What We Want in iOS 5, and What We’ll Likely Get

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WWDC 2011 is just around the corner, and that means we won’t have to wait long before we see what Apple’s latest major update for its mobile operating system has in store. iOS 5 is sure to pack a few powerful surprises, but here’s a list of things we can expect, as well as things we’d like to see.

Good Bets

I’m not a betting man, but if I were, I’d put money on just a scant few changes for iOS 5. It’s not that I don’t think iOS 5 will bring big changes; in fact, it should be one of the most significant updates for Apple’s mobile OS since its introduction, due to increased competition from Android and the possibility we won’t see any new iPhone hardware Monday. But Apple has done a good job of keeping a tight lid on any details about iOS 5, so there’s precious little to base predictions on.

New Notifications. Apple will probably change the way notifications work and appear on iOS. I argued a while ago that Apple’s notification system was perfectly adequate for most users in its existing form, but as competition grows in the mobile space, they’re starting to look decidedly old-fashioned. Apple will change how they work, but what changes are in store remain up in the air. Look for a central notification history screen, at the very least, so they aren’t lost to the ether once dismissed as they are now. iOS app Boxcar provides a pretty good example of how better native notifications could work.

iCloud Integration. Apple is unveiling a suite of cloud services bundled under the iCloud trademark. It stands to reason we’ll see iCloud hooks built-in to iOS itself, and an iOS-style icon spied on a banner at the WWDC venue seems to reinforce that assumption. iCloud integration in iOS 5 could be what those early rumors of Photo Stream and Media Stream features are all about, and will likely handle syncing up your digital life via email, contacts and calendars as well. Look out for some surprising additional x-factor features, too, since Apple has to make a big splash with iCloud to make it a runaway success.

AirDrop. This is an announced OS X Lion feature that lets Mac users automatically and easily share files with other AirDrop-enabled computers nearby, without setup. So far, Apple hasn’t said anything about AirDrop coming to iOS devices, but easy wireless file sharing between devices is something iOS users have been looking for in third-party apps like Bump for a long time. Apple has a golden opportunity to increase cross-platform integration by bringing it to mobile.

Interesting Possibilities

These are things that have popped up on the radar, but either because they’re somewhat extreme, or because there isn’t much backing them up, they remain little more than exciting teases at this point.

Twitter Integration. As per my article earlier today, the Twitter-iOS integration rumor is gaining traction in some influential circles, and for good reason: OS-level Twitter support would make direct social media interaction on the iPhone much more of a reality, and could give Apple a leg up on the competition. Such a close partnership would be a big step for Apple, however, which tends to shy away from such arrangements, so we’ll have to wait and see just how close they’re willing to get.

Widgets. Along with new notifications, rumors have been circulating that widgets will get introduced in iOS 5. These would provide live, updating information directly on the home screen, and go way beyond the badge notifications iOS currently offers. Android already has widgets, and Apple’s own native Calendar app icon updates automatically as the day changes. Apple should and likely will provide live updating content to the home screen, but don’t expect its approach to resemble Android’s.

Spaces. Home screen management on iOS devices got a lot easier with the introduction of Folders and the ability to reshuffle your icons and screens in iTunes, but it could be easier still. An iOS version of Spaces, which Apple has already patented, would do a great deal to make managing your iOS “desktop” easier still. Even just the ability to quickly rearrange the scrolling order of home screens would be a big usability boost.

Far-Fetched, but Awesome

I would love these to be true, but there’s little or no indication that they are, unfortunately.

Facebook Integration. While Twitter integration is being talked about by some fairly reliable sources, Facebook integration isn’t. Apple has had a rocky relationship with Facebook in the past, thanks to trouble with Ping at launch. But Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg did meet for dinner once, and who knows what they discussed there?

Live Lock Screen. Apple’s iOS lock screen doesn’t do much beyond telling you the date and time, and in the opinion of many users, that’s a waste. If Apple added a better notification system to the lock screen, or provided a way for third-party apps to display live updating information from RSS or Twitter source, for instance, it would be a lot more useful. Even if Apple just let you display the current weather on the lock screen, it would be a huge improvement.

What do you want from iOS 5? Feel free to point out anything I’ve missed here, or your own suggestions for what features would really make Apple’s next platform revision also its most ground-breaking yet.

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