Mon 05 Mar
By most accounts, it’s almost a sure bet that Apple is set to debut the third iteration of the iPad tomorrow. Presumably, there’s a new version of iOS in the works too, though if the past is any guide such a thing would probably not be announced at the same time. Still, software features are what I’m really interested in; a Retina display would be a nice addition on the hardware side, but most of the improvements I’d like to see in the iPad would be software-based — and I’m not talking about Siri. Here’s a wish list of what I’d like to see.
By now even its skeptics admit that the iPad is something very different from ‘just a big iPhone.’ To me, that difference is most evident in how the iPad has become the new family computer. I wrote about this previously, referring to to a mode of usage that I call post-personal computing: by and large, people leave these tablets at home, and they tend to share them within their households to an extent that they didn’t with laptops or desktops.
If there has ever been a hardware device that could benefit from allowing multiple accounts to access it, this is it. Having made the transition away from tethered synching, it seems logical to me that Apple’s next major challenge would be to fully embrace the multi-user paradigm.
This wouldn’t be easy, of course, because it would almost certainly demand a rethinking of the multiple account paradigm. Just serving up a different home screen to a different user, the way Mac OS X currently serves up different desktops, would probably be insufficient. iPads are shared spontaneously and in mid-session, so signing in and out of user accounts would be more of an impediment than a help.
Apple could start with a parallel approach to personal data, like contacts, calendars and emails, letting users access what’s relevant to them via their own password from within any other user’s session. What would be even better would be a way to create a family address book and calendar, something like the one moms have kept in kitchen drawers and on refrigerator doors forever. There’s no technological equivalent to that yet, and there really should be.
Going further, such an infrastructure should make it easy to lock certain content within certain apps. Right now, a shared iPad is almost literally an open book to anyone it’s shared with. In a family context, this might not seem like such a big security risk, but even trivial secrets — like a list of gift ideas — are worth keeping.
Actually, where Apple really needs to start is with its clunky Apple ID system, which doesn’t yet allow you to merge two accounts that you own, much less two accounts within a family. I’ve written about this before too, and it continues to be a hindrance that Apple’s accounts seem to be permanently isloated from one another. Changing that situation will go a long way towards defusing the complexity of purchases and personal information that plagues so many novice users who have inadvertently created multiple accounts. I’ve seen that situation so many times, when a user can’t recall which account she’s bought an app with or signed into a service with, that it seems like one of the most egregious user experience shortcomings in technology today.
In fact, iOS in general desperately needs a comprehensive password management service embedded into the operating system. For my money, they should just acquire the superb and indispensable 1Password and be done with it; there’s nothing better on the market.
And while we’re talking about acquiring third-party utilities, Apple should also take a look at Smile Software’s excellent Text Expander, which turns user-configured abbreviations into full words or even blocks of text. On a device where typing is often uncomfortable at best, having a solution like Text Expander built into the operating system — as a service available to all apps — would be a huge usability improvement.
Those are my big wish list items, but here are a few that are more prosaic.
I occassionally suffer from insomnia, and my iPad is a handy way to while away the early morning hours. It’s so much more friendly than bringing a laptop to bed, which is what I used to do. But with my partner sleeping next to me, even the device’s dimmest screen setting is too bright for the room. A truly bedroom-friendly setting — maybe even half the brightness of the current lowest brightness setting — would be very welcome.
As we put more and more of our identities online, our visual representations become more and more critical, especially as we present different aspects of our identity to different services and to different sets of users. Apple should make this easier by building into iOS — or iCloud — a Gravatar-like service that lets us swap our preferred pictures in and out at will, and make them available across all our devices.
A nontrivial portion of my life, from texts with friends to photos and video exchanged with my partner, are communicated through SMS and now iMessage. But every once in a while I lose a chunk of that message history for some reason or another. This doesn’t seem like it should have to be the case; these messages, whether SMS, MMS or iMessage, should be stored in the cloud so that the full history of my exchanges with anyone are available to me from any device, old or new.