The date is set! With the announcement last week that Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference is kicking off in just a little under two months, the ramp-up to the biggest event of the company’s year has officially begun.
While we don’t yet know how much—if any—hardware will feature at the June to-do, one thing is pretty certain: that Apple will be using the opportunity to roll out the latest changes to its major software platforms, including macOS, iOS, watchOS, and tvOS.
As ever, expectations are high for Apple to bring all the new features and enhancements, not to mention fixing every single bug or missed opportunity for its software. Will that happen? Of course not. This big endeavor always means picking and choosing your battles, but as long as we’re trying to figure out how Apple might direct its energy, I’m going to use this opportunity to make a few humble suggestions about some features that could use a little love.
Don’t default on default apps
The squeaky wheel might get the grease, but surely some attention could be spared for the workhorse applications that we rely on every single day. No, they’re not the flashiest apps on your phone and many may have good third-party replacements, but that doesn’t mean Apple should sit back and cede that territory. Millions of people still rely on built-in apps like Mail, Calendar, Contacts, and even Messages, and frankly, they could stand to be lavished with some care.
Take Mail, for example. While competitors have added features like automatic filtering based on content (getting all those newsletters and promotions out of your business), snoozeable alerts, and powerful search, Apple’s additions to Mail have been so sparse that it at times feels like the company believes it has perfected the app. (Spoiler: It hasn’t.)
Calendar lacks niceties like collapsible events (for those that you have on more than one calendar), meeting planning, and natural language parsing for event creation. Or, frankly, any other addition in the last several versions—if anything, Calendar has been even less frequently updated than Mail.
Even Messages, an app that Apple surely has a large investment in, thanks to iMessage, has lagged behind. Why are Apple’s own users still seeing messages about people “liking” messages in a text thread when Android’s already weeded them out? Why have Tapbacks still not been expanded to all emoji? And why oh why are there not better spam filtering tools in an age where we all get junk text messages with regularity?
I don’t expect all of these to be addressed in a year (or ever), even with the fantastically enormous resources Apple has at its disposal. But the template exists: look no further than Reminders and Notes, two modest apps that both got big overhauls in last year’s updates. It can clearly be done.
The Shortcuts long game
When Apple rolled out Shortcuts for Mac last year, the company described it as the beginning of a “multi-year transition.” That’s reassuring news, since automation and the Mac go together like ribs and barbecue sauce.
Shortcuts’ jump to the Mac hasn’t been without bumps, but on the whole, it’s been pretty successful, not only making automation more accessible to the average user but also bringing some degree of parity with its iOS counterpart.
But, as always, there’s more work to be done. One thing that surprises me are the sheer number of built-in Mac features that simply aren’t accessible via Shortcuts. For example, Spaces on the Mac (the ability to create multiple desktops) isn’t scriptable at all. As noted Shortcuts enthusiast Federico Viticci recently pointed out, neither is Safari Reader. And even brand new features, like Safari’s Tab Groups or Notes’ Quick Notes, are missing in action.
Committing to automation on the Mac means committing to deep integration throughout the platform. It’s not enough to be an afterthought; when new features get rolled out, there should be Shortcuts actions to match.
This is one place that Apple’s penchant for secrecy works against it: it’d be great to have the company detail a real multi-year road map for the future of Shortcuts, so that users have an idea of what to expect, rather than having to cross their fingers and hope.
Take two tablets and call me in the morning
iPadOS has gotten better and better over the past couple of years—recent additions have vastly improved multitasking in Split View mode, for example. But there’s no arguing that the power of iPad hardware has outpaced the complexity of its software. The newest iPads are running the same M1 chip found in many of Apple’s Macs, and yet don’t offer features like windowing or full external display support.
It may be that Apple is satisfied with the state of iPadOS at this point, but if so, that’s a shame. There’s so much room for the iPad to do more, and the company could signal that by adding more powerful features or finally bringing pro-level apps to the platform.
The iPad remains a platform full of potential, at one time promised by Apple’s ambitious “What’s a computer?” commercial, but with the Mac’s resurgence in full swing, the tablet’s place in the company’s lineup seems more uncertain than ever. Still, hope springs eternal, and 2022 might well be the year that Apple finally shows us why the iPad is still so important.