These are some features that I believe iOS could benefit from. They’re either present on desktop computers or other tablets, and would be simple to implement and would increase usability of Apple devices.
Apple is very good at introducing complexity into its iOS software while maintaining the illusion, on first glance, that nothing has changed. This is effective at catering for novice, easily confused users and also more advanced users. For example – I suspect that a high proportion of iOS 4 users have no idea that the multitasking bar is there. I even think that there are some iOS users who have no idea that the search box to the left of the home screen is there. For this reason, I’ve also discussed why each feature would not be intrusive to the user, and would follow with this thought in mind.
1. A Revamped Colour Scheme
I have to admit that the iOS interface is looking very dated. The iOS user interface has changed very little since its release in 2007, and the bevelled bars and almost cartoonish 3D effect buttons are beginning to look a little old-fashioned in my opinion. I can’t help but be reminded of OS X in it’s Tiger days, before the brushed metal look of Leopard.
I believe Microsoft are onto something with their crisp, modern interface for Windows 8 on tablets. The difference between tho and iOS is especially obvious when tablets running iOS 5 and Windows 8 are compared side by side. As long as they get the fluidity and brilliant user experience (and not just looking pretty in a screenshot) that Apple is universally known for, Windows 8 could be a huge success.
I think iOS could benefit from a clean, sleek, brushed metal interface similar to OS X. This would also coincide with a brushed metal back to the iPhone 5 (similar to the iPad 2 and iPod Touch) that is looking probable. There wouldn’t need to be many changes to create this interface. The indigo/blue colour scheme of iOS could be replaced by the texture used by OS X windows, and the pale blue/white pinstripe backgrounds used for Settings etc could be replaced by the dark grey textured background used in OS X Lion’s Mission Control and login screen.
This is one area that goes against Apple’s tried-and-tested method of not introducing features that drastically change the interface of iOS. Although I believe that they have such a large customer base now, that as long as an update in the iOS interface was available for all models of iOS devices (way back to the original iPhone), it should help refresh the line and the end result would be worth it.
2. Informative Home Screen
This is one area where Windows Phone and Android have the edge over iOS. The home screen on a mobile device is valuable space in which to display some essential information for easy access – the date & time, battery level, data connection, any unread notifications, etc. Thus far iOS has managed to incorporate this information in the menu bar at the top of the screen, but as the way we interact with our mobile devices gets more and more complex, the information that becomes useful to us becomes much more dynamic and detailed.
One way this could be achieved would be to allow for live-updating app icons, much like Apple’s own calendar app updates with the current date. Although I believe the red ‘badge’ accompanying icons is fine the way it is, and a good way to draw attention to an app, a different icon can be used to update with non-urgent, non-numerical, or more passively useful information. Weather apps could display an icon resembling the current weather. The clock app could be live-updating with either the time or the current timer, if one is active. A GPS app such as TomTom could live-update with a gradual colour change depending on traffic in the current area.
However, a much better way that this could be implemented is using widgets. Since the introduction of OS X Lion, the desktop dashboard area has been moved to a virtual space to the left of the desktop. A similar space on a device running iOS is used to hold an area to search the content of the device. Before any search terms are entered, the keyboard in this space can actually be swiped down, revealing a large, unfilled space. This space could easily be altered to feature tile-style areas akin to Windows Phone. Only certain apps would require such a tile, and the user would be completely in control of which tiles appear.
If Apple introduced a widget area into this space, it would provide easy to access information while not overcomplicating the interface. The area could simply display what it currently displays, until the user swipes the keyboard down (which is currently possible, oddly), revealing an icon to add a widget. Once widgets are displayed the keyboard could hide by default, showing again only when the user taps the search bar at the top.
Not so much a change this one, as an added feature. The ability to drag and drop elements of the interface would create an interesting way to interact with content.
For example dragging a tweet onto your user icon in the Twitter app to retweet something. Dragging the URL bar (or a link) in Safari to the bookmarks icon to bookmark something. Drag selected text onto a search box to use as search terms. Dragging selected text to move it in a text input field. This kind of functionality would be simple to introduce into the iOS SDK. In order to prevent accidental dragging, a user could tap and hold until the content reacts in some way (perhaps trembling, like it does when dragging and dropping apps on the home screen). Since this feature would add nothing to to the visual interface it would not overcomplicate the user experience.
4. Newsstand-Style Games Folder
After using iOS 5 I have one more feature to add. Although the Newsstand folder is frustrating some users, causing a glitch to be found in which it can be hidden away in a folder, I believe it has a lot of potential. I still think that the folder should auto-hide itself when empty, since I, for one, am unlikely to use it. However I do think that grouping certain types of apps, when present on a device, holds promise for a neater, more informative user experience.
One obvious category of apps that this would suit perfectly is games. When games are present on the device, they could all automatically be grouped into a single ‘Games’ folder. Games could be organised in a variety of ways, chosen through System Preferences – e.g. alphabetically, by most/least played, newest, most recent update, etc. The folder could be scrollable to accommodate for a large (unlimited?) number of games. It could even display relevant Game Centre information (last play date/time, last high score/achievement gained, friends online, etc) inline on the home screen within the folder.
This is the only obvious category of apps that I think would suit the designated folder style. The features of scrolling within a folder could be made universal across the OS, also.
5. Automatic App Updates
One feature I feel would make the iPhone experience much more seamless, and could also be used on OS X as well, is automatic app updates. This could be activated in System Preferences and then whenever the phone is connected to WiFi a quick check for updates is performed, and they are either automatically downloaded or a notification is sent to the user to input their password to allow the downloads. Apps that have had updates since they were last used could feature a small blue circle with a white star icon (the icon used for websites that have updates on Safari’s Top Sites page).