10 Things That Simply Need To Be In iOS 5

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WWDC. It’s like Christmas for OS X and iOS developers. Each year, they flock to San Francisco’s Moscone Center, anxiously awaiting the pair of gifts that Apple annually bestows: the new iPhone, and a bundle of new features upon which they’ll build their next big thing.

If whispers and hearsay hold true, this year’s WWDC will only feature the latter; the iPhone 5, says the rumor mill, won’t be showing its face until Fall. Instead, this show is purportedly going to be all about iOS and OS X. While Apple doesn’t come right out and say it, it’s pretty safe to assume that by “iOS” they mean “iOS 5″.

Given that we’re writing about iOS on a regular basis and talking about it with readers and friends even more, we’ve got a pretty finely-tuned wishlist for iOS 5. We also happen to know that a heaping handful of Apple folk read TechCrunch regularly — and with the feature lock stage of iOS 5′s development cycle (wherein they absolutely refuse to add anything new and just focus on what they’ve already started) presumably riiiight around the corner, we figured there was no better time than now to put it out there.

1) A Better Notifications System

We’ve brought this one up a billion times, but I’ll bring it up a billion more times if we have to. Compared to even the weakest competitors, iOS’ current notification system is absolutely friggin’ laughable. It was understandable, up to a point; back in the ol’ days before the App Store, the only notifications iOS really had to worry about were incoming text messages and the occasional alarm. Toss in a dozen third party apps all crying for your attention, though, and it becomes nigh-impossible to finish a single game of Tiny Wings without wanting to send your handset itself flying off a hill.

2) Free Turn-by-Turn Navigation

While the idea is likely one that scares the pants off of the likes of Telenav and Garmin, free turn-by-turn navigation on iOS is pretty much an inevitability. Back in October of 2009, Google turned the entire GPS market on its noggin by bringin’ free (not to mention, fantastically well built) turn-by-turn support to Android 2.0+ devices. Nearly a year and a half later, it’s still an easy argument to drop in any Android-vs-iPhone flamewar for massive damage.

Apple sort of backed themselves into a corner here. Google built the iOS Maps app, and they’re almost certainly not about to give up one of their platform’s finest, most easily pitched selling points by tacking in turn-by-turn. If Apple wants the voice guided goodness, they’ll likely have to build up a Maps app for their own — and with iOS users having grown accustomed to a Google-powered Maps for around 4 years and Apple having next to no experience in the area, they’ve got big ol’ shoes to fill. With all the recent chatter of Apple opening a $1 billion data center and hiring up Maps specialists, however, it looks like they plan on doing exactly that.

3) Custom Text Notification Sounds

Sometimes, when I’m bored enough to be wondering about hypothetical situations surrounding iOS in my off-work hours, I wonder if the absence of custom text alert sounds is a running joke amongst Apple’s iOS team. As in, I wonder if they’ve got a running list of features to build for iOS, with “Custom Text Sounds” hard-coded to always have the absolute lowest priority. Only once every other thing they’ve ever considered (including the built-in fart button and the hardware laser level) is checked off the list can they start working on custom alert sounds.

That has to be it. Otherwise, I simply can’t understand how this feature is still missing.

4) Proper Native Gmail Support

Back when it launched in 2004, its relatively monstrous storage allotment and Beta exclusivity made Gmail the “cool” e-mail service for the Geeky-but-not-too-geeky crowd. 7 years later, it still holds that label.

The crowd behind the iPhone — or any Apple product, really — is a strikingly similar one. OS X is for geeks (and the friends/relatives of geeks) who are geeky enough to want something beyond Windows but not geeky enough to swear their allegiance to Linux. iPhone is for geeks who want more out of their phone than what most offer, but don’t want to have to fight their phone to keep it working (Deep breath, Android users.) If you were to venn diagram out iOS users and Gmail users, I’d imagine the overlap would be pretty massive. And yet, iOS’ support for Gmail is pretty much bare bones.

You see, Gmail has a handful of features (like flagging, starring, labeling, and archiving for example) that really make the service worthwhile. Of those, only archiving is supported in iOS’ built-in Mail app — and even that has only been available since iOS 4. Android, meanwhile, offers Gmail support that rivals that found on the desktop. Whatever chunk of that cool-kid geek crowd Apple holds, it’s not one they want to lose.

5) Sideloading of Third-party Apps

Next to free turn-by-turn navigation, the ability to run just about anything you want on an Android phone (unless it’s an AT&T Android phone) is one of the easiest silver bullets to fire off in any iPhone-vs-Android nerd-war.

Apple’s shown time and time again that they’re willing to drop the App Store banhammer on any application that they deem offensive, or that dares use APIs that Apple reserves for their own use. And that’s fine: it’s their store, and they can moderate the content however they see fit. But when you’ve got the gall to lock down that store and make it the only way to get apps onto the device (especially when the other guy is saying “Hey, we’ll only let certain stuff on our store, but you can manually load whatever the heck you please!”), you become the bad guy.

At this point, loading otherwise unobtainable applications onto the device is one of the few remaining legitimate (read: not piracy) reasons to jailbreak. As exploit after exploit have proven, the jailbreakers will always find a way in. Rather than battling them, why not just make jailbreaking less enticing? Hide the option to enable sideloading away, and make them click through a dozen warnings. Is there some danger to letting users run whatever they want? Of course! But it’s more dangerous to leave them with running a bunch of tough-to-verify hacks as their only option.

6) Wireless Media Syncing:

The iPhone has WiFi. It has Bluetooth. It has 3G. It has so many means of connecting to other devices wirelessly that it’s almost ridiculous — and yet, transferring even a single song into the built-in music app requires a silly, chintzy cable.

With OS X Lion, Apple’s introducing a feature called “AirDrop” that allows you to drag and drop files to any other system in AirDrop mode. Hopefully, iOS 5 will get an AirDrop mode of its own. Tap a button (or launch an App) on the iPhone to drop into AirDrop mode, drag over the relevant media from your laptop, and away you go. No messy cable required.

7) Improved File Handling:

Once you’ve managed to get your files onto the device, iOS does all sorts of weird stuff to workaround the fact that there’s no real user-visible file system here. Want to put that photo you just took into an album? Nope. Want to attach a file after starting the e-mail? Nope!

8) Stop Wasting The Lockscreen

Jailbreak your iPhone, and your lockscreen can very well become one of your phone’s most important screens. See your latest e-mail at a glance! Scan blurps from your favorite RSS feeds! Check the weather forecast in an instant!

Don’t jailbreak your iPhone, and your lockscreen can show… erm, a clock.

By default, iOS’ lockscreen is pretty much just a means of keeping you from accidentally firing off garbled texts while the phone is in your pocket, with over 50% of the screen wasted. We get it: minimalism is cool. As the screenshot above (of the jailbreak-only modification, statusnotifier) show, things can be minimalist and useful.

9) NFC Support:

This isn’t so much an iOS thing as it is a hardware thing, and it’s still completely unclear whether or not the iPhone 5 will offer up NFC functionality.

With that said, NFC (the short range communication technology that will eventually allow us to pay retailers with a quick wave of our phones) is coming. With huge namesthrowing their weight behind the tech, this long promised pipe dream is closer than ever to becoming part of our daily lives.

The sooner that Apple jumps on the technology, the better. If Apple promises to support the technology — even if it’s just a promise to eventually support it — and to throw their army of iPhone users behind NFC, retailers will be that much more driven to adopt it quickly. Hardware manufacturers will be driven to add NFC to their own products, thereby driving down the cost for everyone. Developers will be able to build on the tech, taking things far beyond the standard tap-to-pay concept that everyone associates with it.

10) Automatic Content Syncing For Third Party Apps

It’s 3 A.M. Your iPad is plugged in. It’s on WiFi. It has more juice and bandwidth available to it than it will just about any other time.. and it’s doing absolutely nothing.

And yet, any time I open up an application that isn’t Mail — say, CNN, Instapaper, or an RSS reader — it has to sync all the way back to the last time the app was opened. Why make me wait when I do want to use my iPad, rather than doing the majority of syncing when I’m not using it?

There we have it — the top 10 things we’re hoping ‘ for in iOS 5. Think we missed anything? Drop us a comment and share what’s on your wishlist.