8 great Android features that iOS needs to steal

From native gesture typing to the ability to clear your app windows in one tap, and much more.

8 great Android features that iOS needs to steal
Credit: Ben Patterson

Not that long ago, I used to feel sorry for Android users and their clunky, sluggish devices—the thought of giving up my iPhone never crossed my mind. Recently, though, I’ve been the one green-eyed with envy, as snazzy new Android features make my once-precious iOS handset feel old and tired by comparison.

Below I’ve highlighted eight of the most notable Android features that iOS needs to steal (there are plenty more, mind you), from automatic power-saving mode and installing apps from the web to smarter keypad shortcuts and the ability to clear storage-hogging app caches with a single tap.

1. Gesture typing for the stock keypad

Sure, iOS has allowed third-party keyboards with swipe-to-type capabilities for a few years now, but I’m continually frustrated how non-Apple keypads tend to grow sluggish, fail to appear, or even crash altogether on my iPhone.

Gesture typing in stock keyboard Ben Patterson

The stock Android keyboard supports gesture typing, but there’s no swipe-to-type support for the standard iOS keypad.

All too often, I find myself giving up and going back to the stock iOS keyboard—and I could live with that, except for the fact that I’m a dedicated gesture typist now, and the standard iPhone and iPad keyboard stubbornly demands tapping rather than swiping.

The stock Android keyboard, on the other hand, has long supported gesture typing (just tap Settings > Language & input > Virtual keyboard > Google Keyboard > Gesture typing), making it a compelling choice for any Android device. Why Apple won’t add gesture typing support to the stock iOS keypad is a head-scratcher, for sure.

2. Number and symbol shortcuts visible on every key

Speaking of the Android keypad, here’s another clever feature that, once you turn on, you’ll never turn off: the ability to display number and symbol “hints” on every key (Settings > Language & input > Virtual keyboard > Google Keyboard > Preferences > Long press for symbols).

Number and symbol shortcuts visible on every key Ben Patterson

Visible keypad shortcuts for numbers and symbols would be a welcome addition to the stock iOS keyboard.

For example, you can opt to have the Android keypad show tiny numbers in the top corner of every letter key in the top row; just long-press one of those keys to type the number rather than the letter.

Meanwhile, other keys on the keypad boast hints for symbols that are usually hidden until you tap the symbol key, such as the “@” sign in the corner of the “a” key and the dollar sign over the “d” key.

Those number and symbol “hints” come in handy when you’re trying to tap out a quick message, and they’re sorely lacking on the stock iOS keypad.

3. Auto battery-saver mode

One of the smarter Android features in the past few years is its Battery saver setting (Settings > Battery > Battery saver), which turns off background app activity, automatic email fetching, and other battery-draining activities, perfect for conserving battery power when your device is about to run out of juice. Apple wisely followed suit with its own low-power mode, which made its debut with iOS 9.

Auto battery-saver mode Ben Patterson

Why doesn’t iOS turn on low-power mode automatically like Android does? Good question.

Unfortunately, the iOS version of battery-saver mode is missing a crucial component of its Android counterpart: a setting that turns on low-power mode automatically once your battery meter falls below a certain level.

On Android devices, you can set the battery saver feature to snap on the moment your remaining battery power falls below 15 percent or 5 percent. With iOS, on the other hand, lower-power mode must be turned on manually, although at least you’re prompted to turn it on once your iPhone’s battery level falls below 20 percent.

So, why doesn’t iOS’s low-power mode boast an automatic setting like battery saver for Android? Beats me.

4. Install apps from the web

Apple’s App Store changed the game when it arrived on the scene back in the early days of the iPhone, but in many ways, it seems to be standing still. My biggest frustration with the App Store: It’s best browsed from an iOS device rather than the web.

Install apps from the web Ben Patterson

Android’s support for remotely installing apps from the web is one that iOS should copy, pronto.

The Google Play app store, on the other hand, works quite nicely in a desktop web browser—and best of all, you can install apps remotely over the web.

With iOS, the closest you can get is to click the Get button in the App Store on iTunes, which only adds the app to your iCloud app library. To install the app, you’ll still need to search your app library on your iOS device and download it manually. Ugh.

5. Turn on ‘Do not disturb’ for just an hour

I loved Do not disturb mode when it landed on my iPhone with the iOS 6 update, but it’s in dire need of a revamp. Not only does Android offer multiple quiet periods through its DND mode (versus just one for iOS), it also boasts a handy feature for those of us who want some immediate but temporary quiet time.

Turn on Ben Patterson

Once manually activated, Android can turn off “do not disturb” mode automatically after a set period of time; iOS, not so much.

If you tap the Do not disturb “quick setting” in Android, one of the options you’ll find is a For one hour setting. Select it, and DND mode will turn on and then switch itself off automatically in an hour (or for a custom period, if you tap the “-“ or “+” buttons).

With iOS, you can quickly turn on DND mode manually (by flicking up from the bottom of the screen and tapping the Do not disturb button), but you’ll need to remember to turn it off—and with all that peace and quiet, it’s easy to forget.

6. Clear all app caches

It’s amazing how quickly some apps can become storage hogs. The “cached” data used by your social apps alone can easily gobble up hundreds of megabytes or even a few gigs if you’re not careful, leaving you tight on storage space when you need it the most.

Clear all app caches Ben Patterson

iOS could really use a “clear all app caches” feature like the one on Android devices.

On an Android device, just tap Setting > Storage > Cached data to delete all your app caches in a flash. For iOS, well ... there is no such “clear all caches” feature. Instead, you’ll have to hope the space-hogging app has its own “delete cached data” setting, or else you’ll simply have to delete the app and reinstall it.

7. Clear all app windows

Whenever I see all the open app windows in the multitasking screen on my iPhone or iPad, I have an overpowering urge to start closing them, despite the fact that iOS does a decent job of reclaiming device memory whenever it needs to.

Clear all app windows Ben Patterson

On Android handsets, you can clear all your open app windows in one fell swoop.

Still, it would be nice to have the option of cleaning out all your open iOS app windows at once, given that anyone who uses their iPhone or iPad on a regular basis will end up with dozens and dozens of app windows cluttering the multitasking screen.

That’s why I love the new Clear all button in Nougat, the latest version of Android. Just tap Clear all at the top of the multitasking screen, and all your open Android app windows will be whisked away.

8. Quickly switch between your two last used apps

One of Nougat’s flashiest new features is its ability to show two apps on the screen at once. It’s a nifty trick, no question, but it turns out there’s another Nougat multitasking feature I use more, and I wish my iPhone could do it too.

Switch between your two last used apps Ben Patterson

If only I could quickly switch between my last two used apps on my iPhone...

When you double-tap the Android multitasking button, Nougat lets you quickly switch to the app you were using prior to that; double-tap the button again, and you’re back where you started.

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