Last year, we knew ahead of time that it would be a “Snow Leopard” year, focused on refinements and optimizations. This year, there have been very few leaks out of Cupertino, so no one really knows what’s going to be announced at WWDC. For example, the invite and banners seem to hint at an official dark mode, but there’s no concrete evidence. In fact, the biggest thing we know that’s coming are changes to the App Store…which Apple themselves surprisingly announced a few days ago.
Given that, anything could be in the cards this year. I don’t know what to expect, but I took a stab at some realistic tweaks and changes that I hope will be announced this year.
Picture-in-Picture: more, give me more!
Picture-in-Picture video on the iPad was probably the biggest surprise of last year’s WWDC. It was a feature that no one saw coming,1 but totally changes how you use your devices. Now, with a year of use, it’s clear Apple’s current implementation is good, but can be so much better with a few easy tweaks.
First and most importantly, please add a “skip back 10 seconds button”! It’s incredibly frustrating having to switch apps entirely every time you just miss a line of dialogue.
Second, let me make the PIP window bigger. Way bigger. When something interesting happens in a video and you want to focus on it for a second, it’d be a lot easier to just pinch and make it bigger, rather than switch back to the original video app (even on the latest iPad Mini, it takes more than a few seconds to switch apps and modes).
Third, playlists! If you want to watch YouTube videos in a PIP window (using YouPlayer, since the official YouTube app still doesn’t support PIP), it gets tedious switching back and starting a new one every time. Let me start a playlist and just keep it going in the PIP window without further user interaction.
Fourth, it would be great if there was a way to click on a YouTube link and have it open directly in PIP so you don’t have to jump between apps every time.
Lastly, picture-in-picture on iPhone please! Fully split-screen apps are probably too difficult on such a relatively small screen, but it would be great to be able to pop out a video and watch it even as you do other things. There’s no reason to limit this feature to iPads only.
FaceTime extensions: screen sharing, multi-person video calls
FaceTime has been pretty great from the start, but it’s time to flesh out its features. Why can’t I share my screen with the other person? It would make it so much easier to do tech support if you could actually see what the other person is seeing on their screen.
Better yet, let people remotely “control” the other device. Amazon added a really cool feature called Mayday to their tablet line a few years ago – you press a button and get connected to a tech support agent within 15 seconds who can see your screen, draw on it, and generally help you fix any problems. Apple would never invest in a central support team like that, but why not at least add a feature so we can help family and friends in a similar way?
One more FaceTime feature sorely missing is multi-person calls. Google Hangouts has it, Skype has it, it’s time for Apple to reach feature parity. It would be great to be able to get the whole family on a single video chat!
Siri on steroids: an SDK, real hands-free mode
Apple was first out of the gate with a voice assistant, but nowadays it feels like they’ve been lapped by everyone else. Google’s voice assistant has powerful context and AI support, Microsoft’s voice assistant works across all of their devices (from Surface to Windows to Xbox), and Amazon’s voice assistant has an app store. And Apple still can’t get basic word recognition right?
First off, let’s get a Siri SDK. It’s time. The Amazon Echo has proven that voice assistants can work easily with 3rd-party apps. Most tasks require precisely-worded commands (you definitely feel like you’re talking to a computer, not a person), but at least it works with 3rd-party services. The Alexa Skills Kit is both powerful and approachable, which is why they’ve won the hearts of developers and, therefore, users. Combined with hands-free Siri (“Hey Siri…”), an iPhone with a Siri SDK would basically be an Amazon Echo Dot.
And speaking of hands-free mode, that term is a bit of a misnomer. Sure, you can control some basic functions without touching your phone, but you can’t really use your phone with just your voice. I want to be able to sit in my car, secure my phone in a dash mount, and then never have to touch it again until I get out of my car. Right now, I all-too-frequently have to still touch the screen to press OK or cancel, select a text field, or even just exit the Siri screen (which inexplicably stays up after every command). And if you think this feature simply isn’t possible yet, guess what…Google just released it on Android!
Reinvigorated App Store: paid upgrades, app playlists
Apple’s decision to put Phil Schiller in charge of the App Store is already paying dividends. App subscriptions with better revenue splits for developers, search ads, and faster app review times are hopefully just the beginning of a reinvigorated App Store.
First off, if Apple’s going to add search ads, they better really improve app search in general. For example, I was recently searching for Google Analytics apps. I had to go more than 100 results deep to find actual 3rd-party G clients, not just completely unrelated apps that blithely mention in their keywords or whatever. Google succeeded tremendously with search ads, yes, but that was only because their actual search tech was impeccable in the first place.
Next, subscriptions are nice, but I’d rather have paid upgrades and free trials. With paid upgrades (AKA the way software sales have always worked outside of closed app stores), incentives are aligned for both parties: users get to decide whether an upgrade is worth paying for (along with a discount for being an existing customer), and developers can earn more revenue from existing customers, not just new ones. Studies show that most people spend 80+% of their time in 3 apps (and most of those are social networks). If your app isn’t one of those, how many people are going to feel comfortable paying for it monthly?
(Sketch is doing an interesting experiment, where they’re switching to rolling updates and a purchase gets you 12 months of updates. When your “subscription” expires, you get to keep the version of the app you have, you just don’t get new feature upgrades. I wonder if Apple will support that use case?)
Lastly, one really cool feature I don’t see mentioned much but that I’d love to see are App Store “playlists.” Basically, a way for everyone to make lists of apps and share them. For example, I could create a list of my “archived” games I had to delete from my phone to make space. But more importantly, I’d love to see other users’ playlists. I want to be able to check out Andy Baio’s list of favorite games or Brett Terpstra’s list of text editors. Better yet, I want to be able to follow their playlists, so I could get a notification when they add something new to it.
I just want to find and buy more cool indie apps. Why won’t you make it easier, Apple?
Safari subtleties: why do you pain me so?
Safari is a pretty great mobile browser (I have to say that since it’s the only one Apple lets us use as default!). It would just be better with a few tiny tweaks…
For one, please actually show the number of tabs open again in the bottom right, like pre-iOS 7. As I noted last year, Safari silently overwrites your oldest tab when you try opening a tab after hitting the limit. I read tons of links, so I have to keep manually counting how many tabs I have open to make sure I don’t lose any.
Next, it would be great if we could swipe on autocompleted search queries to put them in the search bar, so you can still add more terms after it. For example, if I type “iOS Saf”, autocomplete will give me “iOS Safari”. But if my full query is “iOS Safari search bar”, I have to type it all manually even though part of it was in the autocomplete results.
Lastly, the embeddable Safari View Controller introduced in iOS 9 is fantastic. App developers don’t have to build a new browser interface and users get a consistent browser in every app. The only catch is that it HAS to be full-screen. So an app like Narwhal, a Reddit client that splits the screen with a browser on top and comments below, can’t use SVC. Just make it a little more flexible so every app can use SVC.
And a few more small tweaks
When you’re in one app and click a link that opens another app, Apple puts a Back button in the top left corner of the screen. EXCEPT when you open Safari from Safari View Controller in an app. It almost makes me want a full-fledged system-wide back button, like on Android.
When I turn my phone sideways (for playing games or watching videos), I always turn it right or so that the home button is under my left thumb. But when rotation lock is on and I open an app that only works horizontally, it usually orients the opposite direction…but, even more frustratingly, not always!. Just let us set an option for our preferred horizontal orientation so it’s consistent among all apps.
On a Mac, a different Wi-Fi icon shows up when you’re connected to Wi-Fi, but not the Internet (so you know the problem is outside your home network.) It would be great to get something similar on iOS.
I don’t think the Clock app has seen any meaningful updates since the original iPhone’s debut. Most notably, the alarm settings could really use a jumpstart. How about a way to auto-delete alarms that only run once? And maybe let us schedule an alarm more than a week in advance?
You can now take incoming phone calls on an iPad. Great! But if you’re watching a video (particularly something live, like sports), the incoming call takes over the whole screen and stops the video. Not great, Bob! Just make incoming calls show up as notification banners, not fullscreen modals (if not on iPhones, certainly on iPads).
Let people store their music in iCloud, just like Photos (assuming they bought enough space). Don’t require iTunes Match for this.
No more mystery space (shows up as “Other” in iTunes). If there’s data that doesn’t fit in any main category, stick it all in iCloud Drive. Especially attachments (photos, etc) from Messages. And most importantly, make it easy to clear this space out.
And a few very good requests from other folks: Make Control Center more customizable. Make installing and using 3rd-party keyboards better. Display the volume in the status bar, not in the middle of the screen. If you won’t let us replace them, improve the default apps. And absolutely check out Federico Viticci’s massive wish list and concept video(!).
Last year, we finally got the App Store-enabled Apple TV. I was bummed it wasn’t announced at WWDC, but luckily it debuted just a few months later. At the time, the possibilities were endless. Finally, we’d get a plethora of amazing apps from all kinds of developers! Unfortunately, the reality hasn’t been quite that. I can’t think of a single notable Apple TV app that has come out after the box’s debut. In fact, I can’t even remember the last time I checked the Apple TV’s App Store. Don’t get me wrong, I use mine all the time, just only for a couple of apps. However, I think Apple could help jumpstart interest and sales of the Apple TV with a few changes.
For one, let us install apps remotely from an iPhone/iPad or, better yet, from the web (…just like Android). The last thing I do when I plop in front of my TV after a long day is look through the App Store with my remote.
Next, universal search was a good idea, but it looks like Apple themselves have to add search integration for apps. This is the old Apple TV’s “apps” situation all over again. Create an API, open it up to all developers (like Plex!), and just let every app create a content manifest that the system crawls.
Another feature that could sorely use Apple’s focus is TV Everywhere. This is the TV industry’s term for letting you use your cable login to access every channel’s app. Which is great, except every app wants you to login all over again. Why not just add a TV Everywhere setting and then just let every app use those credentials automatically?
Lastly, the latest rumor says Apple is going to make the Apple TV into more of an Amazon Echo competitor, which sounds…nonsensical. Why would I want a microphone in a box I stash under my TV? In years past, the rumor was that Apple would add AirPort features to the Apple TV so it could double as a router…at least that made a little sense.
macOS & watchOS
I’d say more about these, but it feels like Apple doesn’t care about the Mac much these days (the Mac App Store has been sorely neglected for years). And, well, does anyone still care about the Apple Watch? ¯_(ツ)_/¯
Fun fact: I was actually going to lead my list last year with Picture-in-Picture, my most-wanted feature, but I didn’t think there was any chance Apple would actually add it. That was a pleasant surprise, indeed! ↩︎