iOS Apps Crank it to 11 Right Before iOS 12

(That thing where you write a terribly punny post title without even realizing it.)

App developers seem to be treating WWDC as a deadline to get their big updates/launches out of the way. Presumably, this will let them devote much of their summers to updating for whatever goodies will be included in iOS 12. Since I’ve been mostly offline for a few days and missed most of these, I figured I would share some bite size impressions on these updates.

Castro 3

This is my new podcast app of choice. With the best queuing system out there (IMO), the addition of chapter support and a real player view make this the app with everything I want. The in-app purchase to unlock all features was totally worth it. Amazing update.

Free on the App Store (IAP)

Spark 2

My Newton email subscription expired a few weeks ago and I’ve been looking for an app that can replace it1. Nothing was scratching that itch and I was about to pony up for another year, but Spark 2 is amazing. The killer feature for me is being able to share links to emails to other apps like OmniFocus, which lets me easily set emails as tasks for later.

Free on the App Store (IAP)

Obscura 2

I’m not that big on third party camera apps. The stock app tends to get the best results and launches fastest, and Adobe Lightroom takes the best RAW photos in my experience. Obscura has a really great UI and some cool editing tools, so it gets closer than most to getting into my workflow. I am still playing with the RAW image quality, but it seems to do a really good job. I’m not sure if I’ll stick with it, but I’m sure it will work for a lot of people.

$4.99 on the App Store

Pocket-Run Pool

This is my new addition, and like all of Zach Gage’s games, this is a new take on pool like you have never plated before. It’s simple, quick fun, and I’m on the hunt for a perfect game.

The coolest thing is an international tournament that happens every hour of the day. You get one shot each hour to set a high score and try to come in the top 10 worldwide. I haven’t made it yet, but I feel like I’ve gotten close at least once or twice.

Free on the App Store (IAP)

Things 3.6

My heart has a soft spot for Things, which is a great task manager and my second favorite app for this sort of thing. This recent update added a ton of keyboard shortcuts which makes the app feel ridiculously powerful.

$9.99 on the App Store ($19.99 for the iPad app)

OmniFocus 3

This is my go-to productivity app and the new update is…relatively conservative, actually. I didn’t feel like the app reinvented itself or anything, but I love their conversion of “contexts” to “tags” and their new scripting options look powerful, but I need to dig in more to see what’s new.

Free on the App Store (IAP)

Ulysses 13

Famously my “favorite app on any platform,” Ulysses continues to be one of the best software investments in my life right now. The new daily writing goals are amazing (watchOS 5 review, I’m looking at you) and keyword highlighting is helping me omit some words that I don’t want to appear in my writing more easily. This is a great update!

Free on the App Store (IAP)

Agenda

And finally, one more productivity app, but this one has a twist. Agenda pitches itself as a single app to replace your note taking and task management apps. The design looks very nice and some people just love the Mac app, so I’m just starting to give this a try.

The tragedy of this app is that it looks like exactly what I want for me day job, but with no Windows version, I can’t use it for that. I’m pretty happy with OmniFocus now, but this is a really interesting app that everyone should at least check out.

Free on the App Store (IAP)


  1. I love Newton, but it’s $50 per year and that’s a bit much. 

Work Apps in iOS 12

I failed to mention this in any of my notification articles yet, and that’s a damn shame because I think this would be a great feature. Without further ado, here’s what I want.

Apps should be able to be marked as “work” apps. This would simply mean they are an app that is useful to you when you are at work, but either useless or annoying when you are out of the office. As a real world example, I have Jira notifications turned on so that I can keep a pulse on what is happening with my board at work. This is great when I’m in the office and keeping track of things, but it was annoying as hell as I was driving down the interstate today and these notifications came pouring in even though I didn’t want to think about work.

The current solution to the above problem is currently to either go to the settings app and turn off notifications, only to turn them back on again tomorrow morning when I’m back at the office. That’s a pain and not worth the effort. The other solution would be to turn on Do Not Disturb, but that wasn’t ideal either because I wanted other notifications to come through, just not my work ones.

By marking apps as work apps, it would mean the phone would only give me these notifications when I’m working, and not when I’m out of work mode.

Because working is different for everyone, I’d suggest that once an app is tagged as a “work app” then they would choose what it means for them to be at work. They could say “only show me this app’s notifications when I’m at this location” or “only show thee notifications on weekdays between 9am and 5pm.” Or even a combo of the two, “only show these if it’s between 9am and 5pm, and I’m at work.”

I’m totally open to whatever UI works best for this, but being able to quarantine my work apps on my phone a little bit would be hugely helpful for me, and I bet a lot of other people who are trying to improve their work-life balance.

HomePod Gets It’s First Meaningful Update

Note: HomePod did get an update last month, but no one was able to suss out any user-facing changes.

The most exciting update for me is the ability to finally ask my HomePod about my schedule for the day. My work calendar is super important to me and the fact Siri on the HomePod couldn’t see this before was mind boggling. I still wish I could say something like “good morning” to my HomePod and have it give me the weather, news, and calendar events, but I guess it’s baby steps for now.

AirPlay 2 sounds fine, but as someone with only one HomePod, it doesn’t do much for me personally. I like the idea of asking my Apple Watch to play something on the HomePod, but I don’t know how practical a use case that actually is. But with stereo pairing and multi-room audio support I expect those crazy multi-HomePod owners are going to love it.

iOS 12: Realistic Hopes and Dreams

iOS 12 is exactly one week away and if you’re not feeling the hype then…well I guess everything is fine. We’ve made it through Microsoft’s and Google’s annual developer events and next up is the one that I personally am the most invested in. With that in mind, and in the vein of my watchOS 5 proposal, these are things I both hope to see Apple address in their next version of iOS and they are all things I think are totally reasonable to expect from the richest company in the world.

Improved performance and stability

iOS 11 got a bad rap for its many issues with overall stability. I never experienced any of this1, but it’s been a PR headache for the company all year long. Obviously I hope iOS 12 is very stable and has a smooth upgrade process.

What I find more important is speed. The “Apple is throttling your phone” story got a lot of play this year, and it “proved” some people’s worst fears about the company. I think it’s imperative that people upgrade to iOS 12 this fall and their first feeling is “damn, this is fast!”

I don’t care if it’s just speeding up animations, but iOS should feel like a freaking beast when it comes to performance. People on iPhone 6/6s/7 should feel a noticeable improvement and those of us on the iPhone 8/X should feel like our phones are daring us to throw more at them.

Better battery life

Along the same lines, Apple would do well to improve battery life across all of its iOS devices. My iPad does great, but my last couple iPhones have not done as well in my experience. My iPhone 8 Plus, for example, rarely lasts a full day for me, even with relatively minor use. Now it is connected to an Apple Watch all day, which certainly leads to some drain, but the Apple Watch should not be draining this much battery.

I didn’t really think that much about this until I spent the last few weeks with the Pixel 2, which easily makes it through a full day. It is not connected to a smart watch, but the iPhone should do better.

Siri in the Cloud

We thought it was going to happen last year, so it’s past due for Apple to give Siri the love it deserves this year. I’m not talking about a simple “we’ve added more sports!” thing from Phil, I’m talking about a total rethink of how Siri works.

The biggest change should be with integrations. Any third party app should be able to create a Siri extension. Apple should build out a framework that gives easy tools for devs to make things Apple expects (audio apps, maps, messaging, etc.) and the freedom for other developers to make things Apple hasn’t even thought of. Apple controls the App Store, so they will have final approval on all of these apps, so I’d like to see them open up the platform (yes, Siri should be a platform) to the creative people making iOS software.

To go along with this, apps should be able to install their extensions to Siri in the cloud. Your iCloud account will store all of your Siri app integrations and they will carry from iPhone to iPad to Mac to HomePod to Apple Watch. Only have WhatsApp for iPhone but it’s not on your iPad? Doesn’t matter, Siri can handle these requests from any device.

Default apps for action types should be a thing as well. I should be able to add my tasks and reminders to OmniFocus without having to append “in OmniFocus” to the end of every request. It’s a pain and makes it something I’m less likely to do. I know iOS doesn’t allow for default apps, but Siri would be a markedly better experience if we could cut out these extraneous modifiers.

As a bonus, I’d love compound requests and multi-voice recognition to come to Siri. My Google Home not only recognizes the difference between me and my wife, but it will give us different calendar updates and news summaries based on our preferences. Siri on iOS already differentiates between me and everyone else, but it would be great for the HomePod if it could do more than one person.

This final thing is more abstract, but I would love it if Siri did more to guess what I wanted to do next. It already does this a bit with guessing what apps I’m going to launch next (which it does incredibly well for me) but I’d like to see more little things like this throughout the system that make my life easier.

Notification updates all around

I went into this in detail earlier in the week, so I’ll simply direct you to that piece.

iCloud Family Photo Libraries

This would help so many households out there and it’s incredibly obvious so I won’t go into it that much. My wife and I share an iCloud Family account and have 2TB of data to share. Yet our photo libraries are totally unlinked and the only way I can get pictures from her account it to ask her to send me each picture one…at…a…time. We should have the option to merge our libraries so that I have mine and she has hers, but we can choose to view a blended version of both libraries. Getting both of our pictures in one place after a trip is a royal pain in the ass and it’s just the 2 of us! I can’t imagine what this must be like for families of 5 with 5 smartphones among them.

While we’re at it, how about Apple adds a free tier to photo backup? Limit the quality or something, but people need to be able to make sure their memories are safe. I would say this is unreasonable, but Google is doing it just fine on their end and it’s a big opportunity for Apple.

Change how device backups/restores work

iCloud device backups work really well most of the time. They get your phone into a very familiar spot without much hassle. That said, there are two things they should improve.

One, these backups need to stop counting towards your iCloud Drive storage. For many people, a single backup will take up the entirety of their free 5GB so literally anything they want to save online requires them to pay. Even worse, device backups can easily get over 5GB, so people can get into situations where it feels like iCloud is holding their device security hostage by saying you can’t back up unless you pony up some cash.

Device backups should not count towards this 5GB limit. Limit people to one backup per device or something. Or maybe have a standard backup that doesn’t back up as much in-app data and is totally separate from iCloud, but have a fancier backup option that saves more but counts towards your storage.

Two, they need to make the restore process way faster. Use a Pixel phone and you’ll see how fast a restore should be. After selecting my back up I would like to use2, I’m on my home screen and can use the built in apps within a few seconds. All my stuff syncs in the background like it does on iOS, but it gets me up and running way faster.

Power up Files.app

The Files app in iOS 11 changed the game. After split screen apps in iOS 9, Files was the biggest change to iOS that made me feel like the iPad was a real computer. This year I’d like to see them add support for external storage so I could plug in a 4TB hard drive into my iPad and edit long form video on it. I’d especially like it if I could edit files from the drive without copying them over to my iOS device first.

This might be a little out there, but I’d like the ability to plug an external drive into an iOS device and then have that drive accessible via iCloud on any of my devices or at iCloud.com. So if I plug it into my iPad before I leave the house, I could access those files from my iPhone without having to move them to my Documents folder on my Mac and then wait for them to sync. This makes it easier to not pay for iCloud Drive storage, so maybe this is never going to happen, but it would undoubtedly be nice.

Picture-in-picture on the iPhone

Picture-in-picture is a great feature on the iPad and I use it all the time3. I’d love to see them add this to the iPhone as well. Like the iPad, I’d expect to be able to move it around to whatever corner of the screen is most convenient and I’d be able to pinch to resize it.

This isn’t for everyone, but it would be really nice for me on a nearly daily basis.

Clean up Control Center

Control Center got big upgrade in iOS 11 but it’s kind of a visual mess. I’d love some sort of structure added to the page and for the media controls to get a bit bigger. Third party apps should be able to integrate into this space as well.

Messages

Messages in the cloud must be a thing, my god it just must. iOS 11.4 beta still has it, so maybe we’ll have it before WWDC, but it can’t come soon enough.

The Apple Watch does some decent work with guessing what I will say in a reply to messages and I’d like to see that implemented in the iOS Messages app as well.

RCS may be not be encrypted, but neither is SMS and the iPhone does that today. Apple should build in support for this new tech that might finally get off the ground a little with Google and Samsung behind it. No, it’s not as good or secure as iMessage, but it’s a hell of a lot better than that nightmare that is SMS.

Improved support for external keyboards

The iPad is great with the Smart Keyboard, but little things should be better. There should be more shortcuts to perform system actions, including executing extensions. For example, being able to hit Cmd+Ctrl+i for Instapaper in Safari would be a big time saver.

Other system actions like bringing up the app switcher or tabbing between apps in split-view should also be more accessible via a keyboard.

The app switcher should also be more reliable. Cmd+Tabbing around the interface is cool, but it’s not as reliable as it is on the Mac. I sometimes hit the shortcut and nothing happens, so I wait a minute and then it works for some reason.

OLED-friendly features for iPhone X

OLEDs afford different advantages that Apple could never do on their older iPhones and iOS 12 should address a few of them.

The big one for me is an always-on screen. Many Android phones do this already with basically zero impact on battery life or display health. I love it on my Pixel 2 and hope Apple does something cool with it here. Time, weather, alerts…they don’t have to be too fancy, just something to make the phone deliver a little info when the screen is off would be nice. And for the skeptics, I was once like you! I never appreciated an always on display until I had one and now I want it everywhere4.

Add a dark mode! I mean, add it for all iOS users, but make it so apps can look slick as hell on the iPhone X’s OLED. Apps re already building in their own custom UI elements on a per app basis, so it would be great if I as a user could just flip a system setting and all my apps would go dark. Make it like dynamic type do devs need to opt into it, but once it’s there it’s super nice.

The stuff I skipped

I didn’t mention some things I definitely want to see, but I skipped them in this piece because I just don’t see them realistically happening.

First is a more robust home screen system. I’d like to be able to move icons wherever I want, but this isn’t happening this year.

I’d also like the ability to install apps from outside the App Store without needing to jailbreak my device first (and by extension, be running a year-old version of iOS). Apple has no incentive to do this, so I don’t see them making a change anytime soon.

The ability to show more than 2 apps on screen at a time would be great, but I find it unlikely. In some cases, it would even be nice to have 4 apps in corners of the iPad, but that’s an unusual case and probably not a high enough priority to make happen this year.

Wrap Up

There’s a lot here and it was a bit all over the place, but I really hope Apple addresses the issues listed above. They don’t need to do everything exactly how I asked, but I hope to see movement in the parts of iOS that are not perfect yet.

I’ve definitely forgotten things and I hope that Apple surprises me with things that I never even thought about asking for. More than anything else, I want to see Apple push themselves just as hard on the software front this year as they do on hardware.


  1. In fact if I wasn’t paying attention, I might actually tell you iOS 11 has been the most stable version of iOS I’ve used in years. But that’s just my experience, not what people as a whole seem to think. 
  2. Which takes up a few KB of my Google Drive storage, by the way. 
  3. YouTube is a holdout for some stupid reason, though. 
  4. Including my watch! 

Going All Open Source on Android

 Corbin Davenport tried to go all in on open source software on his Android phone:

I started this experiment with one question in mind: could you realistically use an Android phone in 2018 with only open-source software? I think for most people, the answer is no. Just about every service or app used by the general public is closed-source, and unless you’re willing to switch away from Google’s ecosystem and go without most apps, it’s just not practical.

I totally respect people who use open source things when possible, but it’s nice for small things here and there, not a way of life for most people. This experience seems miserable to me.

It also speaks to how “Android is open source” is basically just a talking point that is technically true but is not effectively true for anyone. Even if you install an open source ROM on your phone (already putting you in the top 1% of users) then you can’t use a single Google app or service, or Slack, or Discord, or Twitch, or basically anything you’ve ever heard of. There are a few apps that do kay, but the experience with most of these alternatives sound like a pretty terrible experience.

Open source is great for small tools that developers can use to create cool software, but the open source app options for actual user-facing software is, as it has long been on Linux desktops, pretty terrible.