Following the big media event to unveil the next generation iPad yesterday, Apple launched an updated version of iOS. iOS 5.1 has some cool features and updates, but it is missing the one thing that would really make iOS--and by extension, the iPhone and iPad--a significantly better mobile platform.
What is this magical capability that would raise the bar for iOS functionality? Customizable default apps.
The Metro interface of Windows Phone has live tiles that provide information at a glance. Android smartphones and tablets provide an even more flexible, and customizable interface, and include widgets that update to reflect current information. Apple has never been subtle about its desire to control the experience, and its reluctance to let you customize iOS beyond organizing apps into folders and sorting out what order to place them in.
I understand that iOS is not Windows Phone, and it's not Android. Obviously, I--like any other iOS user out there--have the freedom to choose my mobile platform, and by opting for iOS devices I am accepting that I will have to work within the limits of the "walled garden."
It is not outside the realm of possibility, though, for Apple to let users choose which app to use by default for certain tasks. You can choose which search engine to use by default in the settings for the Safari browser. Let's take that a step farther, though, and let users choose a mapping app, or calendar app other than the default specified by Apple.
Apparently it can be done. When Apple launched the iPhone 4S with the Siri personal assistant, Remember The Milk published instructions to add RTM as a CalDav account in iOS and set it up as the default task list for reminders. Once you configure it, when you ask Siri to remind you of this or that the reminder is added to your RTM task list rather than the default Reminders app.
I'd like to be able to do something similar with other tasks. For example, I prefer the Garmin StreetPilot app for mapping and turn-by-turn navigation. If I ask Siri to find me the nearest Apple Store, I'd rather have Siri pass that info along to the Garmin StreetPilot app instead of the much less functional Maps app in iOS.
Similarly, if I tell Siri to put something on my calendar or to call a contact, I'd prefer to be able to have that information pulled from or placed in VIPOrbit rather than the default Calendar and Contacts apps.
These are just a few examples. Again, I understand this goes against the grain of iOS, and the controlled environment Apple has created with its mobile devices. But I use the apps I choose anyway--it just requires additional effort to take the information and move it to where I want it. It also reduces the convenience and value of Siri.
But if Apple would extend the ability to choose a search engine to other aspects of iOS, or if more vendors would figure out workarounds, as Remember The Milk did, the iPhone and iPad would be remarkably more functional.