iOS 13: 5 features at the top of the wish list

WWDC, Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference, is less than two weeks away. In a dozen days we’ll know the broad outlines of where Apple is taking its software in the next year. It’s an exciting time, when you hope against hope that the features you dream about will come true and make it into a new release.

It doesn’t always happen, but when it does, it’s pretty great. Here’s what I’m hoping to see in iOS 13 when Apple unveils it on Monday, June 3.

Go the last mile with Files

iOS started life as an operating system that denied the existence of files and avoided file management—quite a change from the file-oriented interface of the Mac. But it’s been years now since Apple broke the seal on files in iOS with the introduction of iCloud Drive and, later, Files.

apple files app iconApple

Files app

But Apple hasn’t quite finished the job when it comes to file handling on iOS. There’s a little bit more to be done before they push the football across the goal line and declare victory.

File handling on iOS is too inconsistent. You can save and open files in various places on iCloud drive or even on your local device, but the rules about when you can save files and where you can save them aren’t clear. The user can’t create folders arbitrarily, which is frustrating. The On My Device area is especially confusing—so much so that even technically savvy users don’t understand that your iOS apps can save files to your iPhone or iPad without also syncing them with iCloud Drive. (A major feature if you’re out of iCloud space or on a metered or slow Internet connection.) You can’t create or open Zip archives using the Files app. With a little bit of focus on the details, Apple can clean this experience up and make it much better than it is today.

Then there’s opening up native access in the Files app to some types of devices that Apple hasn’t supported up until now. Since the iPad Pro comes with a USB-C port now, it is past time that Apple allow USB storage devices—thumb drives, spinning disks, you name it—to be attached to iOS devices and have their contents displayed in Files. Likewise, Files should natively support network file servers. I shouldn’t need to buy a third-party app to connect to my local SMB server. Better yet, let me add my external SFTP servers as well, so I can access every server I use that isn’t part of a cloud service like iCloud or Dropbox.

Get better with audio

airplay audio iconApple

Apple has made many advances with AirPlay 2. Let’s hope there’s more to come.

As someone who does a lot of podcasting, I realize that my needs in terms of iOS audio are not normal. But still, if you look at how iOS handles audio input and output when compared to a Mac, it’s clear that iOS’s functionality is rudimentary at best. iOS should be able to support multiple input and output devices, and allow apps access to them simultaneously. (AirPlay 2 has actually advanced the ball in terms of output quite a lot!)

Still, I should be able to run a voice-recorder app at the same time I’m talking on Skype. I’d like to be able to switch to Video mode in the Camera app on my iPhone without my music pausing. Picking an input device when multiple ones are attached—let’s say the internal device microphone, a microphone on a set of headphones, and a dedicated USB microphone—shouldn’t be a matter of luck, but a user preference.

I have confidence that iOS will get there. I’d just like it to be this year, please.

Think outside the device

iOS excels in so many areas, and yet in others it really can’t hold a candle to what a traditional PC can do—and that’s generally the fault of the software, not the hardware. So it is when we consider how iOS works when you attach external devices.

Apple iPad Pro (3rd Generation)Apple

The iPad Pro works with external displays.

The iPad Pro can drive a 4K external display, but only a few apps can take advantage of that display for anything but mirroring what’s on the iPad screen. And you can only interact with iOS apps by touching the device’s touchscreen.

It’s time for the insularity to end. iOS apps should be able to run on external displays. Users should be able to attach pointing devices such as mice and trackpads to control apps, whether on external devices or on the built-in displays. iOS should recognize external touchscreen monitors and allow them to be used as full-fledged input devices, as if they were the device’s own screen. And if Apple’s not happy with the quality of third-party touchscreen displays, that’s fine—it should built its own if it needs to.

Take the next step with Shortcuts

Last year brought us Siri Shortcuts and the Shortcuts app. It’s time to refine them both. Siri Shortcuts should be able to take specific input, rather than only responding to pre-determined phrases, so I can say “play The Incomparable in Overcast” and “play Upgrade in Overcast” and not have to build separate shortcuts to accomplish what is the exact same task except for the name of the podcast itself.

apple shortcuts ios iconApple

Shortcuts app

The Shortcuts app, which is so powerful already, needs a level of polish. You can’t organize Shortcuts either via folder or filter. Too many times running a Shortcut launches the Shortcuts app itself, showing you the steps it’s taking, when it should instead remain invisible or offer only a subtle indication that an automated task is running.

And the time-savers generated out of Siri Shortcuts and the Shortcuts app should be able to be triggered in different ways, like when my device changes locations, or when it’s a certain time of day, or when a HomeKit device is changed to a new state, or when I type a keyboard shortcut.

A multitasking brush-up

Finally, it’s been two years since Apple’s last modification to iOS multitasking and it’s time for the next step. On large screens like the iPad Pro, I’d like to run three apps at once in split view. There needs to be a visual indicator of which app is receiving typing input. Keyboard shortcuts should be added to control multitasking, including adding apps to a multitasking view and toggling between active apps.

It’s been rumored for quite a while now that iOS 13 will bring the ability for apps to run multiple instances of themselves, so you could have two Keynote documents open side by side, for example. I sure hope the rumors are true, because it’s painful to keep toggling between two documents in a single app window.

And the rest

I have many other feature requests, far more than Apple could ever add to a single operating-system update. That’s why I know that some of my dreams simply can’t come true. But every one that does will fill me excitement. And as for the rest, well, there’s always room on my iOS 14 wish list.

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