What I want in iOS 9, OS X 10.11, and a new Apple TV

In last year’s iOS wish list, I noted that Android had finally caught up to iOS. This year, for the first time, it really feels like Google has surpassed Apple. Most importantly, Apple’s recent breakneck pace of innovation has led to self-inflicted wounds—you can only keep adding new features at the expense of stability for so long before it all breaks down.

Thankfully, it seems like Apple realizes it’s time for a ‘Snow Leopard’ year. Both iOS 9 and OS X 10.11 are rumored to be focused on stability and optimizing existing features. Understanding that, I’ve tried to focus less on pie-in-the-sky features and more on basic system improvements and refinements.

Here we go!

iOS 9

Big picture stuff:

System-wide ‘Dark mode’: A lot of people like the “night themes” in apps like Pocket and Tweetbot and Reeder. But I had no idea how many until I saw this short post by Marco Arment: more people want a dark mode in Overcast than any other feature! It’s also an accessibility feature for some people, especially because the flat design in iOS 7+ means most screens are much “whiter” than previous OS versions, as Matt Gemmell visually documented. Now that Apple has added options for Dark menus and docks in OS X Yosemite, it seems like this is on their radar. Hopefully, they build a system-wide toggle right into iOS so that you can enable a night theme in all apps at once.

Lock screen “Complications”: Apple still won’t allow widgets on the home screen, only in Notification Center. Fine. How about porting “complications” from watchOS back over to the mothership OS? Then, like on the Apple Watch, you could have the temperature or your daily step count or your next event right on your home screen.

Add stickers to iMessage: I’ll always have a soft spot for emoticons, but it’s clear emoji are better. But the new rage in Asia are “stickers” — think even larger, more intricately-drawn emoji. And instead of being based on a Unicode standard, which makes it hard to create new emojis, apps can add new stickers anytime. I think it’d be a lot of fun to see a bunch of Apple-designed stickers in the Messages app.

Allow all apps to use the NFC chip: I was ecstatic that the iPhone 6 finally included NFC. But Apple has restricted outside developers from using it, reserving it for Apple Pay. I get it, you want to keep things simple and make sure your new payment service is secure. But now, with a year under your belt, it’s time to open it up. Allow developers to make apps that can read the balance on your NFC-based public transit card, share contact information with nearby NFC-enabled phones, or change system settings based on proximity to NFC tags.

Third-party default apps: I feel like a broken clock saying this every year, but it’s pretty much the biggest low-hanging fruit left (that notably has existed on Android forever). I will not rest until I can make Mailbox or Outlook or Spark or Inbox or CloudMagic my default app for creating new emails from other apps.

Video player

Video mini-player: As I encounter more and more videos, I can’t help but increasingly feel hostage to them. On my computer, it’s easy to open a video in one window while you keep working in another. But on iOS, you can’t do that. My solution? A small mini-player, just like the YouTube and Twitter apps already have, but system-wide. Apple should look to their own FaceTime app’s “picture-in-picture” for inspiration—make it small and draggable so you can put it in whichever corner of the screen you want.

(I know Apple is working on split-screen apps, especially for the rumored 12-inch iPad Pro. But that’s a LOT more work for developers. Instead of just designing for the whole screen, they would have to make responsive designs that only take up 25%, 33%, and 50% of the screen. Think about how long it took most websites to adapt for smartphone screens. A video mini-player sounds a lot easier to implement now, right?)

Always horizontal videos (even if rotation lock is on): You hold your phone vertically while using it. But every time you come across a video, you turn it horizontally to see the video full screen. But if your rotation lock is on, it doesn’t work. Instead, I propose that iPhones always play videos horizontally. That way, you don’t have to disable rotation lock before and re-enable it afterwards every time.

Rewind 10 seconds button: Why does Apple’s default video player make it so hard to skip back a few seconds? After 8 years, it still only has rewind and fast forward buttons. Even the HBO GO app finally added a ‘skip back 10 seconds’ button. Get with the times, Apple.

Don’t force embedded videos to always play full screen: On an iPad, you can play embedded videos in place and still scroll around the web page, just like on a computer. On an iPhone, videos can ONLY be played in fullscreen. Sometimes you just want to listen to a video while reading other parts of the page; your iPhone shouldn’t restrict you from doing so.

Phone calls:

Caller ID for all numbers, not just those in your contacts: I know there are technical and financial reasons behind it, but it still sucks that landline phones have caller ID with names and cell phones generally don’t. But now, Android apps like TrueCaller and Facebook Hello can use the Internet to instantly find information about numbers that call you. Either Apple needs to open up the APIs to allow apps like this to come to iOS or build it themselves. I want to always see a name when someone calls me, whether they’re in my contacts or not.

Talking caller ID: If you’ve never experienced this on your landline, you’re really missing out. Instead of getting up and walking across the room just to see that a telemarketer is calling, my desk phone will literally speak aloud the name of whoever’s calling. It’s great and it’s time to have this option on my smartphone too.

Phone calls as regular notifications, not fullscreen: John Gruber has been making the case for this for a while. We use the phone apps on our smartphones less than ever and it’s annoying to have an incoming call take over your whole screen when you’re in the middle of something else. An option to have phone calls as regular banner notifications, that’s all we ask.

System improvements:

Option to quickly block future notifications from an app: Nice guy that I am, I always say yes when an app asks to send me notifications. Most apps are pretty good about only sending useful notifications…and then there are the troublemakers. The apps with spammy or way-too-frequent notifications. Instead of making users dig deep into the Settings app, it would be great if there was a way to instantly block future notifications, just like the spam button in email clients.

Really chronological notifications: Far too often, I pull my phone out of my pocket and use Touch ID to unlock it immediately without realizing I had notifications waiting for me on my lockscreen. So I go to Notification Center to find my most recent notifications and they’re all over the place. Instead of grouping notifications by app, maybe it’s time to sort them individually in chronological order.

Customize control center buttons: Having a bunch of system shortcuts consolidated in Control Center is great. But not everyone toggles the same options or needs the same app shortcuts. Time to let people customize both the top and bottom rows of Control Center.

More useful battery usage info: iOS 8 added a Battery Usage panel, but it’s not very useful. It just shows which apps you use most, which I already know because, well, those are the apps I always open. Instead, show me which apps use the most battery for every minute they’re open, or how long apps stay open in the background, or what small tweaks I can make to increase battery life.

Search bar in Settings.app: The Settings app is more bloated than ever and it’s getting nigh-impossible to find some settings. Like System Preferences on a Mac, it’s time to add a search bar.

Health app redesign: I was really excited last year for the debut of the Health app. I thought it would be fantastic to have a centralized place that analyzed your health data and surfaced interesting trends and suggestions. Instead, the current Health app is more like Excel with some graphs. I really hope Apple takes what they learned in making the beautiful Activity app for the Apple Watch and bring it over to Health. If nothing else, at least redesign the home screen of the app to feature more useful, actionable information.

Increase tab limit in Safari: When iOS 7 was announced 2 years ago, Apple promised you could open unlimited tabs in Safari. Unlimited! Unfortunately, sometime between announcing the OS at WWDC and actually launching it, they changed it to a 24-tab limit. With iOS 8, that limit increased to 36 tabs. But power users use more tabs than that on their computers. If they can’t honor the original promise of unlimited, I hope it at least gets bumped to 48 tabs this year.

Don’t overwrite open tabs in Safari: If you already have the max number of Safari tabs open and you open another one, do you know what happens? Safari silently overwrites your first tab with the new one. Even worse, you won’t even know you’re nearing the limit because, as of iOS 7, Safari no longer shows you a number for how many tabs you have open. So if you want to know whether you’re near the limit or not, you have to manually count your tabs. Stop it, Safari. Just stop it.

OS X 10.11

Here’s my complete list of things I want to see in the new OS X:

  1. Make it work again.

That’s it. I don’t care if we don’t see any new features, I just want everything to work well again. OS X used to be a bastion of amazing new features that worked perfectly on your computer thanks to Apple’s vertical hardware/software integration. But what world are we living in that Windows 10 now runs better on the new Macbook than OS X?!

Even decades-long Apple developers like Craig Hockenberry are fed up with Yosemite’s constant problems. When it gets this bad, it’s time to take a step back and re-assess.

I know it would be cool to see small things like a new Get Info screen or Control Center or Siri on the Mac, but the most important thing is fixing the existing problems. I said it last year and I’ll say it again: “for the love of god, just don’t screw it up.”

New Apple TV

What was Apple originally going to announce at WWDC?

  • iOS 9 (OK, but I wouldn’t mind no new features if it worked better.)
  • OS X 10.11 (Great, hope it’s focused on stability too.)
  • Apple Watch native apps (Better late than never.)
  • HomeKit (Could be big, could be nothing, we’ll see.)
  • Streaming music service (Yet another Spotify clone? Yawn.)
  • Streaming TV service (The first mainstream Internet TV service? Around $40/month for all the good channels? YES PLEASE.)
  • New Apple TV (YES, YES, YES, YES, YES, YES, YES!!!!!)

And then the bad news rolled in last week: no new streaming TV service, no new Apple TV.

ARRRGGGH.

The Apple TV hasn’t seen a meaningful update in 5 years. Five years! I understand needing time to lock down the deals with TV networks for the streaming service, but I really thought they had turned the corner and were ready to show off a new super-powered Apple TV with 3rd-party apps. Alas, not yet. But when that day comes (hopefully just a little later this year), here’s what I’m hoping to see:

App Store with native apps

This one’s a no-brainer. Now that we know Tim Cook has given up on the full-fledged Apple television set for now, there’s nothing holding them back from letting developers build real 3rd-party apps for the set-top box, not just web apps like I previously expected.

Some people don’t think we need TV apps. But right now, only the big boys can make deals with Apple to get their apps preloaded on the set-top box. Your ESPNs and HBOs of the world. But what about all the smaller TV channels? What about web video networks? What about upstart streaming services, like Sling TV? What about iTunes competitors, like Amazon Prime and Vudu? A true open-to-all App Store would allow all of them to make TV apps too, not just Apple’s preferred partners.

Bluetooth or RF remote

The current Apple TV remote, like most remotes, uses infrared: you have to point it at your TV to get it to work. But once you’ve tried a remote that doesn’t require line-of-sight, like the Dish Hopper’s RF remote or the Amazon Fire TV’s Bluetooth remote, you can never go back. It’s glorious to not have to worry about how you hold the remote or angling it towards your TV. Even better, you can use them while staying cozy under the covers of your bed or even from another room. Time to step into the (very basic) future, Apple.

AirPlay via Wi-Fi Direct

I love AirPlay. It’s the single most compelling reason to have an Apple TV and the only reason anyone still cares about Apple’s current stagnating box despite impressive competition. But it sucks that it only works if both your phone and your Apple TV are on the same Wi-Fi network. It means that if a guest comes over to the house and wants to fling something to the big screen, I have to give them my very, very long Wi-Fi password (I like my router’s guest Wi-Fi network for security, visitors like it because the password is much shorter).

Fortunately, there’s already a solution. Wi-Fi Direct. Basically, 2 devices can see and talk to each other without needing a router in the middle. I know Peer-to-Peer Airplay was quietly announced last year, but it apparently requires Bluetooth and doesn’t work too well. I’m hoping to see a better implementation on any new set-top box. (And while you’re at it, how about making AirPlay more reliable again?)

Streaming TV service with full DVR

I can’t stress this enough: I don’t care what other innovations Apple comes up with for their eventual streaming service, I just hope it has a DVR. Store the recordings in the cloud, store them on a large hard drive in the new Apple TV, whatever…I just want to be able to record any show, watch it months later, and be able to rewind and fast-forward at will.

Around 15 years ago, ReplayTV and TiVo debuted. And it was glorious! You could record shows and skip over the commercials. But now, in a world where about 50% of cable subscribers have a DVR, television networks are increasingly fearful for the viability of their cash cows. Instead of recording your favorite shows to watch later, they want you to use the VOD feature, knowing you can’t skip the commercials (think Hulu, but on your cable box). And so services like Sling TV, while incredibly promising, don’t have true DVR capabilities—the networks won’t let them.

And so, as we begin to transition from DRM-free cable TV to IP-based streaming TV services, I really hope that Apple uses their bully pulpit as the largest company in the world and pushes back on behalf of their users. Viva la DVR revolucion!


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