Monday, September 15, 2014

iOS 9 "Predictions"

Okay, maybe more like a wishlist.

iOS 8 goes a long way toward making iOS devices more useful for more types of tasks, but there is still a lot of low hanging fruit that can be picked.  Here are a few things I hope we see demoed at the next WWDC.

Search Extensions

Spotlight search on iOS is constantly improving, particularly in terms of bringing in information from outside of your device via Spotlight Suggestions. However Spotlight still has no facility for searching for data within the apps on your device. For example, if you have a recipe database and wish to search for a particular recipe, there's no way to do that from the home screen.

Now that iOS supports extensions, why not use that mechanism to add support for a new type of extension: search extensions. Developers would simply have to add an additional target to their projects, the same way they do with iOS 8 extensions. The new target would contain all the necessary logic to search for the search term that is passed in as an argument, and would post its results back to the operating system which would integrate them into Spotlight's search results.

Siri Extensions

Siri is constantly improving, and iOS 8 adds such features as "Hey Siri" for buttonless activation (when plugged in), support for HomeKit related commands ("is my door locked?") and the ability to tell you what music is playing around you (via Shazam integration).

One thing that's still missing is a method of allowing developers to integrate their Siri with their own apps. When I'm listening to the Sirius/XM app with my phone in my pocket and my headphones on I'd like to be able to tell Siri to change the channel. In the health related app I'm writing (which so far has helped me lose 38 pounds and reduce my blood pressure by 20%) I'd like to be able to ask Siri to tell me my step count or calories or pulse. I'd like to be able to ask Siri to tell Reeder to read me the latest headlines.

Siri extensions would fit right in to Apple's latest philosophy regarding app extensions. Again, the developer would provide a new target in their Xcode project. This time they'd also have to provide some information in their info.plist to explain to the system what sorts of queries their app can understand. I picture an array of arrays, like:

verb noun

verb noun

So, for example, for the app I'm writing I may have:

get steps
    blood pressure
    heart rate

email steps
      blood pressure
      heart rate

Siri would use its magic to understand that these things can be stated in many ways "what's my pulse?" "get me my pulse" "tell me my pulse" and that certain actions require more information "who would you like to send the email?" The app would then receive a query mapped to this dictionary and would have to respond appropriately by filling a data structure (similar to the current activity view controllers) with appropriate text, images, or the like, including a textual narration which Siri would read. Obviously this is just a start - Siri can respond to more than just simple verb-noun pairs, and over time Apple could beef it up, but even this much would be a huge gain for users and developers.

Better "Hey Siri"

iOS 8 adds "hey, Siri" support that allows you to trigger Siri verbally whenever your device is plugged in. There are at least two reasons for the plug-in requirement. First, continuously monitoring and processing speech takes power, and would impact battery life. Second, if you are plugged in, it's far less likely that you'll be in a situation where Joe says "hey siri" to his phone and Mary's phone mistakenly responds; in most cases people aren't interacting with their phones near each other while plugged in (many exceptions to this of course).

The solution to the first problem is better hardware, and I continue to wonder if iPhone 6, thanks to improvements in the chipset might already support unplugged Hey Siri.  Presumably if it did then Apple would have said so.

The second issue is more difficult and is quite real, in my experience. I listen to the news in my car on my way to work, and Syria has been a hot topic lately. I charge my iPhone in the car, and frequently Siri responds to the news. (That's a whole other problem).

End the Shift Key Madness

I'm not sure why, but Apple seems to be intent on continuing to muck with the shift key on its soft keyboard until no one in the world understands when shift is on and when it is off. This problem is mitigated somewhat by the new ability to install third party keyboards, but I have a suggestion, Apple. How about you shade the shift key however you'd like, but when shift is off make the key faces lower case, and when it is on make them upper case? Then we can all be happy.

Transit Directions

This one is coming for sure. Launching external apps is not a great solution and there's no easy way to create an integrated navigation route - "take the train to this stop, then walk two blocks to over here, then get on the ferry to here..."

Indoor Maps

This one is also coming. Now that M8 can deal with barometric data it can calculate height off the ground, stair flights climbed, etc. It's just a matter of collecting data. Apple is heavily focussed on mapping and has purchased several mapping companies (probably more than we even know about).  This will be especially useful in places like malls, airport terminals, hospitals, complex subway stations, etc.

Simultaneous Apps

There's been a lot of chatter about this coming in iOS 8, and it's very likely to come in time for iOS 9.  The groundwork is largely laid - iOS 8 supplies "traits" which enable an app to adapt its interface based on the relative size and orientation of the display.   For example, a developer can now fairly easily design a hierarchical list that expands into two panes (one for headings and the other for details) when the display is "wide" and collapses to a single in-place list when the display is "narrow."

So, for example, it is easy to imagine iOS allowing two simultaneous apps to be in the foreground, each occupying half of a horizontally-oriented iPad screen, and each app behaving like it is operating on a vertically-oriented screen.  Or one app taking ⅔ of the screen and another, in "iPhone" display mode, taking the other ⅓.

Apple will have to work out a ton of user-interface issues, but I'm sure they're working on it.

Multi-user Support

At the very least it would be nice if I could hand my iPad to my daughter and have it automatically be in "kid mode" (either because I switched it manually, or because she typed her own passcode or used her own finger on Touch ID).

Preferable would be a more general ability to have multiple user accounts, particularly on iPad.  iPads, unlike iPhones, are frequently shared among different members of a household.  Allowing each to have a separate account prevents Safari histories and bookmarks from getting commingled, allows everyone to have their own collection of apps, etc.

Customizable Control Panel

I believe Apple will allow user's to install apps or app extensions into the control panel that pulls up when you swipe up from the bottom edge of the screen.  Not everyone needs instant access to a stopwatch or calculator.

More Continuity and Handoff

How about unlocking my Mac when my iPhone or Watch comes near it (perhaps adding NFC to Macs and using it for this purpose)?  Or using indoor navigation or NFC or both, have my music follow me from Apple TV to Apple TV around the house?  Or if I'm the only one in the room, Apple TV can figure out which Netflix profile to use automatically?


Apple operates on its own plan, and often times its customers don't think big enough.  We see the way things are, and imagine little fixes that could smooth over the glitches and problems we run into from day to day.  Apple, on the other hand, tends to operate over a longer time scale.  As a result, it's just as likely that none of these ideas are implemented as that any are.  That said, speculation is fun.


  1. Many great ideas like Search & Siri extensions, Simultaneous Apps and Customizable Control Center. If Apple is not going to give us Multi-Users support on iPad, at least gives us a guest account to login especially for users who already trust the iCloud keychain. I don't want to hand out my iPad to anyone who could access to any of my online accounts without even need to know my password. Or give us a switch in Control Center for disabling iCloud Keychain temporary.

  2. The Siri extentions would be nice. Additionally, better multitasking and ability to download Third- Party apps would be the best addition yet.

    1. Just saw this new post. Third party apps would rule.

  3. A new idea may be the ability to do split screen. A calculator app would be nice for iPad. Additional weather functionality is another idea.