24 Jun 2015

What iOS 9 should have been

iOS 9 has been announced, and is interesting, but I wish it did more.

It should have brought all devices at least to full responsiveness and battery life as they were on day one. In other ways, applying an OS update should it make it faster and increase battery life, not decrease.

There should have been more photography features, like RAW support and long exposures (like 1 minute). The camera app should detect it’s on a tripod and automatically increase exposure time while using base ISO.
Users should have been able to set their default apps, like browser, maps, email, etc.

Apple should have addressed one of the longstanding limitations with iOS — that files are stored within individual apps. Apple should have let apps open files stored in other apps. For example, if I’m using the Inbox app to write a mail, and I click the attach button, I should be able to open a PDF stored in GoodReader. Or a Youtube video downloaded using a Youtube downloader app [1].

The real iOS 9 has an iCloud Drive app, similar to the Dropbox app. But Apple should have also added a Documents app that shows your information in all apps and all services. Once you open the Documents app, you’ll be able to see your files stored on the device, which is the union of all files stored in all apps. You’ll be able to sort and filter by various criteria like the app that you used to create the file, file type (both an extension and a more general type like “video”), created date, last modified date, and by the contents of the file. It will also extend to the cloud. So, if you search for PDFs, you’ll get PDFs stored locally and in various cloud services like email, Dropbox, OneDrive, GoodReader, etc.

Apple should also let iOS apps work with an external monitor, keyboard and trackpad. Plug in your USB type-C cable (on a future iDevice) or Lightning cable, and it will charge your phone, while letting it work as a PC. You’d use Apple’s wireless trackpad and keyboard, or plug in a wired keyboard and mouse to your monitor, which acts as a USB hub. Apple can sell an adapter for $50 that takes in a USB type-C or Lightning input from your iDevice, and provides DisplayPort, HDMI and four USB outputs for your monitor and peripherals.

This will be critical when you need more screen space than a tiny phone screen, or need a keyboard for extended typing. It will let many people get real work done on an iDevice, or handle complex activities that require multiple tabs or apps to be used in parallel, like planning and booking a trip.

External monitor support will provide a solid reason for people to buy an iDevice rather than an Android one, rather than only incremental or minor differences. If an iDevice can replace a PC for 80% of users, great. These would be users who don’t need a lot of CPU and memory, or niche apps that are available only on the PC. It wouldn’t have full multitasking, like a PC does, or be open to installing apps from other sources than the iOS app store. So, think of this as an iDevice with a larger screen, not a full-fledged PC.

These ideas would have made iOS 9 a huge leap forward, rather than another incremental release. It’s sad to see Apple apparently satisfied with making small-to-medium changes to iOS every year.

[1] iOS 8 onwards lets you pick files stored in other apps’ iCloud containers, but not stored locally. If you’re interested in technical details, iOS 8 has an extensible Document Picker framework. Apps can define plugins (called sources) to let files be picked from, say, Dropbox. iOS ships  with one source, which is iCloud Drive. Ideally, it should also let you pick files from other apps’ local storage (specifically, the Documents directory).

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