iOS 9 features wish list
So much for the rumours and speculation about when iOS 9 will launch, and which devices it will run on. But what features can we expect in iOS 9? Hopefully Apple will include some of these.
iOS 9 features wishlist: 1. Proper parental controls
iOS 8 has reasonably decent parental controls: you can go into Settings and set quite detailed restrictions on the categories of music and films that can be played, the apps that can be used, the websites that can be visited and the settings that can be changed. The problem is that these then apply globally, to anyone who uses the device, until you enter a passcode and switch them all off.*
Microsoft has demonstrated a better way to do this, with Kid's Corner on Windows Phone 8, and Android devices also offer more user-friendly parental controls.
More powerful, too. As well as per-account restrictions (which links to request number 2, below), we'd like to see extra types of parental control in iOS 9: one possibility would be time limits on certain apps so that you can allow access to games but for a limited duration. If you could specify content types as well - so that all games are restricted en masse but educational apps are positively encouraged - that would be ideal.
* You can also use Guided Access to keep a child in a single app, of course, although that creates other headaches and definitely doesn’t encourage general familiarity with the device. And by the way, have you tried using Restrictions? Disallow certain apps, allow them again and - abracadabra - the app icons have all been moved around the screen. It’s a bit of a mess, to be honest.
iOS 9 features wishlist: 2. Multiuser support/user accounts
Following naturally on from parental controls, many users would love to be able to log into iOS under a specific user name or account, enabling their preferences, bookmarks, apps and media content to be kept separate from someone else who uses the device regularly. This would be convenient and allow for a more personalised experience, as well as making parental controls easier to implement. And you could have a 'guest' account to stop visiting family from jumping on to your social media accounts and viewing all your photos.
Perhaps Apple would prefer us to all buy our own personal devices, but its creation of the Family Sharing feature suggests that it might be open to this concept in iOS 9.
iOS 9 features wishlist: 3. FaceTime video messages
My retired parents and parents-in-law all have far busier social lives than I do, and it's not unusual to find that they're out when my son and I call them on FaceTime. By the time they call back the youngster has often gone to bed, and they have to settle for a conversation with me.
Wouldn't it be nice for us to be able to leave them a video message? I always find it odd that you can't. Perhaps someone has worried that they would use up too much storage, but you could always make it an optional feature that's enabled at the recipient's end - and you could cap the messages at 30 seconds, which at 720p shouldn't take up all that much space.
iOS 9 features wishlist: 4. Group FaceTime calls
And another thing about FaceTime…
Skype allows group conversations between up to 10 people, and it feels like Apple is handing an advantage to its rival by limiting FaceTime calls to just two.
iOS 9 features wishlist: 5. Split-screen multitasking
This was heavily rumoured in the run-up to iOS 8's launch, and is again doing the rounds in reference to Apple's semi-mythical iPad Pro. There's a reason for that: it's an incredibly appealing idea.
iOS 8 allows a degree of app multitasking, but rather than just previewing screens in multitasking we'd love to be able to interact with two screens in tandem: comparing a web page with a Pages document while making notes, for example, or checking a text of suggested dates against your availability in Calendar. They wouldn't even need to be related: many of us would like to be able to view an entertaining video while putting together a piece of work, even if it might affect productivity somewhat.
Concept illustration by Ramotion. Check out the full set here.
This of course makes more sense visually on the iPad, because of its larger screen, but the iPhones are getting so big now that it's not an impossibility in the smartphone format.
iOS 9 features wishlist: 6. The ability to change default apps…
Apple is a brilliant company that leads the world in multiple fields but (say this quietly) it isn't automatically the best at everything. Building browsers, for instance: you've got to be a reasonably hardcore Apple fan to reckon that Safari is indisputably the finest mobile web browser available to humanity, even if most of us think it's okay.
Nope: a lot of iOS users would like to use Chrome, or Dolphin, or another rival web browser on our iPads and iPhones - but while that option is available, you can't make anything other than Safari the default browser, so Mail links, Twitter links and so on will always default back to Safari when you tap them. The same applies to mail apps, calendar apps and various other areas where Apple has a horse in the race but wouldn't beat all-comers if it hadn't hobbled the competition.
We'd love to see the option to pick your own default apps so you don't have to use Apple's if you don't want to.
iOS 9 features wishlist: 7. …and to delete or at least hide the defaults
For that matter, it's annoying that you can't delete any of the pre-installed Apple apps that are waiting on your device when you first power it up, for reasons of space and tidiness. Some are hard to object to, such as Messages (even though some prefer to use WhatsApp, at least on iPhone). Others, such as Stocks and Newsstand would get the bum's rush the second Apple allowed it.
And if we can't delete them, Apple, at least let us hide them properly - the days of a forlorn folder on the last screen labelled 'Apple crap' should be past. A simple toggle in the Settings app to show or display each app is the least we ought to expect.
iOS 9 features wishlist: 8. Battery-saving mode
Ask someone what they want from the next generation of iOS devices and they will nearly always mention one thing: "Better battery life!" Of course we agree, but we also recognise that battery life is a question of compromises, and just asking it to be better carries the implication that something else - price tag, weight, size - will get worse, or fail to get better when it could have done.
So instead let's get specific about what we'd do to improve matters. We think everyone would benefit from an optional, platform-wide battery-saving mode that would reduce brightness and volume, switch off Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, shut down unused apps and switch off location data and notifications. Competitors such as Samsung and Sony have introduced similar features to help prolong that vital last 10 per cent of a smartphone's power, and there's no reason why Apple can't do likewise.
iPhones are notorious for fast-draining battery life so the option to disable all power-hungry functions with a single toggle in Control Centre, or to tell iOS 9 to automatically enter this mode when it reaches a certain point of battery life, would be extremely welcome, and could save a few iPhones from dying at crucial moments.
iOS 9 features wishlist: 9. Ability to add apps and settings to Control Centre
We mentioned Control Centre just now. We adore the convenience of this little bundle of regularly used toggles and sliders, but we think it could be even better with a tiny bit of customisability.
Say you never use Do Not Disturb mode, or prefer to access the Camera from the lock screen rather than from Control Centre (don't we all?). Wouldn't it be great if you could swap those controls out of the Control Centre and replace them with other settings you use more often - such as switching vibrate on or off, or activating a preset range of Restrictions so you can hand the device straight to your child (this would require some tweaking of the parental controls, as mentioned in request number 1, since at the moment switching off Restrictions makes iOS forget everything you selected).
Our colleague Jim Martin also demands that the Wi-Fi SSID should be shown in Control Centre so that you can swipe up and quickly check which network you’re connected to, instead of having to jump into Settings to sort it all out. Good idea, Jim.
You could even add frequently used apps (or settings for those apps) to the Control Centre, or harmless kid-friendly games you don't mind being accessible without inputting a passcode.
iOS 9 features wishlist: 10. Local Siri
The problem with Siri (other than self-consciousness when you're using it in a busy area) is that it sends every voice command back to HQ for decoding by Apple's back-end servers, which means it doesn't work when disconnected from the internet.
Surely the easier stuff - setting reminders and alarms, and firing off text messages - could be handled locally? This would be a great help when driving home with no mobile signal and trying to send a hands-free message ("I'm running late!") to a spouse.
iOS 9 features wishlist: 11. Unplugged Hey Siri!
At the moment the Hey Siri feature is a pale imitation of the science-fiction dream it ought to be. iOS 9 can turn that dream into a reality.
The problem is that Hey Siri is only available a tiny proportion of the time - you need to have your iPhone or iPad plugged in, in order for iOS to be listening out for your voice, for reasons of battery preservation. We've love it to work unplugged too. iPhone sitting on the train table? "Hey Siri! Send an email to my wife."
Obviously Apple would want to implement fairly stern battery warnings when you chose to activate this option, but it would be nice to have the choice.
iOS 9 features wishlist: 12. Home screen widgets
With iOS 8 Apple cautiously opened up to the idea of user customisation, allowing third-party system-wide keyboards and - yes - widgets to be installed (although Apple calls them Extensions). These are miniature versions of apps that sit in the Notification Screen and perform limited functions.
This is all great, but it would better still if we could install the widgets in other places - such as on the Home screen itself, which is where widgets found fame on Android. Having a weather widget constantly sitting in the background of the Home screen could be handy, as could a sports news ticker.
iOS 9 features wishlist: 13. Smaller file when upgrading iOS
This one, I'm afraid, is a little bit like the non-specific request for a better battery life. We'd just like the install file, when we upgrade from one version of iOS to another, to be smaller. We don't know the details, and we don't care how - we just want it to be smaller.
Yes, it's non-specific, and yes, it's probably incredibly annoying to hear if you're a software developer at Apple. But given the amount of storage available to the average iOS device - and remember that iOS is developed for Apple devices only, so this is a totally controllable environment - it is unacceptable that iOS 8 demanded 5GB or even 6GB in order to update. Many users had to clear all of the media and most of the apps from their devices, and many more didn't update because they didn't want to do this - and a mixed-OS user base is the last thing Apple wants.
(Yes, as we pointed out at the time, you can install iOS 8 on to iTunes and get around the storage requirements that way. But not everyone, unbelievably, reads Macworld; and not everyone who owns an iPhone or iPad also owns a Mac or PC.)
iOS 9 features wishlist: 14. Calculator on iPad
A small complaint, again from our colleague Jim Martin.
iPads, for some inexplicable reason, don't get the Calculator app, which is a perfectly useful thing to have (particularly since it sits in Control Centre on the iPhone). It would be nice for iPad owners to get the same feature.
iOS 9 features wishlist: 15. iMessage improvements
There are plenty of ways iMessage could get better. For one thing, it would be convenient to be able to tell Messages to always (by default) send messages as a text rather than an iMessage if the signal is bad. At the moment you have to wait for a message not to send before you can tap and select Send as Text, and that's pretty frustrating. Update, 19th March 2015: In fact, this is already possible in iOS 8: you simply go to Settings > Messages > and toggle the Send as SMS option. Thanks to Twitter user Esteban for pointing out this error.
We’d also like to be able to set up groups for messages - and even better if you could alter those in the group list from time to time, perhaps updating it to add new friends or colleagues.
iOS 9 features wishlist: 16. Mail improvements
And Mail isn't perfect at handling groups either - it should be much, much simpler to emails a select group.
iOS 9 features wishlist: 17. Wider social-media integration
Apple has allowed select social-media partners into the fold (sometimes it's hard to escape the feeling that these decisions are made with one eye on the political ramifications: what the partner can offer in return, and how it will affect Apple's direct rivals). But there are plenty of popular companies that don't make it into the default sharing pane.
Vine is an obvious absentee from the sharing options from a video in Photos, but we really ought to be able to customise the list of options.
iOS 9 features wishlist: 18. Public transport directions in Apple Maps
Simple, really: Apple Maps is playing catch-up with Google Maps in a few areas, but the most notable and important is public transport directions.
Google Maps can offer advice on which bus will take you where you want to go: where to board, and what time the bus will arrive. It does the same for train journeys. Apple Maps… can't do these things, and it's about time it did.
iOS 9 features wishlist: 19. Improved integration between Contacts and Facebook
Contacts' ability to scrape contact information and images from Facebook can be quite handy, but it can also create headaches and muddled-up data. It's a process that could do with a bit of a spring-clean: to help avoid duplicated contacts, for one thing, and to neaten the whole thing up.
iOS 9 features wishlist: 20. A better, easier Photos app
We're pretty sure this will get sorted in iOS 9, but it's still worth mentioning. Let's put it this way: Photos isn't the most user-friendly it's ever been.
Try creating an album and adding photos to it: you'll find them in both the camera roll and the photo stream. Neat-freaks (like us) who try to tidy them up by deleting them from the camera roll will find that they are promptly removed from the album.
We'd like iOS 9 to incorporate a Photos app that doesn't involve so much duplication, and is generally a bit easier to use.
iOS 9 features wishlist: 21. Subfolders
I use folders a lot: my first screen is mostly single app icons, but the second one is almost entirely folders. This is how I keep it to two screens.
But without wishing to overcomplicate matters, I'd love to be able to set up folders within folders. Take my big Games folder, for instance: this would benefit from subfolders for RPGs, driving games and so on.
It's not very Apple, and not very 'mobile' either - but it would help those of us with lots and lots of apps.
iOS 9 features wishlist: 22. Block callers who hide Caller ID
I'll be honest here: I don't know the technicalities (and legalities) behind Caller ID, and the constraints they place on Apple's ability to block people who hide it. Because other than some weird legal loophole, I can't think of any sensible reason why Apple doesn't let you do this.
Since iOS 7 you've been able to block specific numbers, whether or not they're in your Contacts list. But as we all know, there's an easy way around that block: simply hide your Caller ID. Sure, the message No Caller ID will be prominently displayed when the call comes in, so the wise recipient will know that they probably shouldn't answer: it's a call centre, or pre-recorded spam, or your sociopathic ex-boyfriend. But you still get the annoyance of hearing the default ringtone, and wondering for a moment if something important is up.
(And you won't know absolutely for sure that it isn't. Maybe some well-meaning klutz has advised your mother-in-law to switch off the Caller ID on her iPhone - "They can listen in, Ethel!" - and now she needs picking up from the airport. Of course that's not true, but a tiny part of you will still worry that maybe it is...)
So please, Apple: add a simple option that lets you block all calls that hide their Caller ID. Okay, so Ethel will still be in trouble, but you could add a message to the menu where you hide Caller ID that warns that this may happen. Even better would be if the blocked caller heard an automated message that explained why they weren't getting through - but perhaps I am letting my imagination run away with me.
iOS 9 features wishlist: 23. Accessibility improvements
Apple has a mixed record when it comes to accessibility features in its software: it usually responds to concerns from users with vision difficulties, but it can take a while.