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WWDC: Why this year is different

Ryan Faas | June 3, 2011
For one thing, Apple's already announced what's coming: iCloud, Lion and iOS 5.

Another, similar idea is for a new homescreen similar to the Mac OS X Dashboard, something that shows a handful of widgets that require only basic processing power and display data directly on the homescreen -- much like widgets on Android phones.

Both of these possibilities would be attractive additions to iOS. One major criticism of Apple's mobile OS -- especially compared to almost every other mobile platform -- is that it still relies on a static array of icons as its primary interface. That forces users to launch or switch to each app in order to view any useful information or perform any actions.

With Android, webOS and Windows Phone 7 all pioneering a way of getting real-time data directly from the homescreen, Apple's approach has begun to look outdated. So I think we'll be seeing some changes along these lines.

Even if Apple chooses not to go whole hog with multitasking, it's almost certainly going to have to expand what apps can do in the background. That could mean support for additional background tasks, better task completion, expansion of the Apple notification service available to developers, or a combination of them all.

Apple certainly needs to make some serious improvements to the iOS notification system; its options haven't changed since the first iPhone arrived in 2007. Any incoming notification (be it from a third-party app or some built-in function like a text message or voice mail) can trigger only three actions: Make a sound, add a badge number to the associated app's icon, or display an alert in the middle of a device's display.

That's pretty limited. Worse yet, alerts tend to layer over each other and only offer users the option to immediately respond, which typically launches the related app, or to ignore, in which case the alert disappears from view, never to be seen again. That makes alerts almost pointless.

Apple needs to overhaul the system. If nothing else, there needs to be a mechanism for collecting alerts for later review similar to webOS. In my opinion, webOS has a much better alert system than Android, with its notification bar on handsets -- though the notification setup on Android tablets is much more functional.

I'm not certain which direction Apple will go, but I'm assuming something's coming -- partly because it's desperately needed and partly because last year, Apple hired Rich Dellinger, the creator of the notification system used in webOS.


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