What iOS Lacks, Android’s Advantage

I’ve been using a Nexus 7 and an iPad on and off for the last two months. I was never against Android, but after using it on a tablet I’m seeing some major holes in iOS. Here are some critical things Android has and iOS totally lacks.

  • Fast typing. I have to look at the keyboard more, but in portrait mode swipe typing is the unrivaled native keyboard. In contrast the split keyboard in iOS is really nice in any orientation, and I wish that was in Android. Swipe typing is really nice because you only need one hand, any iOS keyboard always takes two hands to be effective split or not.
  • Widgets. In iOS I suffer from “What should I do next on my black rectangle?”. I somehow end up opening every app and checking the status of everything from Evernote to Wunderlist. This wastes time. Android abbreviates that process with widgets. I have a little window on any of my home screens for all the quick info I need. For example I have a Wunderlist window for everything I need to do this week and recent notes I’ve written in Evernote. iOS has something close to these widgets, but it’s hidden away in the notification center, it’s really just for stocks and weather too. When was the last time you actually opened the weather app in iOS? I never do, the “widget” in the notification center tells me what I need to know much quicker and easier. Other issues with the notification center lead to my next point.
  • A useful swipe down menu. What do you actually use the notification center in iOS for? Besides the weather, emails, and text, when was the last time you intentionally swiped down from the top of the screen to get some notifications? I practically never do. Perhaps if there was more functionality in that little menu. Let’s look at Android’s swipe down menus for a second. Yeah menus, plural, there’s more than one and does it save time. On Android tablets, swipe down on the left half of the screen and you get notifications. You can get rid of all of them with a single tap too, as opposed to several clicks of a tiny “x” button in iOS. Swipe down on the right half and you get some quick settings buttons. WHOA, I don’t even have to open the settings app to turn on Airplane mode? Turning on and off any of my antennae are aways a click away.

In short Android’s workflow is just quicker. When I use my Nexus 7 I usually manage to get some stuff out of the way work wise. I would conjecture the iPad offers me more distractions because it lacks these little bits that make everything flow together. iOS 7 is going to be announced sometime in the next six months. Based on this list I would like to request two things of Apple.

  • Widgets. How do the weather and stock apps in the notification center work? Make it so developers have access to that pipe, and I’ll intentionally swipe down much more. Badges are a short form of this already but they only tell me the quantity of work I have, not what the work is. The settings swipe-down menu in Android is nice, but too much to throw in iOS right now. The design language would have to change a bit in iOS before that could happen. The settings swipe-down fits Android’s holo, or Windows Phone’s live tiles themes much better.
  • Faster typing. Our descendants will laugh at us because we hunt and peck on our digital keyboards so much. Apple already changed the perception of a functional touch screen keyboard when they unveiled the iPhone. They should try to do it again. Fixing how the split keyboard affects content at the bottom of the page would be nice too but that’s another post.

The Current, Unfortunate, Trends of Desktop OS’s

Recently unveiled was Microsoft’s next desktop operating system, Windows 8. One would think that it builds on strengths of Windows 7, those fancy window resizing corners, XP mode. All seamlessly mixed with the familiar Windows GUI elements. However the truth is almost the opposite, the Start menu in Windows 8 takes you to a Windows Phone Metro menu (Metro: the design language of the Windows Phones which evolved from the UI of the Zune HD). Now don’t get me wrong I really like Metro, jus that it’s on a desktop OS a place it wasn’t really designed for in the first place.

Microsoft is not the only one pushing UI and UX elements that are seen on mobile devices. Apple’s OSX 10.7 “Lion” does the same thing, only it takes UI elements from its mobile OS: iOS. A new feature “Launchpad” looks a lot like the home screen layout of an iPad, the scroll bars have no arrows, and most notable scrolling with two fingers are inverted! To scroll down, you drag up, and vice-versa, it’s one of the most unusual design decisions I have ever seen. (10.7 does a lot of other ridiculous stuff like auto-quit apps you’re not actively using, and by default hide what’s already running on the Dock but the rant for what 10.7 does wrong is for another post).

I can only hope that these little mobile features are small trends, only to phase out in the next of each of the releases. Here’s what it comes down to: the input device. One is a blunt tip that presses in a general area, the finger; the other is a finite point on the screen that clicks on 1 pixel at time, the mouse. Metro is so good for mobile devices because it gives those large click zones for the user to press, and they’re just the right size so that there’s almost no way the user could tap on the wrong thing. Now interact with this UI with a mouse and it becomes burdensome, imagine all your desktop icons with giant click-boxes around them, lets just say there’d be a lot more dragging the mouse around. The same goes for 10.7’s Launchpad, it’s one thing finding an app and pressing it on the iPad, it’s entirely different to actually click on it. The scrolling element in 10.7 is the same way, when you’re on an iPad/iPhone/iPod Touch, when you scroll you are essentially “touching” the content and “dragging” it, when you split up the components of that UI to a non-touch screen screen and separate trackpad, you no longer have that feeling of “touching” content, thus the gesture feels unnatural.

It only seems like these mobile elements are another abstraction of the system used to make the user forget they’re using a computer, to make the user experience feel natural. The little changes to these two giant operating systems do something else entirely different for me, I don’t feel like I’m using a computer, I feel like I’m using a phone. There’s a difference I do most of my work on a desktop or laptop computer, because it’s faster than doing it on a mobile OS, now that they’re moving some of these mobile elements to the desktop, my work and I are being slowed down.

It’s impossible to say if it was marketing geniuses or designers who decided to let mobile user experiences into the desktop user experience. A fictional quote “Hey people really like MobileOS they’ll I bet they’ll also like it on DesktopOS!” echos in my mind when I get baffeled about these new “advanced” features. If this is what Steve Jobs meant by the post-PC era, I am not looking forward to OSX 10.8 or Windows 9.