The iPhone 5 Is Incredible, But iOS 6 Is Holding It Back [Opinion]

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iphone5
The iPhone 5 could be so much better.

The iPhone 5 is an incredible smartphone. I’ve been using mine since it arrived on my doorstep at 7:48 p.m. the day after launch day (after a painfully long wait), and I love it. It’s spectacularly thin and light, it’s beautiful — like most Apple products — and that larger display is such a welcome improvement.

I chose the white and silver model — I’ve had white iPhones for as long as they’ve been available — and I think it’s the prettiest gadget I’ve ever owned. It’s also powerful, and noticeably faster than my already snappy iPhone 4S. Its battery life is excellent, and so is the camera.

Overall, I have a long list of positive things to say about the iPhone 5 — the hardware is just unbeatable. But I think there’s one thing letting it down, and that’s iOS 6.

Before I jump in and tell you why iOS 6 is letting down the iPhone 5, let me just make one thing clear: I love iOS. It’s by far the most polished mobile platform there is, and it’s been my OS of choice since its debut with the original iPhone.

iOS “just works” — in so many ways. Its ability to sync with iTunes and iPhoto, and all the benefits that iCloud brings, make it a perfect companion for Mac users like me. It’s super simple to use — even my granddad’s using it — and the catalog of third-party apps available on iOS is second to none.

But as a technology writer, I’m often required to step outside my comfort zone and test other devices… devices that don’t run iOS. Since selling my iPhone 4S a couple weeks ago, I’ve been using a Samsung Galaxy Nexus, and prior to that I tested a long list of Android and Windows Phone smartphones.

Apple’s platform is the best of the bunch, but the gap between iOS and its competitors is getting ever smaller.

What I’ve learned along the way is that Apple’s platform is the best of the bunch, and for me, it’s the little things that make the biggest difference. But the gap between iOS and its competitors is getting ever smaller.

When Apple announced the original iPhone back in 2007, iOS — then called “iPhone OS” — was like nothing we’d ever seen before. Sure, we’d had touchscreen devices, but they were designed to work with tiny styluses that quickly got broken or lost, and they were slow and unreliable.

Apple kept making iOS better, adding things like iTunes and support for third-party apps through the App Store. These things took iOS way ahead of anything else, and that’s been the case for quite some time.

For the past few years, iOS hasn’t been taking the leaps it did in the early days.

But for the past few years, iOS hasn’t quite been taking the leaps it did in the early days. Apple has added new features and new services, some of which are really terrific, such as iCloud — as I mentioned earlier — and Siri. But there are some big things iOS is missing— things that other platforms gained a long time ago.

Widgets

I want widgets on iOS.

These things become more apparent when you use those other platforms for a few weeks. For example, Android’s widgets may not seem like a big thing to you, but try living with them for an extended period of time and you’ll miss them a lot when you go back to iOS.

Widgets let you add all kinds of things to your home screen, such as sports scores, the weather, music controls, settings toggles, your Twitter timeline, a breaking news feed… the list is endless.

Having these things in front of you right after unlocking your smartphone, without having to open up an app, is just fantastic. I felt the same way about Windows Phone’s live tiles after using an HTC Titan for a month.

I want widgets, or maybe even dynamic icons, on iOS. And I know this is a feature a lot of iOS users have been calling out for for some time. But Apple is yet to introduce it. It has added its own alternative to Notification Center in the form of Weather and Stocks “widgets,” but those have remained unchanged since iOS 5, and Apple is yet to offer us anything new.

You can add widgets yourself if you jailbreak, and those that are available through Cydia are… okay. But they’d be so much better if Apple supported them and allowed developers to create them for their apps. The iPhone 5’s larger display creates room for widgets, so let’s have them, Apple.

Quick Settings Toggles

Another feature iOS is missing is quick settings toggles. These allow you to quickly change common settings without having to open up your settings app. Android has them in the notification drop-down, allowing you to quickly toggle Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, the screen rotation lock, and the brightness of your display.

I don’t want to have to stop what I’m doing and open up the Settings app to enable/disable a feature.

And iOS should have them, too. I don’t want to have to stop what I’m doing and open up the Settings app to enable/disable a feature that could easily be nothing more than a switch at the top of Notification Center.

Default Apps

How about customizing our default apps? Mobile Safari is great, but I think Google Chrome is better. I love Mail, but I know others prefer Gmail or Sparrow. Apple should allow us to set third-party apps as our default apps, so that when you click on links in iMessage, you go straight into your favorite browser.

This may not be for everyone; beginners may just want to use Apple’s own apps. But Apple could allow more advanced users to enable their own default apps if they choose to.

Quick SMS Reply

This is a small feature that would make a big difference, I don’t know why it isn’t baked into iOS.

For me, one of the biggest reasons to jailbreak is for BiteSMS. There are many great features in BiteSMS, but the best is the ability to quickly reply to messages from wherever you are with quick reply.

When you receive a text message, BiteSMS presents you with a popup alert — just like iOS does. But within that popup, you can quickly reply to the message. You don’t need to step out of the app you’re in to go to Messages — you can just reply there and then. Once you hit send, you go straight back to what you’re doing.

This is a small feature that would make such a big difference, I don’t know why it isn’t baked into iOS. It’s not like our iPhones don’t have the processing power to handle a feature like this. The iPhone 5 is one of the fastest smartphones money can buy.
Again, this may not be for everyone; some people will prefer more subtle notification banners that don’t distract you. But it would be nice to have the choice.

Hiding Built-In Apps

As I mentioned earlier, some of Apple’s built-in apps are terrific. But others aren’t. Weather never seems to be accurate here in the U.K., and the information it provides is so basic you might as well just look out the window. While I can’t remember the last time I used Stocks.

I can understand why Apple doesn’t want us to remove these, however; people may accidentally delete essential apps. But why not let us hide the nonessential ones? They’re just taking up space on our home screens.

Maps

Finally, we come to Maps. I liked Google Maps in iOS 5; I wasted many hours playing around with Street View. But I do feel Apple’s new Maps app is a worthy replacement, in fact, I think Flyover and turn-by-turn actually make it a big improvement.

There’s no two ways about this: Apple has provided us with a new Maps app that just isn’t finished.

At least, that would be the case if it worked. There’s no two ways about this: Apple has provided us with a new Maps app that just isn’t finished. And this isn’t a minor feature that nobody’s bothered about. Maps is something a lot of us have come to reply on, but we can’t in iOS 6, because it doesn’t work properly.

I accept that it’s still early days and that Maps will improve over time. But maybe it needed a little more improvement before it went public? We can cope with a half-baked Siri, because no one had gotten used to a perfect Siri. But we had gotten used to an almost perfect Maps app.

Competitors Are Catching Up

For me, the absence of simple features like this is holding iOS back.

It’s not like these features are against Apple’s policies, either. I’m not asking for the ability to install apps from third-party sources, or support for themes and skins. I know these things will never come.

But I think the features I’ve mentioned could easily be introduced to iOS without going against all the things that Apple is about. What’s more, they wouldn’t just be great for the average user, but they’d also please more advanced users who are crying out for a little bit more.

For me, iOS is still the most complete package, but I do feel it’s missing several key features.

If you’ve only ever used iOS, some of these features may not be a big deal to you. But once you’ve had a taste of them on another platform, their absence begins to be a big issue. What’s more, I feel it’s encouraging users to go and try other platforms — many of whom never come back.

I have a handful of friends who were iPhone users for years. But they now own Android devices because of all the benefits Android brings. No, it’s not as polished. But its customization options and its flexibility make it a more exciting platform.

For me, iOS is still the most complete package, and the best mobile platform there is. But I do feel it’s missing several key features, and not quite evolving as quickly as it could be. This is giving its competitors a chance to catch up and provide an increasingly compelling reason to switch.

With that said, I absolutely love my iPhone 5 — just like everyone else who’s bought one. And it’s likely to be my daily driver for at least the next 12 months. But I feel it could be an even greater experience if iOS 6 wasn’t holding it back.

For now, I’ll probably jailbreak and add some of the features I’ve mentioned above myself in hope that future iOS updates will deliver some of the things the vast majority of us have been waiting for.

How do you feel about iOS 6?