WWDC Wish List: iOS 15

With only two days to go until Apple’s WWDC 2021 keynote, I’ve finally arrived at my last operating system wish list: iOS 15. The BIG one. Apple’s favourite child.

My iPhone is by far the computer I use the most every day and I’ll bet that’s true for a lot of people so it makes sense that iOS is still Apple’s major focus year-after-year. Within a few months, the new features Apple adds to iOS next week will be installed on hundreds of millions of devices around the world. No pressure, Craig.

iOS 14 was a huge update last year and kicked off a frenzy of home screen customization thanks to the addition of widgets, the ability to create custom app icons using Shortcuts, and apps like Widgetsmith that made theming easy. It’s hard to follow such a blockbuster release, but based on recent reports from Mark Gurman at Bloomberg, Apple’s planned some big additions for iOS 15 this year.

Rumours and the usual bug fixes aside, here are the major new features and enhancements I’m hoping to see in iOS 15 on Monday.

Easier customization and theming

As I just mentioned, iOS 14 proved how much people want to customize their iPhone home screens. From colourful widgets to matching icon packs and wallpapers, the post-launch theme of iOS 14 was defined as “aesthetic AF”. Hopefully Apple recognizes the appetite for more customizability in iOS and takes things further this year.

The biggest thing on everyone’s wish list is a system-level way to change any app icon without having to go through Shortcuts or other methods that require installing device profiles. Apple could provide a Settings screen for choosing and managing custom app icons. An easier method, as imagined by Federico Viticci on Connected this week: long-press any icon on the home screen and be presented with a new “Change icon” option. Sure, app developers and designers probably wouldn’t love users having the ability to override their work, but the reality is users are using custom app icons through workarounds anyway. Might as well make it easier and officially supported.

The other big customization news everyone’s talking about right now is Google’s Material You, the new Android design language that allows users to customize the colours and style of almost every UI element. It’s unlikely Apple will ever go that far with UI customization, but I could see them adding an accent colour option similar to macOS. The new iMac ships with a custom UI accent colour to match the exterior colour of the computer, so Apple could offer a similar option on iPhones that would match certain UI elements and highlights to the colour of the device, or let a user choose their own accent colour. Developers could, of course, allow their third-party apps to use the system accent colour as well.

App Library moves and gains sorting options

The App Library has vastly simplified my iPhone home screens, allowing me to rid my phone of the numerous folders I used to employ to hide infrequently used apps. However, App Library being hidden to the right of the last home screen makes it a chore to access, and the I still haven’t learned which category certain apps are listed under nearly a year after iOS 14’s release.

App Library should move somewhere else in iOS 15 that makes it more easily accessible: a swipe up or down from any home screen would be ideal. Apple should also include new sorting options for the App Library, allowing it to display all apps alphabetically in a grid or even be manually arranged and categorized by the user.

These features seem so obvious to me I’ll be shocked if we don’t see both added to App Library in iOS 15.

New Notification Center thatโ€™s not the lock screen

I’ve never been a fan of Notification Center. If something’s not right in front of my face I’ll forget about it and Notification Center has always been too hidden to be useful to me. I rely on app icon badges to alert me when I have unread notifications, whereas Notification Center silently fills up with banners in the background and there’s no visual indicator on my home screen telling me how many notifications need my attention.

Further, the latest redesign of Notification Center that permanently tied it to the lock screen – or “cover screen” as Apple calls it – made Notification Center even more confusing. You pull down Notification Center from the top left corner but your phone isn’t actually locked at that point even though it looks exactly like the lock screen? I’d call that bad user experience design.

iOS 15 needs to rethink notifications, and it sounds like that’s in the cards. I’m hoping to see a new Notification Center with improved grouping, a simpler design with less hidden elements, and more options for managing when and how notifications arrive.

Do something with iMessage apps

In my opinion, the only thing the iMessage app drawer has accomplished is make it harder to send photos. That has to be one of the most frequent actions people take in iMessage yet I still get lost some times tapping between the camera icon and App Store icon when my fingers forget where to find the Photos iMessage app.

This section was originally titled “Kill iMessage apps” and I do think I wouldn’t be that upset if Apple removed them entirely. But I do use Tenor and GIFwrapped to send GIFs all the time, so I can’t say I never use iMessage apps. I think what I really want is an improved UI that retains access to iMessage apps but also puts Photos front-and-center again.

I use Signal a lot and I really like their UI for adding media to a message so perhaps Apple could do something similar: replace the App Store icon next to the text field with a + button (which has become standard for “adding” something to a message in most other messaging apps) that opens a new panel similar in design to the system share sheet with a section at the top for recent photos and a scrollable row of iMessage apps below that. Basically just make photos available with fewer taps and demote iMessage apps slightly.

Interactive widgets and new sizes

iOS’s new widgets are gorgeous and a huge improvement over the old Today widgets. Over the last year the developers behind some of my favourite apps like Carrot Weather, Fantastical, and Deliveries have created gorgeous widgets I use every day on my home screen. The success of a “nerdy” tool like Widgetsmith proves average iPhone users are loving widgets too.

The natural next step for iOS Widgets is adding interactivity and I’ll be flabbergasted if Apple doesn’t deliver this with iOS 15. Interactivity would enable things like audio playback controls, starting and stopping timers, or checking off tasks/reminders right from a widget. I want to see what other awesome widgets developers will create when they can have buttons and allow input directly in their widgets.

I’m also hoping to see new widget sizes, specifically 1×1 and 1×2 options. For a long time we’ve hoped Apple would let developers create live or dynamic app icons so, for example, a third-party calendar app could display the current date as its icon the way the default Calendar app does. 1×1 widgets would answer that call since they’d be the size of a single app icons. It turns out the answer all along wasn’t live icons, it was tiny widgets. 1×2 widgets would just be cute; they’d be the size of two app icons which is plenty to display extra information but they’d be much smaller than the current “small” 2×2 widget so you could fit more widgets on a single home screen.

While we’re making widget wishes, I’d love to be able to place those 2×2 widgets (or the new 1×2 widget if it happens) in the very center of the screen instead of them being forced to the left or right.

Silent Shortcuts automations without the annoying banner

While I’m sure Apple is planning numerous updates to Shortcuts for this year, the only thing I care about is being able to run automations without those pesky banners popping up at the top of the screen EVERY DAMN TIME.

I get it. Apple’s concerned about privacy and security so they always want you to be aware of what’s happening on your device. But I’ve created my own automations to toggle screen rotation when I open and close the YouTube app, or set my Apple Watch to silent during the workday, and I don’t need to see a notification banner for those automations every single time they run. Accept that some of us are power users and we trust these automations to run silently in the background. There needs to be a toggle when creating Shortcuts Automations to have them run silently without the notification banner.

All things considered, we know very little about what Apple has in store for us at WWDC this year which is very exciting. It’s rare that we go into an Apple event these days with so little knowledge of what’s to come. Maybe remote working does have its advantages, Tim? Harder to snoop around or overhear things you shouldn’t when you’re not in the same building.

I’ll be sharing my WWDC thoughts and impressions all week right here on Fresh Fruit so please stay tuned.

T-minus 2 days!