Apple’s mobile users have long held iOS as a shining example of what could be done “right” for end users. But let’s face the truth: it’s showing its age. As someone who regularly uses Android by choice and also iOS by circumstance, I honestly prefer Android in almost every way (iOS winning only in responsiveness of interactions). It’s not only the visible interface, but also the features exposed to users and developers. Here are some things that Apple needs to steal improve if they want to do right by their users

Mounting as a storage device:

I want an easier way to get my files on and off of my device. Let’s admit that iTunes is a ball and chain and confess that iCloud is not magic. You know what IS magical and seamless? Connecting my device (physically or via network) and being able to just interact with it, like every other portable device since 2001.

The Home Screen:

Google stole borrowed the Apple approach to displaying installed apps (the “big ol’ grid of icons”), but quickly called it “App Drawer” and buried it a level deeper. With the home screen liberated, I can use it for “widgets” that give me at-a-glance information presented in (usually) well-designed panels. Interactive dialers, media players, toggles for settings (which would otherwise require navigating menus), and hundreds of other useful tools that are widgetized and ready to make my homescreen actually useful. Apple? Big ol’ grid of icons.

System-Wide File System Access:

This is a pipe dream because Apple has said in no uncertain terms that their “sandboxing” approach to applications is core to their security model. But it sucks. There are many good reasons to let applications talk to one another and only one good reason not to: “We don’t trust our users to make smart choices, so we’re going to protect them.” Any number of useful things I can do on my Android device are possible because of system-wide file system access, from amazing automation of tasks and events to simple things like uploading edited files to an FTP server.

App Management:

iOS app management is rough. I choose an app to download and I am unceremoniously dumped to the home screen to watch the cute progress overlay on the new icon. Back to the App Store to grab another app, dumped to the home screen again. Only, it’s not even downloading; it’s “pending” the completion of the first app. Frustrating, yes. But at least after they’re installed they will automatically update in the future, right? Nope. Just more one-by-one updating.

The current iteration of the Google Play Store is beautifully presented and intuitive to use, which hasn’t always been the case. But what has been the case is the ability to continue doing whatever you’re doing after choosing an app. And if that means grabbing more apps, they can all download at the same time. As they arrive in any order (the smallest will generally arrive first), you can start using them right away. And auto-update? Yep, that’s available for most apps from the Google Play Store.

Format Support:

Apple supports almost no media formats other than their own. The easiest compromise is to process everything through iTunes. ‘Nuff said. However, I can’t see Apple changing their stance on media formats and the iTunes yoke any time soon.

Flick To Scroll:

Apple has (hands-down) the most responsive mobile UI. You can’t deny it. But there’s something wonky about the iOS “flicking” (fast swipe) gesture to scroll a lengthy webpage or a long list. It seems to take 20 flicks where I expect it to take one or two. Here’s how it feels to me: You’re at the top of an awesome slide. You put your hands forward on the rails, “wind up,” and give yourself a huge push, expecting to hurtle down the slide! Instead, you move two feet and you find yourself stuck partway down. There’s no choice but to wiggle to the bottom, wondering how the person who built the playground could have failed to grasp the purpose of a slide. Just as Apple has failed to grasp that a mighty flick should speed me along rather than nudge me.

Android? I give myself that huge push and I hurtle to the bottom of the slide. I whip through long webpages, my app drawer view, or other long lists — not at an exaggerated speed, but at exactly the speed I should be going based on the gesture.

 

Conclusion

I do enjoy a lot of what iOS and Apple have to offer. The App Store is still home to the best apps, and I find it particularly useful for toddler-aged educational and entertainment tools. But I also find it very claustrophobic and limiting. I can admit that some of what I want in a phone is not going to happen any time soon (file system interaction for example), but these are the very things that will limit my willingness to buy more iOS devices. Other things (app management) pose no threat to the Apple way of life and I think they couldn’t arrive on iOS devices quickly enough! Apple needs to bring some of these things to iOS 6.

 

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