You have to love the evolution of technology. You can call it Moore's Law, returns on investments, or simply progress … but the pace of consumer tech's maturation is breathtaking. This change happens on a hardware level (just look at 2005's smartphones compared to today's), but just as exciting is the progress of software.
iOS is a prime example. In 2007 it was essentially a slick, polished way to do about ten things. Today iOS – along with Android and Windows Phone – is narrowing the gap between mobile and the desktop.
Now that iOS 6 is here, with its revamped (but flawed) Maps, Facebook integration, and the new Passbook app, we're left wondering where iOS will go next? As the laundry list of obvious upgrades (multitasking, folders, notifications…) has been exhausted over the last few years, the next steps aren't so clear.
Let's explore a few possibilities, using Apple's core philosophies and tendencies as our guide:
You have to feel bad for Apple: it's promoting its Google-less Maps update as the sexy marquee feature of iOS 6, but that's blown up in its face. Flyover is beautiful, and turn-by-turn directions put it on par with Android's navigation, but most see iOS 6 Maps as a big step back. The highlight has become the butt of jokes.
Will improved Maps be another big feature in iOS 7? It's possible, but it will more likely be a series of quiet improvements on the backend. Flaunting incremental improvements in accuracy would only draw attention to the fact that it's trailing Google Maps in that respect.
As Apple uses the millions of iOS 6 devices in the wild to crowdsource data, Maps can improve rapidly. Still, after the furor over this initial release, Cupertino is under the gun to do something.
The backlash over iOS 6 Maps has made all the snickering about Siri look mild. But Siri was released as a beta feature, and many iPhone 4S owners quickly discovered why Apple applied that tag. Inconsistent connectivity, redirecting many questions to a web search, and an inability to play with third-party apps and services have limited the assistant's scope.
Despite all the criticism, Siri still has a world of potential. Apple is in this for the long haul, and, although no single year may bring revolutionary changes to the virtual assistant, five years from now, Siri should blow away what we have now.
Right now, when Apple says "ask Siri anything," what they really mean is "ask Siri about a handful of topics that she has access to. If she can't help you, she'll help you to search the web." But with Siri tapping into more databases – and possibly third-party apps – you may eventually be able to ask Siri anything, and get a quality answer or solution 80-90 percent of the time.
Siri is Apple's answer to Google Search, so Cupertino is determined to make its scope as wide as possible. I can't wait.
Growing role for Passbook
The iOS 6 version of Passbook lets you store gift cards, tickets, boarding passes, and more in one convenient place. Apple decided that Near Field Communication (NFC) wasn't worth adding to the iPhone 5, so that's the present limit of the new app. Passbook as an NFC payment system could, however, come at some point.
Even if Apple never adds NFC, though, the app still has potential for growth. Buy an item or service with a third-party app, store its ticket or confirmation in Passbook, and flash the barcode when you redeem it. It's not much more complicated than NFC would be, and – since businesses already have barcode scanners – there's no need for a worldwide deployment of new technology. Passbook could soon become one of the most-used apps on iOS.
iOS still uses the same keyboard found in the first iPhone. As far as tap-only keyboards go, there's nothing wrong with it; but Android has shown us that there are other options.
Swype isn't for everyone, but it (and other trace keyboards) can make touchscreen typing a breeze. We could potentially see something similar come to iOS. Since Swype was bought last year by Nuance – who partners with Apple on Siri – a licensing agreement wouldn't be unheard of (but don't bet on it, as Apple could build its own trace keyboard if it really wanted to).
Apple has shown that it prefers to keep its keyboard scheme simple, and will likely continue in that direction (voice dictation solves many of the same problems anyway). But there could be potential for something new.
You often hear complaints that iOS doesn't have home screen widgets. I don't see this happening, because a) they're too geeky (your average customer doesn't want or need them), b) they clutter and complicate, when Apple's goal is to simplify, and c) they can hurt battery life.
We may someday see an OS X-like dashboard residing somewhere on the iOS home screen, but that would only happen if battery life didn't take a hit. Besides, is it that much harder to simply open a weather or messaging app to see the same information? The faster that iOS devices get (the iPhone 5 is already the Usain Bolt of smartphones), the quicker those apps will open, and the less benefit from geeking it up with widgets.
Convergence with OS X?
Mobile and desktop operating systems are converging. For evidence, look no further than Mountain Lion/iOS 6 and Windows 8/Windows Phone 8.
The only catch here: so far we've mostly seen OS X get more iOS-like, with barely any OS X-ification of iOS (the iLife and iWork suites are about as far as that goes). This is likely how it will always be.
What desktop features would iOS pick up? Finder? Forget it - we're more likely to see file system access disappear on Macs. The ability to install apps from outside the App Store? No way. I'm at a loss for any OS X features that iOS would benefit from (at least in Apple's eyes).
Though we aren't likely to see much OS X on our iPhones, we will see more effortless syncing between mobile and desktop. iCloud is still young, and isn't always the instant, seamless solution that Apple wants it to be. There's room for both expanding its abilities and refining what's already there.
Perhaps one day you'll be able to play Grand Theft Auto VI on your Mac, pause, and instantly pick up where you left off on your iPhone. As mobile devices become more powerful and iCloud expands, it could happen.
Speaking of gaming, perhaps Apple will one day dive headlong into it and create its own cloud gaming service, a la OnLive. Consider this a long shot, though, as a game that requires a persistent, fast, and low latency internet connection doesn't sound very Apple-like. Wireless carriers' shift to capped data plans in the U.S. also doesn't improve the odds.
While we're having fun with wild speculation, in what ways do you see iOS evolving? Let us know in the comments!
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