Digging into my iPhone’s inbox for a specific message—a friend’s list of recommended Napa wineries—I can only think of one thing: I could really use a glass of pinot right now. Searching within the Mail app is clumsy, broken and frustrating. And it’s not the only annoyance in Apple’s mobile operating system.
When iOS 7 came along, it was a major software upgrade, both visually and functionally, offering the most changes users have ever seen in one fell swoop. But it didn’t solve everything.
The 2-year-old Maps app, though evolving, still has plenty of room for improvement. The lawsuit-inspiring iMessage debacle also clearly needs some urgent attention, especially if a user’s friends have switched from iOS to Android. And there are other fundamentals in the operating system that sorely need a revamp.
Where Apple Should Cast Its “i” Next
Next week, the company kicks off its Worldwide Developers Conference, where it’s expected to unveil iOS 8. This is a prime opportunity to address a few ongoing issues for users and developers alike.
It’s good timing, too. Apple devices may still account for the biggest market share globally, but according to data from Net Applications, its slice of the pie is shrinking. Last month, worldwide iOS share on tablets and smartphones slumped from 53.29 percent in March 2014 to 51.11 percent in April 2014. That was its lowest point in a year. In April 2013, iOS accounted for 59.04 percent.
Here are some of our hopes for things the iPhone maker could do to make users and developers happy—including fixing its own Apple-made apps, letting users replace them, and allowing apps to talk directly to each other.
1. Fix iMessage—And Stat!
If there’s a top priority, it has to be fixing iMessage. When users leave iOS, iMessage doesn’t realize they’ve left and attempts to deliver iPhone texts to them through Apple’s system. This, of course, doesn’t work. And the intended recipient—now on Android or another platform—never gets the message.
Apple pledges to fix this, but its past attempts haven’t squashed the bug yet. Granted, the solution may be trickier than it seems. It might even require carriers reporting in whenever iPhone users jump ship to another handset. Or even doing the unthinkable, like looping in Android to ensure cross compatibility.
Regardless, Apple has to sort this out and fast. The fundamental part of a smartphone is not the “smart” part; it’s the phone. Making sure that a core communications feature—i.e., SMS texts—”just works” is non-negotiable. Too many people rely on it.
2. Fill In Obvious Gaps In Apple Apps
Searching Mail is a horrid experience, with no way to filter or sort results. And it’s rather obvious that the app is not searching the messages on the server, no matter what it tells you.
See also: How iOS 8 Will Fix Apple Maps
Maps has come a long way since it launched. At least you don’t hear about people being navigated into lakes anymore, which is good (though it’s hardly anything to write home about). The app, though, is still missing a core function: transit info. Apple acquired Hopstop last year, so there’s really no excuse not to integrate that data right into Maps in iOS 8.
Meanwhile, over in Safari, I’d love to save webpages to Pocket or Evernote. There’s simply no straightforward way to do that without emailing links.
3. Let Users Change Default Apps
If Apple can’t (or won’t) fix its stock apps, at least let people switch them out.
iCab Mobile is an extremely useful, adaptable mobile Web browser capable of handling plugins and other features. It’s an app I wish I could use more often, but I can’t. Every time I click a link in an app, it fires up Safari. The Mailbox app from Dropbox has helped me tame my inbox, but when I need to email a link, pic or other item, I don’t have an option to use it; I always get Apple’s inbuilt Mail app instead.
I’d also love to ditch the default Calendar and Camera, not to mention Apple’s stock keyboard. Every time I see an Android user zooming through text entry with a Swype gesture-based keyboard, I can hardly contain my jealousy.
And after years of issuing iOS releases, it’s mind-boggling that users still can’t delete the Stocks app. It’s a minor grumble in light of the rest, but its persistence is simply inexplicable and frustrating.
4. Allow More Control Over GPS To Help Battery Life
Given that battery drain is one of the top nuisances of smartphone usage, and that GPS is often a primary culprit, it would be great if users could actually control the function. Right now, we can go into Location Services (in Settings) and turn it on or off—across the board or on an app-by-app basis. But frankly, it’s still a pain in the neck.
Apple gives app makers the ability to adjust GPS and location services through its Core Location framework. This lets developers decide whether their apps will engage the GPS antenna consistently—essential for functions like navigation—or just occasionally.
But not all apps use this tool efficiently. And rather than forcing me to delete them or block them completely, let me choose which apps can occasionally hit up the GPS. That way, I can still use them without sucking my battery dry.
5. Tighter Integration Between OS X And iOS
Apple has clearly brought its mobile operating system and desktop OS X closer together in numerous ways, thanks to updates in iOS 7 and Mavericks. Reminders glide easily between devices and laptops, as do notifications, notes and other apps or features.
Things break down when you get to AirDrop, though. The native Apple utility, which allows the sharing of docs between iOS devices or between Macs, could have been an incredibly handy feature. Unfortunately, there’s a weird disconnect in that mobile and computer users can’t reach out and share with each other.
So you can AirDrop a photo from your phone to your iPad, but to have it on your Mac, you have to sync it to iTunes, email it to yourself or use a third-party app. This just doesn’t make sense.
Another candidate for the “enigmas of iOS” pile: Mail (again). Some people rely on the range of flag colors in the desktop version to prioritize their messages. In the mobile Mail app, all those color-coded flags all combine into one single orange heap.
6. Loosen Sandboxing Restrictions On Apps
When I interviewed LastPass founder Joe Siegrist, he mentioned something that stuck with me: His app—which saves and protects passwords—can’t function the way he wants it to in iOS. The reason? Sandboxing.
“Basically, sandboxing means that apps are isolated and can only play within their own sandbox,” he said. “LastPass is special, in that it needs to interact with other sandboxes. It needs to interact with other apps.” This is why you can’t just access an account in Safari, and have LastPass auto-fill your username and password, like Android users can. And although Apple offers its own built-in password manager for Safari, neither that nor LastPass can fill in logins for your banking, Facebook or other dedicated apps.
Apple has always held an iron-fisted grip on its ecosystem, largely to ensure a smooth experience for its users. But continuing to isolate apps—during a time when software development is all about integration—could wind up making iOS feel hopelessly out of date.
Turns out, Apple may know that all too well. Rumor has it that the company has been developing an API to let apps share data with each other. Hopefully iOS 8 will benefit from all that work, and actually let apps communicate directly.
One More Thing …
Some of these issues are longstanding complaints about the experience with the iPhone and its iOS cousins, the iPad and iPod Touch. And in the past, the odds that Apple might actually address such fundamental issues were next to nil.
But that was then. Apple during Steve Jobs’ reign was steeped in technological righteousness. (If you couldn’t get a signal, it’s not the phone’s fault. You’re just holding it wrong.) It was easy to overlook the company’s control freak personality, because it kept many sketchy developers and poorly written apps at bay. But now, it just feels limited. Even old-fashioned.
Current CEO Tim Cook likely knows that. At the very least, he seems to be running a different joint than his predecessor. Cook’s Apple admits failures. It recognizes bugs and pledges to fix them. It might even reverse course and buck the departed Apple co-founder: Jobs once told journalists that no one would buy big smartphones. Now, some sites believe a 4.7-inch iPhone 6 is in the works. If true, that would be the largest iPhone that has ever existed.
In years past, the company would have never considered the wish list items mentioned above. It still might not. But times have changed. Some may not like this kinder, gentler Apple, but in that, others might see hope for more flexibility. It’s something Apple greatly needs, if it wants to cast its “i” to the future.
Sandbox image by Flickr user Ben Dunham