Apple WWDC preview: Five ways Apple should improve iOS

Auto app updating would be nice.

Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference kicks off today. WWDC will focus on the software side of Apple’s business, with the company talking up the latest improvements in both its mobile iOS and desktop/laptop OS X operating systems. I honestly have no idea what the company will do with the traditional computer OS other than integrate it more fully with iOS, but there are definitely a few things I’d like to see on the mobile side.

Most of them are selfish, but some of my suggestions would go a long way to improving the overall experience of using iPhones, iPods and iPads for everyone.

1. Open up the actual phone: Perhaps my greatest frustration with the iPhone is the inability to record conversations on it. As a matter of professional policy, I record every interview I do so that I don’t mess up what the subjects say. That unfortunately counters the entire point of a mobile phone, in that I have to be tied to my home computer—if someone calls me on my mobile, I inevitably have to call them back on Skype (I don’t have a home phone) so I can record. It would be great if I could just tap a button on a third- or even first-party app to start recording any inbound calls, which would mean I could conduct interviews from anywhere, rather than only when I’m at home at my desk. Please Apple, please…

2. Improve typing: If there’s one area where Apple has fallen behind competitors, it’s definitely in the keyboard department. BlackBerry probably has the best predictive typing keyboard system out there, while Android’s suggested words are good too when implemented properly. Meanwhile, Apple’s auto-correct continues to be utterly woeful. Siri is sometimes a handy substitute, but I’m still struggling to bring myself to use it in public. Siri may just be up there with Bluetooth headsets and Google Glass in the socially-unacceptable-gadget department.

3. Fix file transfers: Going back to those recorded conversations, I also always use my iPhone’s voice memo app to record in-person interviews. Getting those interviews off the phone, however, often proves to be a chore. The easiest way is to connect the phone to my desktop computer, where it’s synced. Another option is to email the file, but the phone doesn’t let you send more than eight minutes worth, meaning you have to chop up the interview if it’s longer than that. There’s no integration with any storage services such as Dropbox, nor can I sync the phone to another computer without nuking all the files I have on it. That’s actually a bigger issue—iOS devices should be allowed to connect to multiple computers without having to override all the files they have on them. There may very well be a way to do that, but I’m not aware of it, which means it’s not simple to do.

4. Better search of device: Speaking of simplicity, there are all kinds of settings on iOS devices that are simply murder to find. For example, turning LTE on or off is buried on the iPhone, requiring users to go to Settings, General and then Cellular. Data roaming—a particularly sore spot for many users—is similarly tough to find. A search or help function that turns up such info on the devices themselves would be immensely handy.

5. Auto app updating: Keeping apps up to date on an iOS device is like playing whack-a-mole—just as soon as you’ve updated a few, more of those damn red notification circles pop up. It would be nice if apps could somehow update automatically and then inform the user of changes afterward, perhaps with the option to voluntarily go back a version. Alternatively, perhaps Apple could impose limits on how frequently developers are allowed to update their apps. Anything to save users from having to constantly refresh.

As I said above, some of these things may already be possible, but they’re not readily apparent if they are. Apple’s focus may turn out to be on making iOS more shiny and new to compete with rivals’ increased snazziness, but as a company that prides itself on slick and simple experiences, I’m hoping that the basics don’t get forgotten.