Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

The State of iOS: Addendum

I’ve realized that I have more to say about the current state of iOS. They’re just a couple of things, but they’re important to me.

Multitasking

I think that the slow rollout of background processing on iOS epitomizes the way Apple introduces big software features. They started small, with push notifications in iOS 3, and added limited multitasking to iOS 4. Then, in iOS 7, they added full background processing, thus presenting a more-or-less full multitasking experience. For developers who have been on the platform for a long time, this has allowed ever-greater possibilities while underscoring the need to be resource conscious.

While I like that the current implementation of multitasking keeps my phone fast and I don’t have to manually manage memory — not that you really have to do that on any platform — my experiences with Readdle’s Spark makes me wish that apps could spawn daemon processes. I’d like some way for a third-party app to declare that it is always running in the background with a small, memory-limited, higher-priority process.

This is likely only going to be “needed” by apps that are replacements for always-on system apps, like calendar or email apps. Therefore, a user-friendly way of implementing this might be to have a way to set third-party apps as defaults for certain categories.

This is more of a wishlist item that is produced from a culmination of my experiences with iOS over the years than it is purely an experience-driven review of multitasking, but this is something I’d really, really like to see.

iPad

I meant to say something about the iPad in my previous post, because I think it deserves its own section.

The iPad experience is, right now, stuck in a bit of a rut. The “big iPod Touch” paradigm has worked for a long time because there was a clear division between the 3.5- or 4-inch iPhone display and the much larger iPad. Even though they ran the same operating system and had broadly similar capabilities, the iPad felt completely different. It felt more powerful and capable, even if it wasn’t really so.

Now that the 5.5-inch iPhone 6 Plus exists alongside the 7.9-inch iPad Mini, the line between the two platforms has become more blurred than ever. They still feel different, but not different enough.

When it was first released, the iPad felt like a product that you didn’t need so much as want. It’s a great way to browse the web and do basic computer stuff in bed, on the couch, or while kicking back on a patio. But the new MacBook shows that Apple’s laptop line is converging on it from the upper end, too.

Since the iPad not a “necessary” product in the same way a phone or a laptop are, it now feels squeezed between products that are awfully similar in a lot of ways. While nobody is likely to own an iPhone 6 Plus and an iPad and a MacBook One — as Marco Arment has dubbed it — I think it’s high time for the iPad to differentiate itself in some way.

My experience with iOS 8 on my iPad has been similar to my experience with it on my iPhone, and it feels like it should be more capable than it presently is. I love the web browsing experience on my iPad, but if I’m doing two things at once — for example, replying to texts or an email — I almost have to have my phone beside me for it to be a less clunky experience. Switching between apps one at a time feels slow, and they usually need to relaunch because the iPad has never had enough memory.

The rumour mill hints that the iPad’s OS will do some growing-up with iOS 9. I certainly hope so. It’s not a dead product category, or even a dying one, but I hope for a little boost of something new that expands its capabilities and really takes advantage of the much larger display and somewhat more powerful hardware.