The Need For iPad OS

Disclaimer: This post needs some serious revisions which will come out as iPad OS 2.0 in the future. I wrote this post from a flawed view with a very narrow mindset. My interactions with the iPad were so different from almost everyone elses that it invalidated many of my points. I thought I wan't the iPad to be able to replace a power users Macbook and I was wrong. Are some points valid? Yes, but overall the whole article is wrongheaded.

The iPad could be the future of computing. The only thing holding it back is iOS, which feels like a phone operating system ported for a bigger screen. The biggest problem? The design limitations, that Apple imposes on the iPhone, are needlessly carried over to the iPad. These limitations are hurting developers ability to make more advanced applications. At launch, the hardware limitated app design, because the iPad was a new device and there were legitimate concerns over battery life and computing power. Today, the iPad has matured into a full fledged mobile computer. It has the processing power to support incredible applications, but Apple continues to cripple them by forcing developers to artificially limit their apps to fit within the outdated App Store guidelines. The answer is that the iPad needs it's own operating system. One that sheds the limitations of iOS but doesn't lose its ease of use. iPad OS shouldn't be like OSX, Windows 8, or Android but an evolution of iOS into something truly powerful. An OS based around touch but with innovative features that allows it to be as full featured as OSX. One that is completely independent of a traditional computer. What does iPad OS need? A design and philosophical overhaul that addresses the larger screen and powerful processor, the ability to quickly move files and yourself around, and better support for external accessories. The following points outline what iPad OS should be.

2013-11-17 00.34.02.jpg

OS Features

These are the things that Apple needs to do to make iPad OS stand out from iOS. From the super obvious to the innovative, these ideas make up the core of the OS.

iPad OS Takes Advantage of the Extra Space

iOS on the iPad is a blown up version of the iPhone. Which is ironic because Apple touts how the App Store has so many apps that are designed specifically for the iPad. However, they ignore the fact that iOS itself hasn't been optimized for the larger screen. Look at your iPad's home screen. There are huge spaces between apps on the home screen, app switching is identical to iPhone, folders only show 9 apps at once. I could go on, and on, and on. There are so many glaringly obvious ways to improve how the user interacts with the iPad it's infuriating. If Apple thinks the iPad is the future of computing they should make a proper UI for it, not a blown up iPhone port.

Users Can Change The Default Apps

We need to be able to choose our own default apps. Apple's stock apps were once the best on the market. However, it has been a long time since they could claim that title. I have heard throughout the years that Apple's apps were meant to be a guide for what iOS could do and they fully expected developers to come up with something better. Which begs the question, why can't we make these better apps our defaults? Let us put on our big boy, or girl, pants and set the apps we want as the default.

Virtual Keyboards

iPad OS needs the ability to add custom virtual keyboards. Third party keyboards give added functionality and don't force all people into typing a certain way. 'Swype' (Android, $4.27) keyboard , which allows you to type by swiping the screen rather than pecking, is almost a compelling enough reason to switch to Android. Pecking away on Apple's keyboard feels antiquated and clunky. For iPad OS we need 3rd party keyboards with all the functionality they can bring. Without the benefit of a tactile response from the keys, users need control over how they input text into the device.

New Touch User Interface

iPad OS needs a more precise way of input. Apple won't want a stylus and I agree with that, for the most part. A new UI is needed that takes complicated movements and make them easy to do with your finger. UI that developers haven't even thought of yet that gives users the control of a mouse with the convenience of touch. Apple has to figure it out and make the SDK available to developers. This is a monumentally hard task and may take years of tinkering to figure out.

Finder Touch

iPad OS needs a file system. Finder for the iPad, or Finder Touch, would take all the functionality of the Mac's Finder and make it touch friendly. Apple's current file philosophy that files are stored in apps, doesn't work. It fragments files over multiple apps and makes them hard to find. Finder Touch would be stepping back from this bad policy and give users better control over their files. Finder Touch should reimagine what a file system is by designing the UI to best suit a touch screen. Taking the functionality of Finder for the Mac and make that work for your fingers. An almost direct clone of Finder for the Mac would work decently but using the iPad's visual strength's would make it a lot more compelling. With a UI that showcases each file type in the best way possible. Pictures could be displayed like cover flow, an easily swipe able pane that shows a preview of the pictures. Documents could still come in lists but pressing on one would pop up a quick view of the text that you could scroll through. A total rethinking of how to interact with files on a touch screen. Not everything will change drastically but we shouldn't coast on what file systems have been for decades. Current mobile file apps took the desktop UI and enlarged it so you could use your finger. Finder Touch would be a reimagining of how you can interact with files on a touch screen. It's not that the old way is bad but it could be so much better.

Systemwide Services

In order for iPad OS support "power user" apps, it needs to have systemwide services. Applications that can affect other applications, like Hazel (Mac, $28) or TextExpander (Mac, $34.95)(iOS, $4.99), are needed to improve the experience across the whole device. Currently, iOS "sandboxes" each app, so malicious code can't be transferred to the rest of the system. Which is good from a security standpoint but it also stops legitimate apps from using system wide actions. This is why TextExpander needs developers to program in support, which developers can do now, rather than it just working system wide. iPad OS needs these system wide actions to allow apps to increase the functionality of all apps. or it will be needlessly crippled. I think a good place to start would be to get developers like Smile, who make Text Expander, to partner with Apple. This would be a huge shift in the way Apple does things but iPad OS needs to be closer to a Mac than iOS. Power users will want Alfred (Mac, Free/£27), 1Password (Mac, $49.99)(iOS, $17.99), and Hazel. If Apple wants a powerful OS they need to give up some control to trusted developers.

Widgets

Widgets allow you to quickly get information without opening individual apps. iPad OS should have widgets, but not the same sort that Android or Windows Phone has. The problem with current widgets are that they are insular, you only get data from one source. What I would like to see is the home screen divided into two sides, widgets on the left and apps on the right. The default view would not be an amalgamation of different widgets. It would be an open space where currently relevant information is. Calendar events and to do's going down the side, weather conditions, a quick note entry area, with a timer and Siri button on the bottom. The whole space dynamically changing with your current needs. If you are playing music, volume sliders and music controls show up. If you are uploading pictures, an upload bar shows up. These default widgets can be expanded with finger gestures. A pinch out on the calendar events makes the calendar area become bigger and show more information. A press on the timer button causes a radial dial to expand out, allowing you to press the amount of time you want. This default view is just the start though.

Customizable Widget Pages

A little slider at the bottom would change the widgets from the default mode to different pages, like 'Social', 'Health Stats', 'Discovery', 'File', or 'Relaxation.' Sliding to one of these pages takes the widget pane full screen and shows you a cohesive page of data from multiple sources. These are customizable pages that you decide what you see by selecting different elements from different apps. Apple then gathers information from the apps you choose and puts the information together into widgets like:

  • Current Communications. A list of the people you're talking to online from various apps.
  • Graphs, Charts, Info-graphics, and Statistics. To show you things like you're health stats like exercise progress, sleep patterns, and food consumption.
  • Movie and TV Show Info and Trivia. On things you just watched or are in you're library.
  • Alerts about new content. New music by bands you like, new a new season of a show you watch, or media you might be interested in. (These are on the 'Discovery' page and are not adds just notifications of things related to past purchases or your current library.)
  • File Lists. Your most used, or important documents, easily accessible .

Using this contextual form of computing you don't need to sort through different apps and put the data together yourself your iPad does it for you in a beautiful package.

An Example of a 'Social' Page

I'll use social as an example. You could set it up so you see your private messages from various apps, how much karma you got on Reddit, mentions, and of course notifications from Facebook and Twitter. You can interact with each of these things and do things like reply or confirm an event. When there are no notifications this functionality hides itself and shows you a default browsing view of your Newsfeed and Twitter Feed, or whatever you choose to see. This would be very useful but you may be wondering, 'where does the contextual part come in?' Apple should work at getting to know you and only show you things that you want to see by filtering out the people you never interact with. They work with these companies to get the data and scan it for connections between you and other people. It uses things like:

  • GPS and location data. Of you and your friends to deduce how often you hang out with them. It also will show you pictures and videos of these events, even those taken by other people. (You approve pictures before others can see them.)
  • Number of online interactions. It looks at how often you talk online and the more interactions you have the more you will see their posts in the widget.
  • How much you 'like' or 'favourite' content online. This way you can see content for people you follow online without a constant barrage of information.

It gives you the information you care about and nothing more.

Moving Around (App switching, files, navigation)

Multitasking

The biggest thing that iPad OS needs is better multitasking. I mean that in three ways.

  1. I want to be able to buffer a video or upload files in one app, use other apps and come back to find a buffered video or my file upload complete. This is easy to accomplish, iPads have had 1GB of RAM since the iPad 2 and it was possible to run OSX Snow Leopard on 1GB. If Apple ups the RAM to 2Gb's it won't be running the current version of photoshop but it will give a huge bump in multitasking performance.
  2. I want to be able to do two things at once. 9.7" is big enough for two apps on the same screen. Apple just has to allow the ability to have 2 windows on the screen at once. They currently reject apps for trying to add this functionality. A nice feature would be to "pop" out videos or text from one app and have it stay on top as you move between apps. A feature Android can already do.
  3. I want Siri to do some heavy lifting for me. A more powerful Siri is years off yet, but what if we could do complicated tasks not with our fingers, keyboard, or stylus but with our voice? ''Siri find a good picture of me from from the beach and crop it around my face. Make that my Twitter picture. Oh and send the beach photos to anyone who was there.'' You don't manually do it, Siri does. Of course Siri has to become amazingly smart and who knows how many years it will take for it to get there.

Moving files between apps

iPad OS needs a better system for transferring files between apps. Currently, on iOS, developers must program every app they want to send files to individually. This makes more work for developers and less chance the app we want to send the file to is supported. It's a terrible system for developers and a poor experience for the user. Here are a couple examples of how file transfers currently work:

  1. The user clicks the share button in App A and hopes that App B is supported. Luckily App B is supported so he can send the file right? No, it sends a copy. Fragmenting copies of the file over multiple apps.
  2. The user clicks the share button in App be and App B isn't supported. So they send the file to App C hoping it can send files to App B. It can't? The user sends it to App D and can finally send it to App B. What should have been simple turned into a frustrating, convoluted, experience.

This happens because Apple's new file paradigm insists files live in the apps that made them, not in a directory like Finder. Which causes multiple files, in multiple stages of edit, saved to multiple apps. It is a nightmare and one that could be easily fixed with a systemwide file system and a better transfer system.

Meanwhile, Android makes it easy to move files between apps. Any app can share files with any other app. The downside is a cluttered experience with every app placed in a list. Apple can do better by anticipating what app you want to transfer a file to. Maybe it looks at the file type and shows you the three apps you most use for that kind of file. All other apps would be a button press away though, ensuring you can send the file wherever you like.

Clipboard

A clipboard, for text and files, would help negate the disadvantages of the smaller screen. It would make using multiple apps at the same time, a less jarring experience by reducing the number of times you need to switch between apps. Currently, if you try to copy text snippets out of an article and into your notes you have to select, copy, switch apps, paste, and switch back for every snippet. A much smoother experience would be if you just copied as you read and at the end switched apps and pasted everything at once. Once again the goal would be as little app switching as possible. Even if you could have multiple apps on the screen at one time, you would still get the same benefits the persistent clipboard has on a Mac. If Apple is going to maintain the rule that only one app can be on the screen at a time this persistent clipboard is a must.

Mission Control

'Mission Control', on the iPad, should be your window into everything you're working on. It should show you the last four apps used, downloads, uploads, and your clipboard. It could also be a way to set up two apps on the screen at once, choosing the position of each app. This is not the quick app switcher but should be accessed by a double tap of the home button. A press and hold on an app window could show the recent documents, a photo list, other various app functionality. Those files could then be dragged from one app to another. The struggle here would be function versus clutter. Mission Control can't be crammed with random functionality making what you need hard to find.

Quick App Switching

I would also like to see a way to switch between apps much faster than on iOS. With the limited screen space moving seamlessly between apps should be of the upmost importance to Apple engineers. A swipe in from the left side would bring up icons of the most recently used apps. Moving your finger up or down on the icons would allow you to quickly switch between apps. With the limitations of the small screen size, there shouldn't be a jarring experience when you need to move between applications. It should be as simple as the 'cmd + tab' shortcut on OSX. This UI already exists on other platforms, the Ubuntu phone allows you to swipe from the top and then move left or right to access different settings panels. It is an intuitive gesture that is needed to speed up app switching on iPad OS. Again, the goal should be to minimize stop and start as much as possible.

Siri For App Switching

Siri could be a great app switcher, if it didn't take 15 seconds for her to process your words. You could press the home button and say "App B" and it would switch instantly. Let's take this idea farther. What if Siri does the task for you so there is no need to switch between apps? For example, you get a iMessage and just say "Siri tell her 'Yeah that will be fine." You continue what you were doing and never have to leave your current application. No app switching, not even quick reply. Just a quick spoken phrase and your done. With this there is no reason to grey out the whole screen. You could continue doing whatever you are doing and the only thing on the screen would be a little circle showing you Siri is activated.

Some examples of this:
* "Siri I need 'Document A' and the file is sent to the current app."
* "Siri copy this text to my current document in App C."
* "Import the last 5 photos taken."

Hardware and External Accessories

Physical Keyboards

Physical keyboards support is also must. System wide keyboard shortcuts, hotkeys, and app specific shortcuts are all necessary. I am typing this post on a Logitech keyboard made to switch between Mac and iOS devices. There is a 'home' button built in and I can double tap it to bring up multitasking but I have to touch the screen to switch apps. A much better experience would be to just use the 'cmd+tab' shortcut found on Mac. Also having 'cmd+m' for messages, 'cmd+r' for your to-do app, etc would be a great way to quickly change apps. Another compelling use would be for dealing with notifications. Pressing 'cmd-n' would activate the notification, taking you to the app, and 'cmd-shift-n' would dismiss them. These shortcuts need a consistent hierarchy across the OS. I think the command key should be used for system wide hotkeys, while the option key is saved for the app specific ones. All hotkeys could be customized by the user though. As much as iPad OS needs physical keyboard support it has to be able to function completely independent of a physical keyboard.

External Harddrive Connectivity

External drives are needed to cut the ties with iTunes and the traditional computer. How can the iPad become the masses only personal computer if you still need to hook it up to iTunes to add files? A simple dongle that ends in a USB 3, or Lightning, port would allow users the ability to import files without being hooked up to a traditional computer. External storage could also be used to back up your iPad to a physical source. This is one of the areas iPad OS should copy functionality from the Mac. Finder Touch would treat the external drive exactly like Finder does on the Mac.

It should also be able to wirelessly connect to a 'Time Capsule'. The ability to view all your files from your hard drive and have automated wireless backups of your portable devices would be awesome. Wireless file transfer and back up would really make the iPad a standalone device the way Apple envisions it. A seamless meld of the two hard drives that you never have to worry about. If you need a file, you can access it. Otherwise it is just quietly making back-ups so you never lose a thing. Once again, if Apple thinks the iPad is the future of computing they have to make the iPad fully functional on it's own.

Airplay

Another scenario that could allow a whole realm of new possibilities is using Airplay and a TV or monitor. You can do this today, but what would be really interesting is if the iPad wasn't mirrored, it was the means of control for your bigger screen. Before you say we can already do that with 'second screen' apps, hear me out. It would work on the same principal a virtual keyboard does. What the iPad screen shows changes depending on the app you are are using. For example: Adding a physical keyboard and a text editor could change the iPad's screen to have your last few documents for easy switching, a list of you headers to navigate through your document, pinned snippets, clipboard, etc. Or the iPad could have a list of your headers and you could easily drag them to reorder your text. It could change the way people write. You could quickly navigate between apps, documents, whatever you choose. This would solve some significant caveats of having a smaller screen and no trackpad/mouse.

Another use for Airplay would obviously be multiple apps on one screen. You could manipulate them via the iPad in Mission Control but also have something like the 'Better Touch Tool' to easily "snap" windows where you want them. I should add that Samsung is already doing this with their Note phones. Though, their implementation is one of a computer hooked up to a bluetooth keyboard and mouse. That is not what I am getting at, that's an idea that has been done. This would be a brand new way of melding the bigger screen with the iPad. Not so your iPad becomes just a portable desktop but so it becomes the controls for the screen you are seeing. Then any app could project what it wants you to see on the big screen and the controls to the iPad. The only problem, with these use cases, is tactile feedback. Users would have to look down at the iPad and then up at the bigger screen which could cause problems. The problem for the iPad is making it functional without having to look at it constantly. That is one issue that developers will be stuck on for a long time.

Last Words

iPad OS could be the next generation of computing, where the iPad can do anything a Mac can. Another revolutionary product that changes the world, once again. Apple surprised the world in 2007 with the iPhone, they could do it again in 2014 with iPad OS. They face great challenges both technologically and philosophically. They would have to give up some control and allow developers deeper access into the OS. However, they could release a revolutionary operating system that leapfrogs Android and Windows by years. Just as the iPhone did in 2007. The near future of computing is "mobile" touch screens but Apple must decide, do they coast on the basic iOS or build a powerful iPad OS. Here's hoping they see the power of the touch screen.

But What About The People Who Would Never Use Features Like These?

What about the non-technical people? The ones that barely scrape the surface of what an iPad can do today? My answer would be the iPad Air running iOS and the iPad Pro running iPad OS. iPad Pro could run all iOS apps but it also would be able to download "pro" applications to give it a desktop level experience. The marketing would be in the vein of the Mac Pro. This is for the power user, those who need more from the iPad.

Note:

This article was inspired by thisarticle about the need for an iPad OS. It was a compelling opinion piece that made me wonder why I had never thought of that before. For years I have wanted features for iOS that really only make sense for the iPad. I used the app Notegraphy (Free, iOS) to make the graphic.


Agree? Disagree? Comment Below.

If you're interested in following my blog:

Subscribe via RSS

Follow me on Twitter, @aestusblog

Or subscribe by e-mail below.

Enter your email address: