15 suggestions for iOS 6

I’ve been writing these posts for the last couple of years, usually always before WWDC, as mini roundups of what I, my colleagues, and readers want to see in the next iOS release. However, as releases go on it gets harder and harder to put together lists of major features I’d like to see in the next iOS.

That’s because iOS has now become a fairly developed OS capable of doing most of what you’d ever need it to do. I mean, remember when multitasking or copy and paste were the big feature requests? What about improved notifications? Wireless sync? Folders?

All that’s been done.

The list I present now features a few big items, but many of the suggestions are small features that would really “tidy up” the OS and make it more usable. That’s not to say I don’t think iOS won’t continue to innovate, but those major innovations and brand new features will most likely be something Apple will surprise us with and not something that many people could have guessed beforehand. This list also doesn’t take software features that would require hardware upgrades into account, like a mobile payment system.

So here’s the list of what I hope to see in iOS 6. And when you’re done reading it, I’d love for you to add your own feature requests to the list in the comments below.

1. Expand Siri’s capabilities and open up the Siri API.

This is probably the biggest request on anyone’s wish list. When Siri debuted in iOS 5 on the iPhone 4S, it was easily the most touted new feature. However, after the novelty wore off iPhone 4S users quickly divided into two camps: those that do use it and those that don’t. I’m one of the guys that do. However, that’s not to say there isn’t room for major improvements to Siri, or as I call it: the most underdeveloped feature on the iPhone.

Now to be fair to Apple, Siri is still a beta feature, so it’s unfair to really judge it as if it has been completed in Apple’s final vision. It will continue to evolve over time, and here’s what I hope it can do in iOS 6:

Apple needs to expand Siri’s capabilities. The easiest way to do this would be to open up Siri’s API to third-party developers. Once Apple does this, that’s when the power of Siri will really shine. Imagine being able to say “Skype my brother,” “Tweet ‘@TUAW’ rocks,” “Shazam this song,” or “Record my weight in LoseIt.”

Those are just some simple examples, of course. If Apple were to open up Siri’s API it would be the developers who could really make Siri the killer feature. However, given the server requirements it takes to run Siri queries and the fact that it’s still in beta, it’s unlikely Apple is going to open Siri to third-parties any time soon. If they don’t, I at least hope they’ll add more features in-house, including things like asking for local movie times, telling the camera to take a picture “in 10 seconds,” and turn by turn directions.

Another thing Apple could do to improve Siri without opening it up to devs is adding the ability to toggle system services, including turning Bluetooth, Wifi, Personal Hotspot, and Airplane mode on or off. Also commands like “Go to TUAW.com” would be nice instead of the current way of navigating to a website via Siri by having to say “search for TUAW” and then clicking on the website in the search results list in Safari.

2. Multiple users (on iPad).

Let me state that multiple users on an iPhone would be ridiculous, but on an iPad I think it makes a lot of sense. Phones are personal, but iPads are shared a lot in homes. It would be great if iOS 6 adds user support to the iPad. After all, it’d be nice to let my niece use my iPad without worrying she’ll accidentally delete an important email.

There was a time when multiple users on an iPad wouldn’t have made sense from a practical point of view. After all, if each user stored all their photos and videos on the iPad, it could quickly fill up the hard drive. But with iCloud and iTunes Match — and their no doubt continued expansion — multiple users are much more feasible as each user could access all of his or her documents and media right from the cloud.

3. Facebook integration.

I use Twitter 10x more than I used to because of its integration with iOS 5. It’s so nice to be able to tweet a photo or a web link right from Photos or Safari without having to switch to the Twitter app.

Given that I’m a bigger Facebook user than Twitter user, I hope Apple adds system-wide Facebook sharing to iOS 6. This isn’t an original feature request, and it’s actually appeared in in-house beta’s of iOS before, but never actually included in public releases. The fault here, of course, probably lies with Facebook more than Apple. Apple generally likes to protect their user’s information as much as possible while Facebook, well…they want as much as that information as they can get. Until Apple and Facebook can work something out, I’m afraid we won’t see system-wide Facebook integration. That’s really a shame, more so for Facebook than Apple because, as I’ve said, iOS 5’s Twitter integration has got me using that service a lot more than I ever would have.

4. Auto-hide an empty Newsstand.

first suggested the idea of a Newsstand-type app years ago before Apple finally introduced it in iOS 5. Magazines are a natural fit for the iPad, after all. However, while Newsstand is welcome by some, for others it’s like the houseguest that just won’t leave.

The problem with Newsstand is that it takes up a space on your screen even if you don’t have a subscription to a periodical. Now I realize why Apple did this: they wanted to encourage people to check out subscriptions. But unlike the iBooks, iTunes, or App Store apps, you don’t need the actual Newsstand “app” to search for or buy magazines and newspapers. That’s because Newsstand isn’t actually an app, much less a store, at all. It’s just a glorified folder that holds specific types of apps — newspapers and magazines. Magazine and newspaper apps can all be found in the Newsstand section of the App Store and could still be found there even without the Newsstand folder (remove iBooks, on the other hand, and you’ll have no access to the iBookstore on your iOS device).

What I’m proposing is that the Newsstand folder remains hidden until you download a subscription. As soon as you download even one, its app appears in the Newsstand folder on your homescreen. But when you delete all the subscriptions inside your Newsstand folder, the folder disappears as well.

5. Multitasking gestures for iPhone.

With iOS 5 Apple introduced four- and five-finger gestures on the iPad. Using four or five fingers you can pinch to reveal the homescreen, swipe up to reveal the multitasking bar, or swipe left or right to move between apps. Those gestures made the iPad infinitely more pleasurable and organic to use.

I suggest Apple bring multitasking gestures to the iPhone. Three finger pinch to homescreen; three finger swipe up to reveal multitasking bar; and three finger swipe left or right to switch between apps.

6. Improved Notification Center.

Improved notifications were a big request before iOS 5, and Apple hit it out of the park when they completely revamped notifications with the introduction of Notification Center.

However, as good as Notification Center is, it could still use some improvements. First, it could use more widgets, specifically on the iPad. There’s no built-in Weather or Stocks app on the iPad, but it would be nice if Apple would at least give you the option of showing the weather forecast and stock quotes in Notification Center on iPad for unity’s sake (see #7). Another nice feature would be a timer widget that shows up in Notification Center so you don’t have to tap through to your Clock app to see how much time you have left for that cake to get done cooking in the oven.

A final improvement to Notification Center: clearing notifications takes a couple of awkward taps in a narrow corner of the notification’s header. Instead it would be much more intuitive if you could swipe right, then tap a standard big red delete button to remove a notification.

7. Weather, Stocks, and Clock for iPad.

Unity is nice. And iCloud could keep stock quotes, weather locations, and alarms in sync across devices. ‘Nuff said.

8. AirDrop for iOS

Pre-iOS 5, many people clamored for a Finder app to store files on the iPhone. Apple’s answer was simpler: iCloud. However, while iCloud is a great way to keep your documents in sync across your devices, it doesn’t really help when you want to easily share a file with someone else.

Enter AirDrop for iOS. Select a file, select the Share button, tap “AirDrop” to see a list of AirDrop-enabled iPhones, iPads, and Macs in your area, then select the device you want to share with. This would work great for sharing something as simple as a virtual business card or as large as a video or Keynote presentation with other people. Extra points if the AirDrop interface had cool GUI animations where you could just slide a file from one iOS device to the next.

9. Quick access to toggle Bluetooth, WiFi, and 3G on and off.

Yeah, some people toggle their Bluetooth a lot. Right now it takes five steps. Apple could always move the Bluetooth setting to a first-level heading in the Settings app, but if you’re a “power toggler” and are constantly turning Bluetooth on and off (or 3G or Wifi) it might be nice to have quick access to these settings in another way. Here are a few ideas how Apple could do it:

  • Siri — (as mentioned earlier) “Turn Bluetooth Off.” Done.
  • Swipe the dock to the right — The dock in iOS doesn’t do anything when you swipe over it. Apple could easily enable left or right swiping of the dock to reveal quick-access toggle buttons for wireless services behind in.
  • Swipe up at the bottom of any screen — Just like you can swipe down from the top of any screen to reveal Notification Center, Apple could enable up-swiping from the bottom of any screen to quickly reveal wireless service toggle buttons.
  • Add Bluetooth to the multitasking bar — This of course is the most obvious answer. Just like you can adjust the volume or screen rotation lock from the multitasking bar, Apple could easily add a Bluetooth toggle button there too.

10. Universal passcode locks for apps.

Right now it’s up to the developer to include a passcode lock option for an app. It would be nice if Apple could add a Passcode Lock Center in Settings where you could choose to set not only a passcode for your iPhone or iPad, but also apply the same or different passcode to any app of your choice on your device. More security is always nice.

11. Multiple signatures in Mail.

Sometimes you want to send emails with different signatures. Right now iOS only lets you have one signature — and it’s either attached to every email or it’s not. Give us multiple signature options, including the ability to include or exclude signatures right within each email composition window.

12. Safari Top Sites.

This isn’t so much a feature I’d like to see on the iPhone, but I think it would rock on the iPad. This is also a holdover from my last iOS wishlist. Ever since Apple introduced Top Sites for desktop Safari, I’ve used them as my primary way of getting to my favorite sites. I love how they give me a graphical representation of when a site has new content on it, and it’s much better for the layperson than updates through RSS feeds. Enabling Top Sites in mobile Safari would make it much easier for users to navigate to their favorite sites and know when those sites have new content (something web clip icons can’t do either).

13. Ability to select default mail, calendar, and Twitter clents.

Yeah, this is a long shot, but I’m adding it to the list because so many people have requested it. Do I see this ever happening? Nope.

14. Styled Text APIs.

This is also another holdout from a previous wishlist and it’s something I hope Apple implements this time around, again, for developers’ sakes. While there are many great word processors available for iOS, Pages on the iPad is still the best. Why? Because it’s got an incredibly rich set of styled text features. Apple hasn’t made the styled text APIs used in Pages available to developers, so if developers do want to use styled text in their apps, they basically need to write all that code from scratch. If Apple decides to open up the styled text APIs used in Pages to other developers, we’ll see some great productivity apps coming out later this year.

15. Improved cursor navigation.

I originally didn’t have any suggestions for improving iOS’s text entry or onscreen keyboard, but then I saw this concept video by YouTube user danielchasehooper. The concept is simply brilliant and would make cursor navigation much, much easier on the iPad’s large screen where text entry fields are generally further away from your fingers than on the iPhone’s screen.

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