Author Archives: Alex Layne

The design origins of iOS 7

In my last post, I went over some of the problems I have with the new UI in iOS 7. In this post, I’m going to trace the design lineage of some of the better aspects of the new release, like Control Center and the new multitasking interface. Many of the new UI designs in 7 borrow ideas from Apple’s competitors (notably Google and Palm), and there’s nothing wrong with that: everyone does it.

That said, let’s dive in.


Starting with the original iPhone, the accelerometer built into Apple’s devices made it possible for apps to use the motion of the device as a control. In iOS 6, Apple experimented for the first time with using motion data not as a control, but to add decoration to an app’s UI. The metallic-themed controls in the Music app would “shimmer” as you tilted the device, and the gray highlights in the navigation bar also shifted.

In iOS 7, Apple uses the same trick to get a parallax effect. Aspects of the UI are separated into layers, and shifted relative to each other based on the orientation of the device. It’s used throughout the OS, unlike in 6 where it was solely relegated to the Music app.



The multitasking interface in iOS 6 was pretty barebones. Double-tapping the home button brought up a list of icons from your recent apps, and you had to page through them four at a time. If you hold down on an icon you get the signature “jiggle” effect as little minus signs appear in the icon’s corner, which quit the app when tapped. Double-tap the home button in iOS 7, and the app zooms out into a visual list of your recently used apps, with the apps’ icons sitting below previews of the apps themselves. Flicking an app upwards will quit it.

HP’s webOS, the now-defunct successor of PalmOS, was the pioneer of this interface on mobile devices (though it’s arguable that Palm itself got the idea from Apple’s Exposé feature on OS X). The entire OS revolved around the concept of apps running as “cards”, and pressing the webOS equivalent of the Home button brought you to an overview of your cards rather than an app launcher. The “flick-to-quit” gesture in iOS 7 was borrowed directly from it.

Circular network status

iphone_prototypeIn iOS 6 and earlier, the network indicator used the traditional stepping bars to indicate signal strength. In 7, Apple replaced that with a design based on five circles, with the number of circles filled in representing the status. Based on one of the images of iPhone prototypes released during the 2012 Apple vs Samsung trial, it looks like Apple had considered this design from early on in the iPhone’s development.


A big part of iOS 7 is the emphasis on blurs and transparency. The best place to see this is in the new Music app: scroll through your albums, and you can see the blurred cover art fly behind the navigation bars. Apple’s used transparency in many areas of OS X over the years. The Dock, Launchpad, menu bar, quick look, scroll bars, and dialogue sheets are just a few features that use transparency to some degree in the current version. Transparency is used for much the same purpose as it is in iOS 7 as well: to add a sense of depth and layering. You can see your desktop background blurred out behind Launchpad, just like you can see your phone’s wallpaper in iOS 7′s multitasking interface.



The Today tab in Notification Center gives you a quick glance at what’s going on. It shows the current weather, upcoming calendar appointments, stock prices, any due reminders, and how long it’ll take you to get to locations you frequent.

Google released a similar service in 2012 called Google Now. It can show the same things as the Today tab, but it’s more full-featured because of its hooks into your Google Search history. It’s clear that the Today tab is a response to Now, and it’ll be interesting to see how Apple continues to compete without Google’s search data as part of its service.

Control Center


One of the things that sets Android apart from iOS is the inclusion of widgets: mini-apps that float over the home screen. Whether Apple should include widgets is a question for another day, but it’s undeniable that it gave Android the edge when it came to quickly toggling settings like BlueTooth and Wi-Fi. On iOS, if you wanted to toggle settings you had to go into the Settings app and navigate to the appropriate page. In 4.2 Jelly Bean, Android also added the ability to toggle these settings from the notification drawer as well (see above).

Control Center in iOS 7 is meant to mitigate this: swipe up from the bottom of the screen, and you have access to buttons that toggle Wi-Fi, BlueTooth, Airplane Mode, Do Not Disturb, and portrait lock. You also get brightness and music controls and shortcuts to the Camera, Clock and Calculator apps.



iOS 7 introduces a new tab page in Safari that replaces the horizontal list of tabs with a vertical list that gives the tabs a tilted look. When you tap on one, it zooms forward until it fills the screen. You can swipe a tab to the left to close it. Another change is the move from a separate search and URL bar to a unified design.

Google Chrome introduced iOS to these particular design styles in June 2012 when it was released on the App Store. Tabs appear as a vertical list (though without the tilted effect) and you could also swipe them away to close them. The unified search/URL bar was actually introduced with the first version of desktop Chrome in 2008, which Apple switched to when Safari 5 was released two years later. A further three years later, and it’s finally made its way to iOS.

Do you like the changes Apple made when they borrowed from their competitors? What design ideas have competitors borrowed from Apple? Tell us in the comments. 

Editor’s note: GigaOM will be holding its 3rd annual experience design conference RoadMap on November 5th and 6th.

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The biggest hiccups in iOS 7′s new UI

With the release of iOS 7 last Wednesday, Apple entered a new era in its software design philosphy: a style that abandons skeuomorphism, gradients and textures in favor of translucency, depth and motion. However, as with any major shift in software design, there’s going to be hiccups along the way. Below, I’m going to take a look at the most annoying ones in iOS 7.

Disappearing controls

The white payback bars blend into the background

The white part of the sliders disappears against the background of the video.

Many controls in iOS 7 have a flat appearance now, with no gradients and only one background color. The problem with this, as Cabel Sasser pointed out on Twitter, comes when you have a background that matches the color of the control, as the control blends in and disappears. As an example, if you’re running iOS 7 and you play, say, Apple’s iPhone 5s marketing video, you’ll notice that the volume and playback sliders are only partially visible.

New Music app


Which would you rather scroll through?

I have two problems with the new Music app. First, they changed the way that you navigate an artist’s albums. In iOS 6, when you selected an artist, a list of their albums came up and then you could navigate into each album to see its songs. In 7, the albums and songs are combined in one view, and you can’t drill down to a particular album. This design makes it harder to select an album when there’s many, because I have to scroll through the songs for every other album. The only rationale I can think of for the new design is that you don’t have to switch back and forth between album and song views, but I’d much rather do that than scroll through 11 Modest Mouse albums and their songs.


My second problem is the way the Music app looks on the iPad: like a blown-up version of the iPhone app. This has consequences for usability, as in the iOS 6 Music app you can see up to 20 artists at once in portrait mode, compared to 8 for the iOS 7 version. Considering that Apple executives derided Android tablets for their lack of tablet-optimized apps, it’s worrisome that the new Music app isn’t tablet optimized itself. I’m hoping that this was simply due to time constraints and a better version will come along in an update.

Unified status and navigation bars

facebook_statusbarIn iOS 6, the status bar and navigation bars were conceptually separate and the status bar was always black or a gradient that matched the navigation bar. In 7, the two bars are unified and have one, flat color. I actually like the way this looks better than in iOS 6, but this new design also introduces problems. First, developers will have to use the black status bar anyway if they have a sidebar that’s a different color than the status bar. The iOS 7 Facebook app is a good example of this: when you’re on the main news feed, the status bar and nav bar are blue, but when you open the dark-colored chat sidebar, the status bar changes to black so it doesn’t clash.


The second problem comes up when you have an app without a navigation bar: you’re left with an awkward-looking floating status bar that matches the background of the content behind it. The updated Apple Store app and Reeder 2 both have this problem.

New search gesture

In iOS 6, you could access a universal search field by swiping to the left-most home screen, which had a little magnifying glass instead of the usual circle to indicate its purpose. In 7, you swipe down on any home screen to open search. I can understand the rationale behind the change: in an app, you swipe down to get to the search field as well, so why shouldn’t it be the same way on the home screen?

While the new approach is conceptually consistent, it sacrifices discoverability in the process by getting rid of the magnifying glass indicator. Apple tries to solve this problem by showing the user a prompt after they set up their devices that explains this change. If Apple had simply updated the look of the old design, it would have still been discoverable without submitting the user to yet another annoying setup prompt.

Little things

  • The Missed tab in Notification Center almost always has the same notifications in it as the All tab, so what’s the point of it? I think it’s there just so they have three tabs.
  • If you have a notification badge on an icon at the top of a homescreen, you can actually get the badge to go up into the status bar because of the new parallax effect.
  • There’s no Edit button in the new Weather app, so if you want to delete a weather location you have to be aware of the “swipe-to-delete” convention first.
  • As Marc Edwards pointed out on Twitter, the new date picker UI has fewer and smaller drag areas than the old one, making it slightly harder to use.
  • In the iOS 7 camera, you switch between modes like Panorama and Square by swiping left and right. The only problem is that there’s no visual hint that you should swipe, and you can’t simply tap on the label of a mode to switch to it.

Editor’s note: GigaOM will be highlighting the future of UI design at our experience design conference RoadMap in November in San Francisco.

Are there any design issues with iOS 7 that I missed? Tell us in the comments. 

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The smaller, subtler changes in OS X Mavericks

Apple is still working on OS X 10.9, which it has named Mavericks. The software team earlier this week released the second beta version of Mavericks to developers. So, like with iOS 7, I’m going to dive in and show you the smaller, less noticeable changes that Apple didn’t highlight during the software’s introduction earlier this month at WWDC, but that are important for usability.

As with any beta software, the new stuff is subject to change before the final release later this year. With that said, let’s dive in.

General changes


  • The battery drop-down in the menu bar will tell you which apps are using significant power.
  • There’s a new lighter style for the two-dimensional side Dock that’s been with us since Leopard. It’s reminiscent of the Tiger Dock, but more toned down: it’s less translucent and the activity indicators are similar to those in the modern 3D Dock.
  • Offline dictation is supported with a one-time download. Dictation can also write what you’re saying as you speak, so you don’t need to click Done.
  • Automator and AppleScript Editor can now use iCloud.
  • iMessage has a redesigned login screen. Its preferences have also been updated, and the Alerts tab excised. The Messages tab has been touched up and renamed Viewing.
  • Dashboard has a new background that’s just a simple, gray grid. The widgets still look the same, though.


  • Mavericks has a redesigned character viewer that uses an inline popover design rather than a top-floating window. The keyboard shortcut to open the character viewer is different too (Ctrl-Cmd-Space instead of Opt-Cmd-T). You can search just by typing, and the old character viewer is still accessible from a button (which is only visible when searching).
  • The image-picking popover (the one you get when changing your account picture) lets you choose an image from Photo Stream or from your Faces collection in iPhoto.
  • The share widget in Notification Center now has an iMessage option, so you can make a new message quicker.


  • In Launchpad, folders no longer use the linen texture, but a slightly darker translucency than Launchpad’s default. Apps that are newly downloaded will also have a sparkling animation over them.
  • Mail reverted back to displaying replies within nested, colored lines instead of in their own cards. This takes up less space, but you can’t drag messages around like you could before. Update: You can go back to the cards by checking off “Organize by Conversation” in the View menu, though.
  • In Mission Control, you can drag a fullscreen app to the left of the first desktop. You can also re-assign the first desktop by dragging another desktop past it.


  • The dropdown menu for Versions has been simplified and changed into a popover. You can edit tags now, and it takes fewer steps to rename or move a file. The options to duplicate a file and browse its previous versions are gone, however.

System Preferences


  • There are two new sections in the Accessibility pane’s sidebar: Captions and Switch Control. Captions lets you set the style for system captions. Switch Control lets you control Mavericks with generic switches, such as a video game controller. This is a nice new accessibility feature and possibly opens the door to official game controller support in OS X, since we already know it’s headed to iOS.
  • Options for Do Not Disturb have been added to the Notifications pane.
  • The “Mail, Contacts & Calendars” section has been simplified to “Internet Accounts.”


  • The Text and Input Sources tabs have been moved from the Language and Text pane to the Keyboard pane. The Input Sources tab has also been redesigned and now shows a preview of the keyboard layout for a selected langauge.
  • The categories like Hardware and Personal are gone, and the icons are slightly bigger.
  • The option to disable font smoothing for fonts past a certain size is gone from the bottom of the General pane.


  • You can double-click a folder while holding the command key to open it in a new tab.
  • The default folders in the sidebar now exclude pictures, movies and music.
  • The gray border around currently selected files is slightly darker.

Activity Monitor


  • The tabs have been moved to the toolbar, and the bottom panel has been redesigned.
  • A new Energy tab has been added that shows you the energy impact of your apps as well as their App Nap state.
  • The Disk Activity and Disk Usage tabs have been consolidated into a single Disk tab.

Starting with OS X Mountain Lion, the trend for Apple’s annual OS X releases has been on fewer big changes and more refinement. Mavericks’s big things are the iBooks and Maps apps, power efficiency features like App Nap and Timer Coalescing, and an aesthetic shift away from skeuomorphism and textures (so long, linen). The refinements are mostly about usability, like the offline dictation mode, the redesigned Versions menu and the new accessibility features. So far, Mavericks is shaping up to be a great release, and I can’t wait for the final version to hit the App Store some time in the fall.

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The smaller, subtler changes in iOS 7

Apple unveiled some pretty dramatic changes to iOS 7 on Monday and while the blogosphere is arguing over the big design changes it’s bringing (and where they came from), there are a lot more subtle tweaks Apple made that the company did not call out during the keynote.

Some of the changes (where’d Spotlight search go?!) will likely cause some initial confusion for longtime iOS users. Others are ones we’ve been hoping would eventually arrive. But there are also plenty of things Apple changed that were small, but necessary. Here’s a pretty exhaustive list of those alterations.

General changes


  • Spotlight search is no longer in its own page on the far left in Springboard. Instead, you can swipe down on any homescreen to bring down a search field.
  • The blue arrow used to indicate more options in iOS 6 has been replaced with a blue “i” within a circle. Most people I know aren’t aware of the blue arrow or what it’s for, so this is a welcome change.
  • The buttons for tweeting and posting to Facebook have been removed from Notification Center.
  • Movies and TV shows you’ve purchased from iTunes now appear in the Videos app, though streaming isn’t allowed; you have to download them.
  • There’s a new pull-to-refresh animation that looks like the more traditional Apple loading animation, rather than the odd stretching circle from iOS 6.
  • Scroll bars are thinner than in iOS 6, by about half, and are a slightly lighter color.
  • You can search for an event in Calendar.
  • magnifying_glassThe magnifying glass that appears when you hover over text has been simplified. The border around it is smaller, and the gloss is gone in favor of a subtle shadow around the top edge.
  • Game Center will tell you if it’s your turn on a game.
  • Double-clicking the home button while music is playing still shows the usual controls, but you can also seek now.
  • The Apple logo on the boot screen is flat, looking just like an Apple sticker.
  • The screen fades in and out when locking and unlocking.


  • cellularCellular settings have been moved out of the General section. It’s now located right below Bluetooth, so it should be easier to find.
  • You can control which apps use your cellular data and see how much data they’ve used so far.
  • Do Not Disturb has a new option that silences notifications and calls only when your device is locked, so you’ll still get them while you’re using it.
  • In the Privacy section, you can now control which apps have access to the microphone.
  • You can now block specific phone numbers in the Phone section.
  • Australian English and Mexican Spanish are now available as language options.


  • You can start a private browsing session right within Safari’s new tab screen, so you don’t have to go to Settings every time. You still have to convert your tabs to private tabs or throw them away, however.
  • iCloud tabs are accessed by scrolling to the bottom of the tabs screen.
  • Do Not Track can now be enabled in Settings, like it is in Apple’s desktop OS, Mountain Lion.


  • lipsumThe first three messages in a conversation will be different colors, going from purple to light blue to green. Replies after the first three are just green.
  • Emails that have been replied to show two arrows next to the title in the list view.
  • There’s a Mark All button that lets you mark all messages as unread or flagged. You still can’t select all, though.
  • There are new mailboxes for emails that have attachments, have been cc’d, or that are unread or flagged.


  • The “edit” button is gone, replaced by a “contact” button. You can still get to the edit interface by holding down on a message and choosing “more.”
  • The aforementioned “contact” button gives you the option to call or FaceTime the person you’re messaging. You can also see their contact sheet by hitting the “info” button.
  • Outgoing messages have a blue gradient that stretches across them.


  • photos_shareOne of the problems I pointed out previously with Photo Streams in iOS 6 is that only the person who created the stream can add photos to it. In iOS 7, Subscribers to your Photo Streams can now add their own photos, if you enable it. This makes it so you can have one Photo Stream for your entire family instead of one for each member.
  • The share sheet has been changed significantly. Sharing to a Photo Stream is done by hitting the iCloud icon. Selecting multiple photos can be done right from the share sheet as well. You can also share to Flickr now.
  • Photos zoom in or out when you view them or dismiss them in the Camera Roll.


  • You can create a new note within any other note.
  • The buttons to go to the next/previous note are gone.
  • The first line of the note no longer appears in the top bar.
  • The date and time the note was created are centered at the top, and the number of days since the note was created is gone.


  • remindersNavigating lists works like Passbook: all of them are displayed stacked on each other, and when you select a list, the others slide to the bottom.
  • You can change the color of list titles in Reminders to make it easier to recognize them.
  • Reminders are added by tapping on an empty row rather than hitting a “plus” button.

With the exception of the new Notes app, which I’m not yet certain I like, every other little change in iOS 7 is a definite improvement in my book.

However, iOS 7 is a major overhaul, so there’s bound to be more minor improvements that I missed. And most importantly, considering that this is technically beta software, whose final release isn’t scheduled until this fall, there are also bound to be even more changes in the meantime.

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How the Apple TV can compete with the Xbox One

Microsoft impressed me when it unveiled the Xbox One earlier this week. I can’t imagine a future where we won’t be talking and gesturing to our TVs while visiting with grandma on a video call and playing a game at the same time. Throughout the presentation, I was thinking, I wish Apple made something like this. The battle for your living room is heating up, and the Xbox One has positioned itself as the “all-in-One” solution, providing all your entertainment in one device. It doesn’t entirely succeed at that, but it does a better job than what Apple is offering currently with the Apple TV, and consumers will notice that.

Below, I’ll examine how I think Apple can bring the Apple TV up to par with the One as a true living room device.

Voice and gestures

The Xbox One’s Kinect peripheral lets you control the console with your voice or gestures. For instance, you can turn the console on by saying “Xbox, on” or flip to a new tab in the interface with a wave of your hand. These features might sound gimmicky to some, but at least you won’t need to hunt for a controller or remote just to do something simple. My parents aren’t great with controllers, so I can see them using their voices and gestures more heavily. Plus, the features are impressive when demonstrated, even if most people only end up using them occasionally.

Siri on an Apple TV would have to interpret and respond to user input instantaneously like voice control does on the Xbox. The wait-for-the-tone approach Siri uses on iOS would get annoying too quickly. The Xbox One’s voice control lets you navigate around the interface, but it can’t answer factual questions or manage tasks like Siri can. When you ask Siri something that requires a reply, it could pop up a window with the results.

Gestures could work similarly to how they work on Apple’s other devices. You could pinch in with one hand to go home, or swipe right or left to switch tasks. If you hover your hand, you could get a cursor like you do on the Xbox. We should keep in mind that the Kinect is a complex device with many sensors, which is why it’s so bulky. If Apple were to use the same technology, they would have to make the Apple TV’s form factor bigger, either by enlarging the current Apple TV design or by hiding the technology in a new TV-like design.

There are pros and cons to both approaches, though. For instance, a bigger version of the current form factor loses its predecessor’s elegance and leads to more clutter, while an actual Apple television wouldn’t be able to compete with the Xbox One on cost.

Live TV and the App Store

The Xbox One uses the same technology Google’s failing TV platform does to hook into your cable or satellite box: HDMI and IR blasters. The problem with this is that you can only watch live TV. You can’t access shows on your DVR or record new ones, so you have to switch back and forth. Due to those caveats and the added bulk the equipment brings, I doubt we’ll ever see the phrase “IR blaster” on the Apple TV’s spec page.

What’s more likely to happen is what’s already been happening on iOS for a few years now: channels becoming apps. Bringing the App Store to the Apple TV (along with a native SDK) would allow the many companies that already have video streaming apps on iOS, like ABC and HBO, to port them over. Microsoft hasn’t yet announced firm plans for an app store on the Xbox One, but it’s likely we’ll hear more about it at the Build 2013 conference.



Few remember that Apple actually made its own gaming console in the ’90s called the Pippin. It was a dismal failure, selling a mere 42,000 units. Fast forward to today and iOS devices are the most popular handheld consoles in existence, but you can’t play any games for them on your TV without lag-prone AirPlay mirroring. Meanwhile, the Xbox is getting better at doing the Apple TV’s job (entertainment) faster than the Apple TV is getting better at doing the Xbox’s job (games). If the Apple TV doesn’t embrace gaming, it risks a poor comparison next to Microsoft’s more capable console. Consumers, I think, would rather have one device that does everything, and the Apple TV doesn’t do gaming. And that missing feature is only going to become more apparent as Apple continues its success in mobile gaming.

Making the Apple TV a great gaming machine isn’t an easy task, though. The single-core A5 processor in the current version may work for casual games with decent graphics, but graphics-intense titles like Call of Duty: Ghosts will require much more power. Targeting casual gamers worked out well for Nintendo’s Wii, so it’s arguable that Apple could do just that by beefing up the processor, and cede the hardcore gaming audience to Microsoft and Sony. There’s a more interesting possibility, though: streaming the games as they’re rendered from a server to the Apple TV. The grunt work would be done in the cloud, and the Apple TV would simply be displaying it. Sony’s PS4 will be able to stream earlier PlayStation titles when it’s released later this year, so it’s not entirely outside the realm of possibility for Apple to do something similar.

Controllers are another aspect of console gaming that Apple can’t ignore. Most speculation on what Apple would do here revolves around simply using iOS devices as touchscreen controllers. Touchscreens work well for casual mobile games, but I think that’s the wrong solution for games on Apple TV. Not being able to feel the buttons you’re pressing is a huge disadvantage, and I can imagine people getting frustrated looking back and forth from their TV to their iOS device to make sure their fingers are in the right place. And unless the entire house has iPhones, you’ll be paying at least $300 for each iOS device you want to use as a controller. To provide an experience that can rival Microsoft’s, Apple needs to make its own controller, or at least provide an accessory that turns iOS devices into hardware controllers.

Smarter AirPlay

AirPlay is a huge part of what makes Apple TV useful. Rather than endlessly passing your phone around to show off photos of your kids, you can just AirPlay it to the TV so everyone can see. However, AirPlay could be even more useful by enabling more of a second-screen experience, like Microsoft’s SmartGlass. SmartGlass is a standalone app that shows you ambient information about whatever’s happening on your Xbox. If you’re playing a game, SmartGlass might show you a map, or your stats. Watch a movie, and SmartGlass’ll give you the cast and synopsis. Back on iOS, all the information you’ll glean from the AirPlay dialog is “This video is playing on your Apple TV”. Apple can do better, especially given that they have one of the biggest media databases in the world in iTunes.

What else would you like to see in a new Apple TV? Tell us in the comments.

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6 things iOS can learn from OS X

The focus of Apple’s last two releases of OS X has been on incorporating features of iOS while refining the user experience, which has worked well so far. However, certain aspects of iOS, such as the lack of good inter-app communication, are making the platform look dated. Apple could solve that issue and others by bringing features from OS X back to iOS, starting with Services.


One of the biggest differences between OS X and iOS is the way they treat inter-app communication. OS X’s little-known Services feature provides a way for applications to transfer data, such as currently selected text, between each other. Let’s say I’m typing a document and I want to search the web for a phrase I’m using. I can select the phrase, use the “Search With Google” service, and a new Safari window pops up with the results. Third-party apps can use Services as well, and users can create their own with the Automator app. This flexibility and customizability is what makes Services powerful.

Let’s switch to iOS. Apps are sandboxed, which means they can’t share files between each other, and the only way to share text is through copy and paste. Third-party apps can’t process actions from other apps without using URL schemes, which isn’t an ideal solution.

Implementing something as complex as OS X’s Services within iOS’s simplified UI isn’t easy. So far, Apple’s taken the approach of only including the most useful Services from OS X in its own apps. In iBooks, for example, I can select a word and define it, make a new email with it, or search the web for it: all the basic stuff you can do in OS X. It’s a sign that Apple’s at least thinking about the problem, and I’m hopeful that the coming iOS 7 update will address it more thoroughly.

Multiple user accounts

user_switchingMultiple user accounts were introduced with Mac OS 9, and they’ve evolved quite a bit since. Today, each user gets their own settings, files and associated iCloud account. If you click on the currently logged-in user’s name in the menu bar, a menu pops down with a list of other users. Choose one, and that user’s desktop rotates off the screen to be replaced by the other’s.

It’s true that you can sign in and out of iOS with different Apple IDs, but this only lets you download another user’s content from iTunes and not much else. You don’t get your iCloud data or settings, and any changes you make outside of iTunes stay with the other account. Obviously, this isn’t ideal for families that share an iPad or iPod touch. The latest version of Android, Jelly Bean, includes multiple account support for tablets, giving Android users one more feature to tout that iOS doesn’t have.

Slideshow wallpaper


“Slideshow” wallpaper — background images that shift after a set period of time — was introduced to OS X with 10.3 Panther. iOS 4 introduced homescreen wallpapers on the iPhone, but you could only set one at a time; it remains so today. Considering that you can already run a slideshow on an iPad’s lockscreen, doing the same thing with homescreen wallpaper doesn’t seem like much to ask.

Mission Control


Released with OS X Lion, Mission Control consolidates Exposé, Spaces and Dashboard into one UI. I’ll be talking about the Exposé part here, since I don’t see any need for Dashboard or something like Spaces on iOS. Exposé is the feature that zooms and arranges your open windows so you can see them all at once. Click on one, and Exposé switches you to it.

In iOS, switching between apps is accomplished with the multitasking tray. Double-tap the Home button, and the tray pops up, showing your most recently used apps. Unlike Exposé, the multitasking tray only shows you the app’s icon and not the app itself. Apple actually experimented with a more Exposé-like interface in an early version of iOS 4, and Jailbreak tweaks, such as Multifl0w, bring a similar interface. Android and Windows Phone’s task switchers also use app previews and not just icons, and with the multitasking tray making its debut almost three years ago, it feels like it’s time for an overhaul.


By default, Gatekeeper locks down your Mac so it will only run apps from the Mac App Store and developers registered with Apple. However, you can turn Gatekeeper off on OS X. On iOS, there isn’t a choice: you can only download apps from the App Store. Because of this, and Apple’s policy of reviewing every app before approving it, there’s been a few incidents over the years, starting with the blocking of Google Voice, which damaged the company’s reputation with some developers. By implementing a Gatekeeper-like system, it would be easier for Apple to defend criticism of its approval policies, as developers could still sell their apps on the web. iOS developers would also be able to get out updates even if Apple rejects them.

There are problems with this, however. Apple would have to allow downloading apps from Safari, which also means building an interface to manage them. App piracy, already an issue on jailbroken devices, would likely increase under such a system as well unless Apple implemented DRM. Malware is another possible concern, though as with Gatekeeper on the Mac, having the default be to only allow apps from the iOS App Store would leave people protected. With all of these negatives, I doubt we’ll be glimpsing over the walled garden any time soon.



Versions, introduced with Lion, provides a Time Machine-like interface for looking through past revisions of a document. When you trigger it, the desktop slides away as the current app is placed next to its past versions, stacked together on the right. Browsing through past versions is accomplished by a timeline on the side. You can edit the current version right within the interface, as well as copy elements from past versions.

Versions hasn’t made its way to iOS yet, and that’s understandable given the size of iOS devices. How would you fit something like Versions’ interface on the smaller screen of an iPhone or iPad? On OS X, an app’s window can resize to fit comfortably within Versions, but they can’t on iOS. Versions would have to be rethought significantly for it to work on smaller screens, so I’m not optimistic that it’ll be in iOS 7.

Many of these features that work so well on OS X are admittedly a long shot for making it to iOS. However, with Craig Federighi placed in charge of both OS X and iOS software after the departure of Scott Forstall, there’s at least the possibility that OS X features may eventually find their way to the other side.

What other features from OS X would you like to see in iOS? Tell us in the comments. 

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5 iOS news app alternatives to Google Reader

If you use RSS feeds to keep up with the news, Google probably broke your heart yesterday by announcing that it’s shutting down Google Reader on July 1. Reader, aside from being a great web RSS reader, provided the syncing backend for many RSS readers in the iOS App Store, including Reeder, Mr. Reader and Newsify. I’ve been using Google Reader to sync my feeds for five years, so I’ve come to rely on it heavily for my news.

But recently I’ve also come to rely on several news aggregation apps (most of which are really just RSS readers with special features). Real RSS readers will still be around when Reader’s gone, especially given the market opportunity Reader’s demise presents for companies like Digg — which announced Thursday it would pick up where Google Reader leaves off — but it can’t hurt to have options for consuming news on your  mobile device. Sometimes I’ll find articles in these apps that I wouldn’t have found in my more focused list of RSS feeds.

Here are five good iOS apps — all of them are free — that you can personalize to help you keep up with the news:



Zite bills itself as a personalized digital magazine, and it’s actually been around for awhile (it was acquired by CNN in 2011). Zite’s interface is kind of boring, but it’s also straightforward. When you first start Zite, you can choose from a list of default topics for it to pull articles from. You can also add your own topics through the search interface. A newsfeed displays rectangular article previews for your top news. You can like or dislike the articles Zite shows you, and that data is used to find other articles you might like. You can switch between topics by swiping left or right, and view which topics an article has attached to it by swiping up.



Flud is unique in that you can follow articles that other users are sharing. Each user also gets a Flud iQ score, which measures your influence on the service based on your activity. Besides following other users, you can also search for new sources to draw from, which are added to a favorites menu. Flud’s interface is more interesting than Zite’s, with large article previews and pretty red buttons. However, the large previews mean only two article previews can fit on the screen at one time, so scrolling through them ends up feeling tedious at times.



Unlike the others on this list, Circa doesn’t show you full articles from a source. Instead, Circa has editors that condense articles into nuggets of information called “points.” Rather than reading the full text of the article, you swipe through a list of points. Because the articles have to be condensed by humans, Circa has a feature where you can follow an article, so you’ll get notified whenever a new point is added to it. You can’t add new sources or topics to Circa, and it only comes with four topics by default. If you’re fine with that caveat and like things straight to the point, Circa’s worth checking out.



Flipboard’s been pretty widely covered by now, but it can’t hurt to throw it in. Flipboard has a sort of homescreen where you can add and arrange topics. As implied in its name, you “flip” through articles rather than scrolling a list, which means you also have to flip through the ones you might not be interested in.The biggest strength of Flipboard is that you can add a multitude of social networks as sources, including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Google+. You can even add your Google Reader account as a source — until it shuts down.



The thing that stands out about Pulse’s app is its interface. Instead of a list of articles, you’re shown a vertically scrolling list of sources and under each is a horizontally scrolling list of articles from that source. The advantage of this is that it allows Pulse to fit nine article previews in one view. Flud only fits two, for comparison. The disadvantage is that it requires a little more scrolling to get through your articles, since they’re arranged horizontally. The headline text is rather small too, and there’s no way to change it. Old eyes beware.

What’s your favorite news aggregator? Are there any you’ve tried that aren’t on the list? Tell us in the comments. 

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