoly the new dashboard/multitasking screen without having to change up the current grid as we know it.
  4. jrodsep macrumors 6502


    Jun 29, 2010
    Amen to that brother. Hell, Apple wrangled in the guy who help develop the webOS notification system. So that's a hint of things to come maybe a webOS style notification on the multitasking tray, go as far as to call it Notification Tray.
  5. kasakka macrumors 68000

    Oct 25, 2008
    While the notification system is in need of a major overhaul, I don't necessarily agree with you about the "living desktop" thing. When I see things like new mail badges and whatnot I often have the urge to return the status quo - that "dead" home screen. I much prefer the grid to having virtual desktops, it's just easier and instantly accessible. The badges are enough indication that something has happened, I don't want to see something like OSX's bouncing dock icons vying for my attention.

    Based on the Win7 Phone site, the OS doesn't seem all that great. It reeks of typical Microsoft UI design that is rather clumsy with its checkboxes, poor icon choices and the amount of info creating clutter rather than "at a glance" info.

    Multitouch gestures are a must have feature and it's strange that Apple hasn't done much to use them.
  6. ninjax00 macrumors newbie

    Oct 3, 2010
    I am completley in favor of a new notification system for iOS. I really like how Android does their notifications, but i doubt that apple would/could implement such a system. I hope to see a UI overhaul in the future. Not too significant, not too daring somewhere in the middle.
  7. ssdeg7 macrumors 6502a


    Jul 15, 2010
    It would certainly be the best way to implement Widgets, because I really don't like Widgets on Android
  8. mikelegacy macrumors 65816


    Dec 5, 2010
    Pittsburgh, PA
    I really don't agree. I'm completely fine with my iPhone. I hate the shade for Android, it's annoying. I don't see how it's frustrating to hit "close". You can also turn off the notifications you don't want.

    The grid is not dead, nor will it be in the near future. People want fast access to their apps. In comes the grid...

    Apple is introducing multi-touch swipe gestures in 4.3, so that takes care of that....
  9. digitard macrumors 6502a


    Sep 15, 2004
    Gilbert, AZ
    I agree and I don't.

    I'm a current Android user (rooted, OC'd, custom ROM, numerous widgets and customizations, etc). So I've had the past year to get to know my Droid and while it's solid I've come to a single conclusion.

    No matter how much I can customize my Droid it's not as fluid/solid as iOS.

    I've never had an iPhone but I do own an iPod Touch and iPad and I use my iPad daily (enough that I barely use my Macbook Pro anymore). So I've started to really dig iOS from a functionality standpoint.

    Apps, overall, just tend to run better in iOS with lower system specs. The reason being, I believe, is the same as the Console vs PC argument (I've posted about this before so this will be a VERY brief version).

    When you program iOS for a single yearly update of devices you can really push every ounce of power out of that hardware. You can twist, tweak, and modify things to really work for that hardware to it's fullest.

    Then you have Android which is great, but with so many different hardware (CPU, GPU, RAM, Display, keyboard vs OSK, etc) options you just have the same problem PC games have and that's basically a lack of power tweaking so you lose some of your possible "oomph" due to designing for so many options.

    While I would, in the long run, love to see a few "stock" customization options w/o having to JB your device I think iOS is very solid overall and for so many users the snap of the system is key.

    Havin said all that, and gone completely off track doing it, I do agree with I'd love to see more native customization options as long as they don't destroy the overall performance (nothing I hate more than on my 1.3ghz OC'd Droid than clicking on my SMS icon and waiting 3 seconds for it to pop up because of all the randoms running). So finally tune them.

    Okay so I take it back. I probably agree w/ you on most items. I just think IOS shines enough by itself that most people probably don't even care.
  10. LIVEFRMNYC macrumors 604

    Oct 27, 2009
    I'm jailbroken using Lockinfo and taskbar notifications. I don't really care for the taskbar notifications as I end up noticing any initial popups, sounds and icon badges on the the home screen anyway before the actually taskbar notify icons.

    I do however wish for info on the Lockscreen. I wouldn't mind having live blocks/widgets/info or whatever on the lockscreen, but leave the homescreen alone. I love the grid. It's a large part of what makes iOS.

    I would like to see more customization and menu addons. Like setting a differ wallpaper for each individual homescreen & folder. Adding your own custom sms and other alert tones. Would like a delete all button for my email inbox, draft, etc: instead of it just showing up on trash. Also hard button mapping would be nice. I can understand if Apple doesn't allow for button mapping for regular short presses, but I can see allowing to map for long presses working out well.
  11. Aatos.1 macrumors 6502

    Dec 31, 2010
    1) I really don't disagree with all of your points. My iP4 is quite good, other than a few issues. My Droid X is also quite good with a few exceptions.

    2) In come Widgets, fast, fun, efficient.

    3) We'll see what the future will actually bring.

  12. Synthion macrumors regular

    Jan 4, 2011
    Two words...

    Live icons

    I highly doubt widgets
  13. Sedrick macrumors 68030


    Nov 10, 2010
    I'd like to see double wide icons that actually display some useful information (weather app would be a good example, time/date another)

    I usually look to the most popular jailbreak mods for what Apple will do next:

    Lockinfo and themes to name two.

    I'm ok with the grid as long as Apple brings some life to it. One thing I don't like is the endless list scrolling I see on other phones. If that's their answer to a grid layout, f.a.i.l.
  14. Savor Suspended


    Jun 18, 2010
    The irony here is while iOS and Android battle it out in sales, both look dated already. iOS hasn't changed much and hasn't even caught up with the jb dev community from 2-3 years ago. Android just seems played out even more with an endless amount of phones released every month and tries to hard to look like an iPhone wannabe. Like the uglier twin sister sometimes. I am already hearing about Tegra 3 quad core which should be available by next year which makes the Atrix 4G and next iPhone already feel dated.

    In a few years, all phones will pretty much the same thing in functions, but with different OSes. I know some old schoolers still content with Symbian and don't need all the apps or the fancy transition effects to make it look smooth. It is like driving cars. Some want luxury, but others don't mind a cheaper car as long as it gets the job on what you expect from it when you use it. Your preference will be your deciding factor. But too many insecure fanboys everywhere to ignite the pissing contest. For every bad comments about Android in this forum, I hear just as many hatred toward Apple and iOS from other users. Just politics and preferences.

    I believe QNX is the next level. They have been around for years even before RIM bought them. Had Palm not been in dire financial straits and used better hardware, it would be the best OS out there and more popular. WebOS is better than iOS and Android. But it isn't as popular as iOS or Android to get the software support.
  15. Long macrumors newbie

    Mar 2, 2006
    What you have to watch out for with multi-finger gestures -

    I think on a handheld device you have to preserve the ability to hold and operate it with one hand. Meaning, as with the current implementation, most functions are available via one finger. Multi-touch is maybe a useful OPTION, but I don't think you can require too many functions to require more than one finger. But then, as soon as you start offering too many ways to accomplish the same task, it becomes cluttered and potentially too complex.

    Sometimes a different way of doing something isn't better, it's just different.

    I do agree about notifications getting in the way, but I also agree a notification is useless if it's too subtle to actually notify you. Somewhere there's probably a happy medium . . .

    Apple needs to avoid falling into the trap of sacrificing simplicity by adding features that are new and exciting, but ultimately make no contribution to overall functionality after the "new" has worn off. The good thing about their implementation of multi-tasking is it added a new layer of functionality without changing the basic way in which you interface with the OS.

    I also think there is something profound to be learned from an electronic gadget that my wife can pick up and operate with zero guidance or instruction, and I would hate to see Apple start second-guessing that just to maintain the appearance of "keeping up with" Android.
  16. prestomusic macrumors regular

    Oct 26, 2010
    Brisbane, Australia
    one word, customization!

    iOS is so restrictive
  17. JediZenMaster Suspended


    Mar 28, 2010
    I do like the metro UI on WP7 but android is visually ugly IMO in it's current state. Just the GUI looks very cheap. I love the icons on iOS because they are more visually pleasing than android.
  18. Sedrick macrumors 68030


    Nov 10, 2010
    Very well put. I think 'gestures' are an answer to a question nobody asked, and a disaster waiting to happen.

    I'm concerned Apple has no where else to go, so they might just introduce useless geek crap like this because they've got nothing else.

    Best Apple can do is take (another) long hard look at the jailbreak community and see what iPhone users actually want.
  19. darngooddesign macrumors G3

    Jul 4, 2007
    Atlanta, GA
    Widgets suck. Give me a good lockscreen, like the Jailbreak LockScreenInfo that allows you to pull the infoshade down while using most apps. with information and I'm a happy camper.
  20. monkey186 macrumors member

    Jan 28, 2011

    You'll get bored of customizing in a month, if you're using your phone for its functions and not as a toy.
  21. monkey186 macrumors member

    Jan 28, 2011
    Fully agree.
  22. RenoG macrumors 65816

    Oct 7, 2010

    but only when it comes to making your phone look pretty, but customizing (JB'ing) your phone allows you to get more functionality out of your phone as well.

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