Apple's 2013: iOS 7

Breaking iOS, OS X and iCloud is probably not going to make much sense after this year's WWDC. They're going to plug so extensively into each other, and iCloud is going to connect to both on such a deep level, that trying to separate all three categorically is going to be much more difficult than necessary. I'll use this to talk mostly about iOS, but there's a lot of iCloud stuff to talk about, too.

Inter-Application Communication (or, the Remote View Controller API)

When the original iPhone was released, I noticed something about the home screen that seemed peculiar, especially considering Apple's design aesthetic.

The home screen for the original iPhone.

I remember thinking when I saw it, even amidst all the hysteria, that that seemed like a lot of empty space for a product Apple designed. It wasnt just that empty row on the bottom, it was the missing icon in row three. Granted, they had to arrange 15 icons in some way, and they had a dock that fit 4, but still - take Mail and put it there to complete row 3, or use iPod. I mean, no one demanded they go with 4x4 for each screen with a 4 icon dock - why would they deliberately choose an alignment that left empty space?

I now believe that it was because they knew, and they wanted us to know, that this was a growing platform, and that that space was going to be filled by both them and us.

Later, of course, came the ability to create webapps that could be pinned to the home screen, and later came the App Store and the iPhone SDK, and the rest is history. Which brings me to this.

A share sheet in the Photos app on an iPhone running iOS 6.

The previous version of what is now called the share sheet was a single column of UIButtons, which looked complete no matter how many buttons there were. So, why switch to an interface like this? Why make it a 3x3 grid? And why, as the jailbreak community discovered shortly after they jailbroke iOS 6, did they allow for it to paginate if more than 9 options were available?

I think it was because they knew that the day would come where Federighi would stand up at WWDC and say that now iOS developers have the ability to get into the share sheet on iOS - and OS X, by extension.

The share sheet for Facebook, Twitter and Photo Stream is invoked by what's called a RemoteViewController in Objective-C - a new addition as of iOS 6. This allows for a small section or instantiation of the app in question to open and accept input - just enough of the application opens to work, but no more. It then closes and leaves the application that opened it into the foreground, because it never left. The ability for third party developers to use this would allow for the user to send and process files through multiple applications much easier, and provide a healthy alternative to the App Switcher for people moving from one app to another with data they'll be working with. I especially would like to see what this makes available on the iPad, where a larger area of screen real estate provides even more room for a mini-app to work and accept input.

This will be the biggest focus of the dev sessions at WWDC, it'll be called everything from a revolution in mobile OS design to a blatant ripoff of Android's Services or Windows' Intents, and in the end it will bring iOS in even more feature parity with OS X.

iCloud 2.0

This needs work in all the areas everyone's already said it needs work, so there's not much else I can say about what needs to happen. I can say that I haven't felt the pain yet - I've had nothing but reliable access to my iCloud data in all forms, shapes and sizes since launch, KeyValue storage has worked tremendously to my benefit, I havent lost any documents that have mattered, and iCloud backups have worked like a charm.

But, that's a big fat 'yet'. I've had a Pages document enter that grey, "I'm here but I don't know where I am so I can't be deleted or edited" stage, and if everyone else's experience is sufficient prologue, it's not too long before I'm looking at that linen background in Preview or Pixelmator in shock.

This isn't the typical Mac neophyte's exclamation that 'my hard drive crashed, so Mac's are crap.' Hard drives crash - its a computer, and shit happens. This is a product that's not as good as an Apple product is supposed to be, and if they haven't been working on that since WWDC of last year, they should have been.

I think they were. I expect at least one of the things Eddy Cue will say at WWDC was that iCloud has seen a lot of under-the-hood work, and that speed and reliability have both seen improvement. I'd rather see that than even a new iCloud app of some kind - I understand that they might like to prove they can walk and chew gum at the same time, but they need to learn to walk first.

New Features/Apps

Is this the year for widgets?
No.

But what about all my toggles!! I need my toggles!!
Nope. Apple's not a toggle company - they want people to set it and forget it. Anything you have to repeatedly switch on or off is either a) horribly designed and/or implemented, by Apple's standards, or b) something that can and should be automated in the background, like brightness and proximinty sensoring. "Widgets on iOS" goes alongside "Linux on the Desktop" - always next year, never this year.

UI Redesign/"Refinement"

It could be said that one cycle is too soon to see a complete Ive-ification of iOS, but I'm going to take Gruber's statement that iOS is running behind to say that there's lots of small refinements all across the board for iOS this year, and I wouldn't be surprised if they were chiefly in the area of UI design. Not all the skeumorphism will go, but the overly-cartoonish leather and stitching will. Look to the redesign of the Podcasts app for an idea of what's going to happen. I literally can't wait for this.

Preview for iOS

I can't tell you how bad I want this, as someone using Mountain Lion on their machines. I even have Dropbox, which serves this exact purpose (arguably better). It's still aggravating - I have a PDF in Preview's iCloud, and even though I can start a rich word processing document on my iPhone and edit it on my Mac in state, I have to get that PDF into iBooks (seriously?) and I have to do it manually. That's silly.

Of course, one solution might be to hook the PDF section of iBooks up to Preview's iCloud, but I think the cleaner and more forward thinking soloution is this: take PDFs out of iBooks, which is hooked up to iBooks for Mac via iCloud. Then, make Preview for iOS, and hook it up to Preview on the Mac via iCloud, and automatically take all the PDFs out of iBooks and put them there.

Upgrades to Safari

Safari will get an update that allows Apple to market it as the fastest mobile web browser, along with the ability to swipe back and forth fro the back/forward function, bringing it in parity with Safari for Mac.

Upgrades to Mail

This might be selfish, but I'm running a jailbroken iPhone with Mail Enhancer Pro iOS 6, and I'm really liking the mailbox selector feature so I can only see unread email. I'm pulling for this, but I expect they'll pull one or two advanced features from Gmail and a few UI features from apps like Sparrow and Mailbox (I'd like to see swiping a message do more than ask to delete it - give me options of what to do, or just delete it on the swipe.)

What I expect is a few minor enhancements, a couple of security benchmarks they can check off to make IT departments happy and access to Preview for iOS in the same way it has access to photos, for inline attachments.

Speed Improvements

It's been a while since they've gone on stage and said "iOS is now faster." It's time - they'll get rid of all the sub-retina images and assets (because they don't sell many non-retina devices anymore, especially once they retinafy the mini), transition away from processor- and graphic-intensive skeumorphic animation, and then optimize it in whatever way they can.

Multiple Contributors to Shared Photo Streams

I think Albumatic is great, but it's so vulnerable to having its reason for being copied and integrated much better than it's able to do itself. Also, I was a bit confused to find that this wasn't a feature they already had. It's easy enough to do - if I share a photo stream with you, you should be able to add to it.

Messaging Improvements

There's not much to be said for Messages, which is as much a good thing as a bad thing - it's not notably bad, but it's not good enough to be notable, and considering how crucial the messaging aspect of a phone is, it's time Apple took another stab at it and showed us how to do it right. A few features would be a "share sheet" not unlike the Facebook and Twitter options, where we could reply to a message from anywhere (I honestly think we'll see this even if the Remote View Controller idea doesnt happen) as well as a more streamlined design and a better view for group messaging. It's time to grow out of bubbles and grow into something more modern - OS X has a few other themes for its Messages app, so maybe it'll take some inspiration there.

I'd also like to see Facebook Messenger and Twitter DM's integrated with the Messages app, but I don't think Facebook would have gone through the trouble of Chat Heads if that were coming. It would be nice, though: it would go across all devices (right now, Facebook Messenger must be configured manually, even though credentials are already available to the system) and it would be a slap in the face of Microsoft-owned Skype and Google's GChat.

Release

Announcement at WWDC, first installed on the iPhone 5S, released to public 2 days earlier as an OTA update. Most likely the 5S will see a mid-to-late October release on a Friday, which pegs iOS 7 at either October 16 or 23. It'll go on the 4, 4S, 5 and 5S (No more 3GS) and will lose the oldest iPod touch. iPads 2-5 and both minis will get it as well.