iOS is showing its age

My iPhone and my iPad are almost always running the latest version of iOS. When the App Store icon lights up with app updates, I click it like a Pavlovian parlor trick. Sometimes to regret, but not always…

My wife on the other hand? Her iPhone is running iOS 5 – she’s terrified of the new maps app. Her App Store icon read “48” last night when I went in to try and unwind the me.com/Mac.com/iCloud.com bedlam she has accidentally created for herself. 48. 48 app updates. My OCD makes my neck itch just thinking about that. Not to even think about the chaos of the accounts that cannot be merged that I still have to try and repair.

The original vision of iOS was that of a thin client. Fat OS, but with Web-based apps that could have been patched relatively easily, when treated as a service. But when the App Store arrived, it broke all that. From that point on, every user became their own admin. As a result, iOS devices became the new Windows. Patched only by force, or when the IT-savvy relative freaks out about how out of date the OS or apps are. Conversely, because core apps like Maps are updated with the OS (or removed, as in the case of the YouTube app), some users – even technical ones – will elect to play this update through, and not update. While innumerable people have updated to iOS 6, lots haven’t.

People don’t like to get their tires rotated. They don’t like to get their oil changed, or teeth cleaned. Call it laziness… Call it a desire for ruthless efficiency… People rarely perform proactive maintenance. iOS should have an option, on by default to update in the background. More importantly, in an ecosystem where too many app authors do the bare minimum in terms of security, apps should have that same option.

The original iPhone succeeded not because of apps. No, it succeeded because it was a better, more usable phone than almost anything else on the market. It just worked. It had voicemails we could see before listening, contacts we could easily edit on the phone, and a Web browser that was better than any mobile browser we’d ever seen before.

But the OS is showing its age. Little nuances like the somewhat functional search screen, Favorites in Contacts, and VIPs in Mail show that iOS is under structural pressure to deal with the volume of data it tries to display in a viable way. Notifications and the Settings app seem fragmented and are starting to become as disorganized as the Windows Control Panel (that’s bad!). Photo Stream sharing is a joke. It’s unusable. The edges are showing.

Of all the things I could wish for in the next version of iOS – if there was one guiding mantra I could tell Tim Cook I want in the next iOS… I would say, “Please give me less of more, and more of less.” The OS may need to be expanded where the OS can do more with the modern hardware of the phone after the iPhone 5 and the 5th generation iPad, but in so many more ways, it needs to be cautiously, carefully reorganized – cleaned up, with the spirit that the original iPhone and iPhone OS used to establish their role – that of simplicity, a mantra of “It just works”. OS and application updates that self-apply for all consumers except those who opt out of it…

I’ve been a fan of the iPhone from the beginning. But I really think the platform is showing its age, and isn’t nearly as usable as it once was. All too often lately, I look at something in the OS and have to shake my head that it works that way. It’s time to clean up the house.

23 comments

  1. WP8 my son WP8…..the new wave of cool.

  2. Shared photo streams is awesome and works. Learn how to use it.

  3. The pressure to move forward is not always the pressure to innovate, unfortunately.

    I’m totally with you. Every time a new iThing comes out and “analysts” tell me that they’re disappointed that it doesn’t do “more”, I’m happy.

  4. I sort of agree with what you said, but I think you missed the even more important point. What makes the iOS feel REALLY dated is the User Interface and User Experience. Compared to Windows 8 and Windows Phone’s delightful new dynamic Metro UI, the iOS UI feels static, dull, dated, boring and ancient. iOS badly needs a COMPLETE UI makeover very soon. It’s WAY behind Windows 8 and Windows Phone right now.

  5. On this background you need to check Windows Phone 8, very refreshing and great experience. With your Apple fog cleared you will respect what Microsoft is doing now.

  6. Thanks, but no. Well invested in the Apple ecosystem, and though these rough edges hit sometimes, it still works better for me – personally – than the interface formerly known as Metro.

  7. Agree to disagree. Photo sharing, especially among close family, should be brain-dead easy. Shared photo streams isn’t. I wrote about this over a year ago (http://getwired.com/2011/09/27/iphoto-indeed) and it still is barely any better. That’s my opinion, though, you’re welcome to disagree. 

  8. It’s not a fog, I still like Apple’s approach to design far better, thanks. Metro (pick a name) doesn’t work for me, though it does for many…

  9. No need to deride the OS, thanks. Different strokes for different folks. I really don’t find Metro delightful, though it could be 5 years of iOS conditioning. It’s not a matter of “being behind”. It’s a matter of approaching design in a different way. Thanks for the comment, nonetheless.

  10. Why should they fix it?

    In these very comments you tell Apple not to fix it. There are better alternatives out there that probably will do a better job than iOS for you (even if you will have to learn new ways to do things). But you say yourself that you would never leave the Apple ecosystem. So now inform us why Apple should care when you already told them that whatever they do you will keep buying Apple gadgets?

  11. It is refreshing to read about a Apple user that doesn’t just follow the “Apple is the only way” motto, but I have to agree with brunohorvat, if you say you’re not going to change because you too invested in the apple ecosystem, then there’s not much reason for Apple to change anything.

    If I were a iPhone user I would certainly be looking at a Google/Microsoft alternative, with the Samsung Galaxy phones being almost identical in design to an iPhone, the design argument is out of the window, and you can modify the Android OS to your hearts content, if you so wish. The Windows Phone OS is slick and fast, being centred around people, not apps, after all, isn’t that the point of a phone, to communicate? Also there’s a lot of new design out for the Windows Phone, with Nokia and HTC, everything isn’t just black and white you know!
    Granted all systems, whether they be Android, iOS or Windows Phone have their Bugs/faults/features (call them what you will), at the end of the day, you pay your money and you make your choice, we’re all individual, and the beauty of that is we all have different opinions.

    Good Article.

  12. Ohhhh did you called WIndows disorganized!!!! I never had this feeling in a decade.

  13. OOhhhh did you called Windows disorganized??!?!?!??! I never had this feeling in a decade.

  14. What is it with the youth of today? The “interface is really dated” comments come from people who really want to learn how to do things differently every other month? The interface is easy to use and doesn’t get in the way, which is why older and younger people like it. The apps are the point and the tasks they let you achieve are more important that it sprouting a holographic interface you wave at (or whatever the current feature of the month you guys would prefer.

    Also the market is still out if people actually want “Windows 8 and Windows Phone” Let’s see how well it sells before Apple “needs a complete UI makeover”? Yes, Windows 8 may be getting something right but whether or not it gets adopted needs to be seen.

  15. If you think the Windows Control Panel is bad, take a look at the ridiculousness that is System Preferences in OSX.

  16. sounds like you really have enjoyed the apple ecosystem, but wish ios would feel fresher and less clunky. that’s how a lot of windows mobile users felt about their smartphones in 2007.

  17. I never told Apple not to fix it. I never said I wouldn’t buy another iOS device – which is where they make their money. I’ve spent more on iOS devices over the last 5 years than I probably should, and if Apple keeps improving the OS – not just devices – I’ll likely continue to. Let it stall, and I probably won’t. I believe you put words in my mouth, thanks.

  18. Nice comments. Wes, like millions of other ios users will never change.Thus they will accept and put up with what Apple dishes ups, even when it is comically bad like their maps. By his own admission he is locked in. Yes I know that is a sad state to be so closed, especially in such a brilliant and exciting tech world, but no sensible reasoning will ever change his mind. Has my pity.

  19. Well i think moving Jonathan Ive over to head up design in this area will hopefully give iOS a new lease of life. He is certainly a believer in less is more, but only time will tell if he can create an interface as beautiful as his hardware designs.

  20. I own a Galaxy SIII, and while I did remove the stock software and load on my own — I cannot see anything that makes the phone almost identical in design to an iPhone. That was a court room spat — but when you actually use an SIII, it does seem rather silly. Arguments were over the color of an icon, stylings on icons, and a few cheap effects. iOS is very very dated, rigid, and as an iOS device owner as well, I’m very irritated by how I cannot do the same things that I can with my Android and Win8 devices.

  21. The iOS interface gets very much in the way for me. There’s absolutely no room for it to be customized or expanded as I would like to use it. iOS is stupidly rigid and outdated when you compare it to OSX. I believe that’s a valid argument as Win8 is a platform that is both desktop and mobile and works well on both. Android works well on tablet and phone in a way that is quite profound with current versions. I would love iOS to keep its simplicity with the option to be expanded for users who would like to personalize their devices more than just rearranging icons and changing a background. I would love widgets, I would love to be able to swap apps/close apps/manage apps more efficiently — and would love to actual feel like it’s my device!!!

  22. Yeah, System Preferences is a very inconsistent bag of tricks… and Mission Control’s App Launcher + Adobe Products is insane … I love my MacBook and find the flaws in OS design endearing to a degree …

Leave a Reply