6 things I want to see in iOS 6

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WWDC is right around the corner, and with the likely preview of iOS 6 planned for the opening-day keynote, here’s a list of the things I want to see out of the latest mobile operating system from Apple.

Refined notifications

iOS 5’s Notification Center completely revamped the way notifications are handled on iOS devices, but there are some spots that could use small tweaks that could make a big difference in usability. The most common complaint about Notification Center is how small the “clear” buttons are that remove notifications from the dropdown menu. They’re hard to hit even for my fingers. Making them bigger and including a “clear all” button would mitigate this small annoyance.

Another problem is that the Notification Center dropdown menu is hard to find — it wouldn’t surprise me if most people discover it as the result of an accidental swipe. Part of the problem is that when a notification pops up, it gives you no hint as to where it’s going. If notifications slid up and off the screen, rather than flipping over the top of the current application, it would better make known Notification Center’s existence.

Notification Center in its current form also breaks the “layered” UI concept in iOS built by the UIs for Folders, the multitasking tray and Siri, all of which are below iOS’s main UI, while Notification Center slides down from the top. A simple way to fix this would be to have Notification Center “push” the screen down when you swipe. In fact, there’s a jailbreak tweak called Flowtation that does just that (see video above) that Apple could take some cues from.

And last, a Do Not Disturb mode à la OS X Mountain Lion would be nice, allowing you to manually turn off notifications easily. It’d be nice if you could set start and end times for DND as well.

A more useful Siri

Thanks, Siri.

Apple still labels its Siri voice assistant feature as a beta product, and for good reason. When it works, it works incredibly well, but there’ve been times when I’ve been frustrated by Siri’s limitations. It works well with Apple’s apps, but, for instance, if I want to create a note in SimpleNote instead of the Notes app I’m out of luck. Creating a Siri API so that other apps can have specialized commands makes sense. Those that remember using the first iPhone know how limited it was without third-party apps. The same is true of Siri.

Siri could also use more commands to handle regular iOS tasks like turning off Wi-Fi or Bluetooth. One of the annoying things about iOS is that there’s no quick way to toggle these settings; you have to go into Settings and do a little navigating to find them. Adding this functionality to Siri would make these tasks far more efficient.

I also hope Siri gets full functionality in countries outside the United States, where mapping and Yelp data aren’t available.

Updated looks

iOS was introduced in 2007 with the original iPhone. Not much has changed in the basic look of iOS since then. Tab bars, toolbars and lists all look the same as they did five years ago. The Settings app still has pinstripes, a visual feature that hasn’t been used in OS X since Tiger. It feels like it’s time for a refresh.

Thankfully, it seems Apple agrees. You may have noticed that iPhoto for iOS uses a neutral silver-colored theme for its tab bar and background. Apple’s recently released WWDC app also has the same silver theme. This could just be an experiment, of course. Apple’s used iTunes as a UI testing bed for years, so they may just be doing the same thing here. But it could also mean we’ll see more broad changes to the look and feel of iOS soon.

A new Safari

We’ve covered the improvements made to Safari in Mountain Lion extensively, and I’d really like those improvements to trickle down to Safari on iOS as well. A unified search and address bar, access to iCloud tabs, an offline Reading List and a new loading animation would be excellent additions to the best mobile browser out there.

AirDrop

AirDrop was a feature introduced in OS X Lion that allows you to wirelessly transfer files from one Mac to another. That’s great for two people wtih Macs, but what if one of them has an iPhone? Why shouln’t I be able to AirDrop some documents from my Mac to a friend’s iPhone? Or from his iPhone to mine? Having AirDrop on iOS would make collaboration far easier, and would save me from having to email files back and forth with someone in the same room.

Better inter-app communication

Mac OS X has had a feature called Services since it debuted, something it inherited from NeXTSTEP. Services are basically a simple form of inter-app communication. If I selected some text in Safari, say, I could then email that selected text by using going to the Services menu and clicking that option. iOS doesn’t have anything like this. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could just select some text, hit a button, and share it with another app?

On Android, an app can share data with any other app that can accept whatever data’s being shared through its Intents API. That’s a mouthful, but it basically means that I could share a photo from the photos app to the Facebook app just by hitting a button and choosing it. I think Apple’s been hesitant to implement something like this because the list of apps tends to get bloated (when I used Android, I had a list of 12 apps I could share photos to). However, I think the utility of this feature outweighs this drawback.

I’d be perfectly happy if only a few of these items make it into iOS 6. Either way, I’m looking forward to some surprises at WWDC 2012.

What do you want to see out of iOS 6? Tell us in the comments.

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