Those critical of Apple suggest iOS, its operating system for the iPhone and the iPad, has fallen behind Google’s Android and even Microsoft’s Windows Phone. I’m inclined to agree — and I’m an iPhone user.
Though much of the speculation around the upcoming iOS 7 has dealt with its likely design — talk is of a minimalist, texture-free user interface — it’s functionality that ought to be Apple’s primary focus.
In two weeks, we’ll know. That’s when Apple CEO Tim Cook is expected to unveil the new iOS at a keynote at the company’s Worldwide Developers Conference in San Francisco.
iOS is getting long in the tooth. Compared to Windows Phone’s live tiles or Android’s widgets, a rigid, grid-based icon layout looks antiquated.
Toggling features such as Wi-Fi or Bluetooth in iOS on and off requires digging around in settings menus, while only the calendar icon on the home screen offers dynamic information (in the form of the date).
Notifications, meanwhile, force users into apps rather than providing overlays that allow them to interact seamlessly with the software.
And many of Apple’s default apps are so overdue for updates that some users — your columnist among them — have all but abandoned them in favour of third-party equivalents.
By all accounts, the grid of icons isn’t going to disappear with iOS 7, and the patent lawsuits of recent years suggest the company can’t simply mimic Android with toggles for Wi-Fi and other settings in its notifications centre, even if doing so would delight users.
Still, expectations for iOS 7 are high.
Apple’s welcome to keep the home screen simple if it can offer innovative ways of reducing how often users need visit it. The company has always preached the importance of simplicity. It’s this design ethos that’s to blame for the key settings being buried in menus. Apple’s argument has been that users shouldn’t have to turn things like Wi-Fi on and off.
Perhaps that’s the problem with iOS: it keeps holding users’ hands when many of them have enough experience to make their own decisions about which features are on and which aren’t and when.
Apple is burdened with iOS’s legacy of simplicity. Its icon approach may make the iPad and iPhone the device of choice for people who abhor complexity, but the flexibility of Android means it’s increasingly the appropriate choice for more users looking for greater control.
That’s not to say Android suits everyone’s needs. So feature-rich is Samsung’s flagship Galaxy S4 that the device goes as far as offering users a basic, pared-down interface option should the plethora of customisable options prove too daunting.
Making devices so complex users may wish to dumb them down isn’t what Apple should be aiming for. Instead, it needs to strike a balance between offering users more options with regards to existing features while offering new ones that actually make the iPhone and iPad better to use. One way to do this is to allow for better integration between iOS and third-party applications. For example, Apple should allow users to choose which Web browser opens a link rather than defaulting to Safari. And it should allow third-party apps like Twitter to integrate with Siri.
Whether Apple likes it or not, consumers don’t like to be locked in. Perhaps it’s time Apple knocked a few holes in that huge wall its erected around its garden. — (c) 2013 NewsCentral Media
- Craig Wilson is TechCentral deputy editor. Follow him on Twitter