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iOS 7 features Apple needs to catch Android

Gordon Kelly


iOS 7 features Apple needs to catch Android

It is time to admit it. Whether you bought your iPhone or iPad because your friends have one or you bleed white when cut, the sixth generation software of Apple’s iconic handset looks worryingly long in the tooth. iOS 7 needs to do something special.

If you can’t admit it, don’t worry, Apple already has.

Last October the company fired Scott Forstall (pictured below), the head of Siri and Apple Maps development which were the two headline features for the iOS 5 and iOS 6 launches respectively. "Scott got what he deserved," said Tony Fadell, the former senior vice president of Apple’s iPod division.

forstall maps

By contrast Google’s famously functional ugly duckling Android has grown into a swan during iOS’s troubled times. The influence of former WebOS design genius Matias Duarte is now unmistakable as it leaves the once beautiful, now dated skeuomorphism of iOS behind.

Furthermore, game changing new functionality such as Google Now and Google Voice Search have seamlessly built upon the rock solid core of Gmail, Google Maps and the Chrome browser without any of the drama witnessed at Cupertino.

The trouble is this makes us uneasy. While we are thrilled Android is blossoming, as its primary rival we would like to see Apple spice things up a bit with more than the promise of a cheap iPhone to attract new customers.

Furthermore with Android 5.0 ‘Key Lime Pie’ expected to be unveiled ahead of iOS at Google IO in May it is time Apple and iOS 7 got their mojo back before that gap grows even wider.

User Interface

Enough already. We know there is comfort in the familiarity of the iOS homescreen, but there is also no flexibility unless you define that as "apps in folders" or "apps out of folders". With iOS 7 Apple must finally embrace ‘’dynamic content’’ as seen in both Android and Windows Phone. Mainstream consumers may be happy with grid after grid of icons, but the ability to insert larger widgets for at-a-glance information for things like calendars, to do lists, notes, core settings and weather is years overdue.


Equally is the option to ‘’hide apps’’. The opportunity to delete Apple apps has long been a staple of message boards, but with Apple unlikely to entertain that the Android-like ability to keep apps off the homescreen is vital. Imagine Windows or Mac OS forcing you to display every programme on your desktop, it would be chaos yet this is what Apple currently expects iOS users to do.

With Jonathan Ive now heading up software as well as hardware design, expect iOS 7 to get a significant visual makeover so we won’t waste time ranting about skeuomorphism (Ive is well known for his dislike of it). Instead more visual care needs to go on navigation. ‘’Switching between apps’’ should present us with more than four icons at a time (at least make it eight or twelve, if not an actual thumbnail or cards system akin to the App Store) and the ability to ‘’change default apps’’ is fundamental.

Apple may not want users to be able to ditch Apple Maps so easily, but until it proves more worthy of our time switching the default maps app for links to Google Maps should be an option. The same goes for any smart linked information such as browser URLs and phone numbers as well as tighter third-party email integration and switching the default music playback app.


‘‘Smart functionality’’ is the name of the game here. As it stands iOS makes its owners work too hard. New podcasts, RSS and app updates and any form of third party app synchronisation is currently a manual process. It all turns into a real chore requiring users to perform constant maintenance: want to listen to a new podcast on the plane? Did you remember to open the app and wait for it to download first?


It is worse still with uploading information. If you were uploading images to Dropbox, video to YouTube or Facebook you need to keep the app open and stop the screen from locking until it finishes as iOS limits these functions to just five minutes of background operation before they expire.

It's time to get smart.

Android has long performed all these tasks automatically, as does the new BlackBerry 10 platform. As such notifications are not for what you need to do (or remember to do), but for what has already been done: these apps were updated, these new podcasts were downloaded, these photos and videos were uploaded.

The trouble is that for iOS 7 to achieve this requires an entirely new approach to how it handles multitasking with much wider permissions required (only GPS, music and push notifications get unbridled background functionality at present). There would also inevitably be a major battery hit which arguably existing iPhones in particular couldn’t afford.


Multitasking limitations also create a wider shortcoming in iOS: ‘’Anticipation’’. Right now iPhones and iPads work well when they are specifically asked to do something, but they don’t anticipate your needs.

For Android the arrival of Google Now has been a seismic step forward in this regard, automatically collating your email, calendar, travel, weather data and more into a single dynamically updating stream. As such instead of a basic notification that your meeting starts in an hour you will see your meeting information, the anticipated weather at the destination and below it route information and estimated travel times based on current traffic.

Crucially, Google Now is also location aware so opening it beside a bus station shows bus times, ditto train times at stations, relevant boarding passes at airports and reservations on arrival at a hotel. If iOS 7 is to lead another iOS revolution it needs to anticipate our needs not just react to them and leave us flailing between disparate apps.


Which brings us to interoperability. Core Apple apps work reasonably well together and on occasion they work with third-party apps too, but when it comes to tight integration between third-party apps it is a different story.

iOS 7 must lift this restriction so increasingly powerful apps have true interoperability to save users time and become more efficient. Notably with Microsoft Office said to be heading to both iOS and Android, the inability of the suite to work together on iOS will be a major shortcoming. There would be further benefits for Apple as well since it would pave the way for deeper Siri integration and even uptake of the likes of Swiftkey's superb third party keyboards.

google play

Likewise the connection between iTunes online and iOS devices can be handled better. Browsing Google Play with a web browser is a joy and apps and content can be purchased, and automatically downloaded to your Android devices. There is no clear equivalent in iTunes, with the browsing experience always directing users back to the software installation. With even Spotify now allowing a browser-based service experience, iTunes needs to follow suit.

Apple must also improve the interoperability of the iOS Notification Center with the rest of the platform. Dismissing alerts here should dismiss the numerical notifications positioned on apps and similarly accessing those apps should clear the notification centre. The disconnect here is jarring and time consuming.

Pros and Cons

For some the list should be longer, for others the concerns listed here may be no big deal, but we could go on. Similarly there are numerous calls for better battery management, additional functionality to the the email client and much needed upgrades to Apple Maps - but since they are inevitable we have left them out.

That said, this list as a whole is not to make a punching bag of iOS. It paved the way others have followed, but needs an intervention to further raise the profile of crucial improvements Apple needs to make. Jonathan Ive’s tasteful influence will surely come, but come launch time we need more than that.

Furthermore, should Apple properly rejuvenate iOS it still carries crucial differentiators rival OSs cannot match. Compared to Android it is essentially fragmentation-free and apps containing malware rarely make it past the App Store gatekeepers. Compared to Windows Phone and BlackBerry, iOS has an unassailable lead in apps and vastly superior market share and brand awareness. It is time Apple remembered how to fight outside of a courtroom…

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March 11, 2013, 4:01 pm

Good article chaps. I'm sure some people will moan about this giving iOS a kicking but really it isn't, it's an editorial expressing your opinions on what iOS 7 needs to do.

I don't think anyone can argue that iOS is a bad operating system - it might not do as much as it's rivals but it can be argued that what it has a smaller feature set and performs that better than it's rivals.


I've always preferred Android as it has a "desktop" or sorts - the widgets are something I love but I know a few of my friends think they are stupid and don't need them, they always point to them using battery in the background as well (which is very valid if it is something like a weather or news app).

UI wise it is tricky - the stock Android Holo interface is awesome....TouchWiz...not so much. I actually quite like Sense because it's a different proposition and it is definitely the better executed of to the two, or it was on Gingerbread at least, the change to ICS/JB hasn't been kind to either of them in my opinion. Both manufactures are now trying to fix something that ain't broke, where as before they were making it more palatable, which is probably why iOS thrived - it was established and it was good. Now that Android is actually mature and a good looking OS it suddenly makes iOS feel dated, but I'd say that's only happened since Project Butter was introduced in JB.


March 12, 2013, 1:04 am

I'm a big apple fan so you would expect me to say something negative with regards to this article......but it's a very good article that highlights how old and boring iOS is! Apple definitely need to do something special to keep the likes of myself interested in iOS devices because if a major update doesn't happen, I will jump ship!


March 12, 2013, 9:40 am

That's a nice way of putting it - a change is required to "keep interest" in the platform.

This being Apple, I feel confident that they will come out with something new and it'll be thoroughly thought through and very nice to use...I just wonder if Android can get Key Lime out quicker, be fairly radical and make a real impact. It'd be nice if they could!


March 12, 2013, 10:38 am

I've already jumped ship, but it doesn't have to be permanent. So if iOS6/7 does get better, I might be coming back. I've a feeling whatever they do it's going to take some time to spice things up, so that's why I've gone Android. The way I see it nowadays swapping and changing isn't really that big a deal anyway. If most of us sit back and think about it, I'm sure it's the same.


March 12, 2013, 10:56 am

Good article, only one area I disagree -> Multitasking.

The way iOS does multi-tasking for a mobile device is the correct way, the limit of 5 minutes might be wrong, but the internal structure is spot on. What iOS multi-tasking does is make the developer think about this, rather than the user. eg, I might be playing Real Racing, and then decide to do something else, Real Racing will just automatically pause and take 0 CPU cycles and iOS can even flush memory if required, but if Real Racing needed to do something in the background, the developer can make the app request this. So the 5 minutes part is really the only problem, and should be very easy for them to modify, maybe even implement a NOOP callback, if the 5 minutes is just to prevent idle apps. 3 days later I decide to continue my Real Racing game, and it's right back were I left it, and it took no battery drainage.

I've not looked at Android API's much, so I assume it's possible for developers to do something similar, if not then Google also need to think about making there API have battery friendly callbacks.

This is one area that worries me about the HTC One I've ordered, I don't want to worry about closing App's to make sure I don't run my battery down, it should be automatic.

So, IOW: the problem I see with Android because it allows standard pre-emptive multitasking, developers will most likely take the easy route, rather than implement battery saving API callbacks.


March 12, 2013, 2:05 pm

I agree with the sentiments: IOS is lagging behind, but until they p me off too much, I'm stuck where I am.

On a side note. Why are people (Journalists in particular - none of my friends agree) that Apples needs to release a cheaper model?

Cheaper price yes, but why a cheaper model? It's marketed as a premium device, why would you risk upsetting the people that have invested time and a (lot) of money into a premium device.

The fragmented nature of Android show's what happens when you get cheaper devices, a game/app "may run" on the model you've bought, but don't count on it.

Alex Russell

March 12, 2013, 6:00 pm

I've always been loyal to Apple, however I have to agree with this article! If nothing short of a major overhaul happens with iOS 7 it could be time to leave my iPhone for good. I have all the Apple devices and yes I am happy with all of them but over the years I can't help but notice how outdated iOS has become. Apple has to do something or else its 'Think Different' moral will be left in vane.

2K10 Desperados

March 12, 2013, 6:30 pm

I really want Apple to update their iOS software. It takes me like ten minutes longer to do everything on Android when I bought an Android phone. And iOS just works, so why can't they improve it? It's getting a little ridiculous at this stage. I might have to switch to Windows Phone if iOS 7 isn't satisfactory.

Alex Mason

March 13, 2013, 3:05 pm

Have to agree with this article. On the one hand, the simple-ness of current iOS is probably the best feature. It doesn't really get in the way of using the phone at any stage and it is very efficient. Shame most people don't really notice that it is doing its job so well, because it doesn't shout about it. On the other hand the simple-ness is really limiting certain things and is now rather boring.

As the article points out, larger, live panels showing calender info or to-do lists and things like that would be most welcome. For me, nearly every to-do app in the iOS store is hamstrung because of this as they rely solely on either you setting alarms and notifications or physically loading up the app to check what is what. To-do lists generally work better when they are just there all the time, in your vision, constantly reminding you that you have x, y, z to do before lunch.

I am not so much a heavy user that multi-tasking really becomes an issue. I think it is adequate for most people the way it currently works. After all it is a phone, with a tiny screen and internals that are not as flexible as what is found in proper laptops and desktops, what could you possibly be doing to wish for multi-tasking at the same level as those devices? What is more I think loosening the reigns on multi-tasking is just going to lead to poorer battery life and performance over time as apps inevitably get left running and developers get lazy about what their programs should be doing when idle.

As for the visuals, well yes skeuomorphism needs binning. STAT. Hopefully Ive comes out with something neat and slick. As a previous poster mentions, if there is no big refresh for iOS7, I'll be ditching the iPhone come upgrade time. I am just getting bored with it.


March 21, 2013, 1:43 am

Nexus 7 battery life is a joke and its all down to the substandard Android software. I wouldn't use an Android phone if they were free.


April 2, 2013, 4:34 pm

I LOVE hearing on the news "Apple stocks down" "Apple apologizes" I was a devoted apple customer from the start, then iOs6 and u removed google maps? I would have loved to watch apple maps develop, but you gave me no choice. Everyone says "Just download the app!" but the google maps app doesn't integrate with your phone book! Forget yah apple! Love my new samsung galaxy S3 and my samsung tablet! bu bye apple! Ohhhh... and I had to pay the early upgrade fee of 300 bucks on my S3 to get google maps back! apple didn't cover that fee! I do SOOoooo enjoy showing off my S3 to everyone with Iphones, and convincing them to jump off the apple train!


April 12, 2013, 12:12 am

you sound like an android fan who was never an apple fan...


April 12, 2013, 12:15 am

good. some people have some steve jobs ideology left in them. keep product lines streamlined to prevent fragmentation.


May 14, 2013, 10:54 am

We have already replaced one iPhone for an Andriod S3 device in our household, we are still hanging in there with the other 2 iPhones hoping the IOS7 will give us something new

But every day we use and see the Galaxy S3 in action we just love it, the freedom you get with Andriod is really good and all those widgets just delivering info to the user is brilliant

Add Google Now to the mix and just to use Google Maps on the big screen of the S3 it will be a big ask to get us back to Apple

I feel we will move the other two iPhones over to Android unless Apple really do something special in IOS7, this from folk who have been Apple since 2007


May 16, 2013, 7:15 am

Sticking with iOS regardless.. I am not a fair weather fan.


May 16, 2013, 7:16 am

big deal... sheesh.... "ooooohhh ahhh ... look at me..ooohhh"... give it a rest.

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