Geekery Technology

Cupertino, Please Start Your Copiers


iOS 7 liberally borrows ideas from other mobile operating systems while deftly wrapping those ideas in a distinctly Apple style. Shadows of Android, Windows Phone, and even WebOS make appearances in the new iteration of Apple’s reliable mobile OS, just like our modern desktop operating systems incorporate influences from each other and numerous other systems to come before them. While I have little love for Android as a whole (and many understandably disagree with my bias), there are a fair number of individual features that are quite good, and I would welcome their addition to iOS 7. Here are a few.

Default Apps

If I could choose only one feature from Android to bring to iOS, this would be it. If I prefer browsing the web in Opera over Safari, then let’s have all links I click in other apps open in Opera instead of always defaulting to Safari. If I want to use Mailbox as my default email client, Google Maps for navigation, Amazon Kindle for ebooks and PDFs, then let the system respect them as my favorites.

Hiding Apps

I get it that iOS doesn’t want me to delete the default apps. There are apps you can’t delete on Android devices too (though some make less sense than others.) That’s fine. Android, I think, has a good compromise to this problem. You can hide apps from the launcher. Right now, I have a folder of apps on my iPhone I never use but I can’t delete. I’d be just as happy if I could simply hide them.

Better Sharing and App Communication

The Sharing menu in Android is another one of its great strengths. Any app that has sharing capabilities goes there, reducing the need for roundabout methods of getting things to your favorite social bookmarking site or non-integrated social network. I’d love to see Apple open a Sharing API up to third parties.

On a related note, one thing I did appreciate about Android’s odd Pictures app was the ability to select which app I’d use to edit a photo. The current iOS method of launching an image editor and then using its in-app browser to find the picture you want isn’t particularly painful, but it would be nice if I could launch that app from within the Photos app.

User Accounts

Maybe this isn’t as big of a deal with phones, but it’s time for at least the iPad version of iOS to gain user accounts. The iPad is a family computer – no two ways about it. When I pick our iPad up, I should be able to have app icons where I want them, and my wife shouldn’t have to worry that I might delete an email on her account. When our daughter picks up the family iPad, I’d love for her just to be able to swipe across a picture of herself and immediately have access to the apps and services we want her to have without having to fiddle with the parental control settings every time. Mac OS X has wonderful multi-user support. iOS should be no different.

More Customizable Home Screens

An ICS homescreen with a few app icons.

This is pure frosting, but I’d like a weather widget, please. I’d also like to line up icons on the right-hand side of the screen. I’m not looking to create the busy messes that are most Android home screens, but I’d like the freedom to decide how cluttered or uncluttered they are. With the inclusion of unlimited-item folders in iOS 7, Apple has taken one step in this direction. A few more steps would be appreciated. Perhaps a scrolling dock would fit the bill.

Still iOS, Just Better

With all of these wishlist items, you might wonder why I don’t just switch to Android. The answer is that I like my iPhone. I like our iPad. I like the iTunes ecosystem. I like the selection and quality of apps on the App Store, especially the quality and variety of apps aimed at children. (Honestly, the difference in quality between the kids’ apps on iOS versus Android is like the difference between looking for good children’s books at Barnes & Noble versus Walmart.) I like Apple’s aesthetic. I like how scrolling and swiping feels on iOS. I like how many things Just Work™.

Anyone wants things they love to be better, though. I don’t want iOS to stop being iOS. I don’t think anyone wins if the entire market ends up centered around one system the way the PC market did in the 90s and after. But Apple would do well to take a hard look at some of the individual features that Android does well and learn from those.