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by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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By Six Colors Staff

WWDC Wish List: iOS

Apple’s Greg Joswiak discusses iOS 9 at an event earlier this year.

It’s a big birthday for Apple’s mobile operating system this year: version 10. That’s a pretty significant milestone—I mean, the Mac’s been around for more than 30 years, and it’s still on version 10. iOS has expanded a lot since the days that it was just the iPhone OS, and in that time, most of the low-hanging fruit has been picked off. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t still plenty of improvements to be made. In fact, now that we’ve been using our iOS devices for nigh-on a decade, I think we have a better handle on the kind of capabilities that we value.

There likely won’t be any major iOS hardware announcements at WWDC: a new iPhone isn’t likely to arrive until the fall, the current iPad line-up is still pretty new, and the iPod touch…well, let’s just say it hasn’t been getting a lot of love, but a developer conference isn’t the place for it. But that’s fine, because there’s a lot more that can be brought to our existing devices with a new operating system update. Here are a few things we’d like to see in iOS 10.

Siri API

Like Hansel, voice-based intelligent agents are so hot right now. Apple’s in a weird position with Siri, in that it was the first major tech company to bake the intelligent agent right in to its mobile operating system, but since Siri’s release, it’s only made modest improvements to the feature. Meanwhile, Amazon and Google, as well as third-party companies like Viv, appear to be pushing hard into the same space.

Hence rumors that Apple is working on a Siri API to roll out next week, which would provide third-party developers a framework for letting their apps work with the intelligent agent. That’d not only give users more options for features, but it would also take some of the onus off of Apple to provide that functionality. And it would go a long way towards bringing Siri up to date and providing stiffer competition with offerings from the likes of Amazon. Not to mention that the Siri API on iOS would also be a boon for Siri appearing on the Mac.

Home/lock screen makeovers

I swear, they’ve been on the list for as long as I can remember. But to this day, iOS’s lock and home screens remain largely unchanged from their earliest days. If I want to see any information at a glance that isn’t in a notification, I have to either pull down the Today view of Notification Center (and then wait for it to refresh), or actually go into my phone, and then open the relevant app.

I get it: these kinds of widgets and easy, glanceable information are exactly what Apple’s trying to offer with the Apple Watch. But not everybody’s going to buy the Watch (and that device has its own set of challenges), so why not bring those complications from watchOS back over to iOS, and let developers create widgets of discrete functionality for the lock and home screens? I’d love to have easier access to the current weather or a quick glance at my current step count.

We spend a lot of time navigating through the lock and home screens on our iOS devices, and rather than them just being way stations for us to pass through en route to our apps, it’d be great if they offered a little more utility along the way.

Text editing

Cut, copy, paste and text selection was missing for a long time on the iPhone. Those text-handling features didn’t arrive until iOS 3, but they’ve remained largely unchanged since then. The problem is that they’ve become increasingly finicky. Trying to select just the portion of a web page I want to copy has turned into a battle for me, trying to seize one of those blue text-selector handles and not having it snap away because the software thinks it knows what I want.

Thanks to the improvements Apple made last year to iOS on the iPad, text selection is far easier with a hardware keyboard. In a lot of places, text selection via a hardware keyboard works just as it does on the Mac: you can use the Shift key to extend a selection, the Option and Command keys to jump to select by word and line, respectively. Thumbs up to all of that.

But on the iPhone in particular—and I’m talking the 6s, which isn’t exactly small—you can sometimes end up with some wacky selection artifacts. I’m not sure if there’s a better solution out there: though I like the 3D Touch additions Apple has made for moving the cursor, it’s certainly not the most obvious of mechanisms.

Autocorrect

I don’t know what’s going on with autocorrect. In the early days of the iPhone it seemed to adroitly compensate for this novel experience of thumb-typing on a touchscreen keyboard, but lately—whether because we have gotten better at said typing or because its algorithm has gotten worse—it’s gone from providing useful and handy nudges here and there to flagrantly changing what we want to say into either awkward miscommunications or outright garbage.

Sure, we could all turn autocorrect off and see how much worse our typing is then, but I’d hope there’s somewhat of a middle ground there. Perhaps autocorrect could expand its dictionary to include more words (there are certainly more words in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in Apple’s philosophy), or perhaps it could simply be a little less aggressive about swapping in its own substitutions—especially, and I can’t believe how often I see this, inserting substitutions that aren’t words for ones that are.

This, that, and the other

There are plenty more improvements that could be made here and there in iOS 10. Just off the top of my head, an improved dictionary interface, better GIF support, a version of Preview for iOS, and Handoff for Music and iTunes. I’m interested to see if Apple continues expanding the use of 3D Touch, perhaps adding some implementation in Control Center, and I’d welcome an overhaul and rethink of Notification Center. Not all of this is going to get done this year, or perhaps ever, but Apple certainly has its choice of what to focus on for iOS 10. Let’s just all agree that the company needs to make finding emoji on iOS way easier. —Dan Moren

Jason’s take

As an iPad Pro user, I’m on the record as requesting lots of iPad Pro-related improvements in this, the first major iOS release to happen after the release of the iPad Pro. Support for external keyboards needs to improve, including the ability to set different settings (such as autocorrect and auto-capitalize) for hardware keyboards and the software keyboard. On-screen multitasking in iOS 9 is a first draft—the next version needs a better app picker, and the ability to pair apps so that they launch together in split-screen mode. The ability to run the same app twice in Split View (hello, Safari!) would be great, too. And of course, some sort of drag-and-drop gesture would be amazing.

It would be pretty great if Apple found a way to bring Split View and Slide Over to the iPhone, though (based on Google’s demo of the feature in Android) I’m skeptical if there’s room even on an iPhone 6S Plus for a split view. Slide Over actually feels like a better fit for the iPhone, since it doesn’t take up extra space on the screen but lets you temporarily peek at another app. Still, I’m going to be of an open mind here: If Apple can find a way to make Split View work on the iPhone, it should do it.

iOS needs to handle files better, specifically on external drives. I should be able to attach an SD card (or even a USB hard drive) full of files to my iPad Pro and import the files I need; right now, if it’s not a video or audio file, I’m out of luck. As a podcaster, I want more sophisticated audio support, including the ability for more than one app to easily use the microphone and speaker at once, and the ability for an app to record system or microphone audio directly, no matter what other apps are running.

Finally, I also commend to you Federico Viticci’s wish list and concept video and Serenity Caldwell’s iPad Pro wish list. —Jason Snell

See more iOS 10 coverage.

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