I want to start with a little confession: I actually like iOS interface and appearance as it is. I don’t find it ‘boring’. I don’t feel it has to change visually at all costs to be a better operating system. And I really think all the debate about flat UI versus skeuomorphic UI is an utter waste of electronic ink. Do you think that most non-geek iPhone/iPad users care whether iOS’s icons look flat or tridimensional? From what I see and hear, they seem to be more concerned with other, more practical aspects, like responsiveness and functionality. They want things to work smoothly and consistently. They want a certain degree of predictability in a user interface. They want reliability and solid foundations, so that when new features are added, behaviours don’t change much and the learning curve remains pleasingly gentle.
This is iOS, and those are important ingredients of its success. Debating drop shadows and button flatness makes for good conversation among designers, nerds, tech bloggers, and the like.
Just a few things
That doesn’t mean there isn’t room for improvements in iOS. My ‘power user’ side pretty much agrees with Federico Viticci’s iOS 7 wishes, but if I have to consider my everyday practical needs and my typical usage patterns, the iOS 7 wishlist gets surprisingly short. There are two main areas in which I’d really like to see new features and/or changes to the status quo: photo management and communications. But first, one little thing that has really annoyed me for a long while now: I demand that iOS 7 get rid once and for all of that silly, awkward and by now outdated method of manual app rearrangement. You know, the “tap and hold until the icons start wiggling then rearrange them by dragging and dropping with your finger” technique. It might be simple enough when you just want to move an app in a different spot within the same screen, but when you have a lot of apps, and you want to move a certain app, say, from screen 5 to screen 2, chances are that things won’t go as smoothly, other apps will shift and move to unwanted spots, and you’ll spend more time than you thought rearranging things in different screens, for an overall frustrating and maddening experience.
For how I use my iPhone, photo management on iOS is a mess. Your take on this may vary, but one thing that really annoys me is the futility of creating separate photo folders when the Camera Roll remains an ‘everything bucket’ anyway. If I import images to use as wallpapers, or download them from some website, they go in the Camera Roll. If I take a screenshot, it goes in the Camera Roll. If I shoot a video, it goes in the Camera Roll. And so on and so forth. And I haven’t even activated iCloud Photo Streaming!
Then there are apps which automatically generate photo folders to gather all the photos, images and drawings you create with them. In the picture above you can see HipstaPrints (created by Hipstamatic), Instagram and Snapseed (created by the respective apps). There are two or three more down the list that didn’t make the screenshot. These folders would be useful to me if the photos/images therein were removed from the Camera Roll, so that the Camera Roll would become easier to navigate, and ideally I would find there only the snaps taken with the iPhone’s camera.
The only folders that are actually separated from the Camera Roll in the picture above are Custom Wallpapers and Photo Library, because they are synchronised with their counterparts on my Mac.
For the sake of comparison, here’s a screenshot of my Palm Pre 2’s Photos app:
Here, things look similar, but they’re actually better, and much closer to how I consider an efficient photo management: Photo roll contains only photos taken with the Pre’s camera. Downloads contains images downloaded from the Web or coming as email attachments. MOLO and palomo are folders generated by two different apps, and Screen captures contains all the screenshots I’ve taken so far. (Not included in the screenshot is Wallpapers, a folder containing webOS’s default wallpapers). Things are neatly organised this way, and it’s actually easier to locate certain photos or images.
What’s more, those folders are preserved when you connect the Pre to the computer as a USB drive. So, if you want to copy a few images to use as wallpapers, you can drop them directly into the Wallpapers folder. Simple as that. If I could do the same with the iPhone, it would be really awesome.
Many third-party apps fill iOS’s gaps in this department, even for things that iOS could very well handle itself. For example, I often need to pass photos and images from my iPhone or iPad to one or more of my Macs. To do that, I use a truly nifty app called Scotty. Maybe its UI won’t win any design award, but the app does its job exceptionally well — and quickly. Once the devices are on the same wireless network, you choose the destination, you choose the photos to transfer, and voilà. You can even pass photos from one iOS device to another.
I want this functionality built in iOS. It’s very Apple-like and long overdue, if you think about it. I remember mobile phones in the pre-iPhone era doing something similar simply by connecting via Bluetooth. Apple has put AirDrop in Mac OS X — now it’s time to extend the concept to iOS as well.
Another feature I’d love to see on iOS is Screen Sharing. That would be useful especially on the iPad. Think about Screen Sharing between two Macs: the process is simple and seamless, and when the two machines are on a fast wireless connection, monitoring and controlling one from the other is really smooth. Why can’t I do that with my iPad? Sure, I can do it if I install a third-party VNC app. I did some research in the App Store, time ago, and I found two kinds of VNC apps: 1) Decent to good apps, but rather expensive; 2) Cheap or free apps, but horrible to use, slow, unreliable.
I strongly feel that such feature should be part of the OS, or at least made available by Apple as a separate app (like AirPort Utility).
That’s it for me, really. I don’t think I’m asking too much, either. These improvements would certainly be more welcome than a superficial UI overhaul to make it ‘flatter’, more minimal or less skeuomorphic.
- 1. I mean superficial in the literal sense of “occurring at or on the surface,” of course. ↩