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6 Things iOS can learn from OS X

The focus of the last two versions of OS X has been on incorporating imported iOS features to refine the user experience, and so far, it has worked quite well. However, certain aspects of iOS, such as the lack of good communication between applications, are making the platform seem outdated. Apple could solve this problem and others, by importing features from the new OS X to iOS , starting with Services.


One of the biggest differences between OS X and the iOS mobile system is the way they handle communication between applications. OS X’s Services function provides a way for applications to transfer data, such as selected text, to each other. Let’s say I’m writing a document and I want to search the web for a phrase that I’m using. I can select the phrase and using the “Google search” option in Services, a new Safari window will open with the search results. Third party applications can also use the Services function, and users can create their own function with the Automator application. This flexibility and customisation is what makes Services so powerful.

6 Things iOS can learn from OS X
6 Things iOS can learn from OS X

Let’s try the same thing on iOS. The applications are “closed” , which means that they can’t share files with each other, and the only way to share text is through copy and paste. Third party applications cannot process the actions of other applications without using URL schemas, which is not an ideal solution by any means.

Implementing something as complex as OS X Services into the simplified iOS user interface is not easy . So far, Apple has chosen to adopt the most useful OS X services only in its own applications. In iBooks, for example, you can select a word and define it, create a new email with it, or search the web for it – all the basic things you can do under OS X. It’s a sign that Apple, at least, is thinking about this problem, so I hope that in the next iOS 7 this topic will be thoroughly discussed.

Multiple user accounts

User accounts were introduced with Mac OS 9, and have evolved quite a bit since then. Today, each user has their own settings, files, and associated iCloud accounts. If you click the name of the user who’s logged in on the menu bar, a menu appears listing all the other users on the computer. When you choose another user, the desktop rotates and displays the other user’s desktop.

It’s true that you can log in and out of iOS with different Apple IDs, but this only works for downloading another user’s iTunes content and little else. You don’t receive your iCloud data and settings, and any changes you make outside of iTunes stay in the other account. Obviously, this way of working is not ideal for families sharing an iPad or iPod Touch. The latest version of Android, Jelly Bean, includes multiple account support for tablets, giving Android users one more feature that iOS does not have.

Slideshow Wallpaper

Slideshow wallpaper, background images that change after a period of time, was introduced in OS X in version 10.3. iOS 4 introduced the iPhone’s home wallpaper, but only one could be set at a time, which is still the case today. Considering that you can already run a slideshow on the iPad’s lock screen, doing the same with the Home screen wallpapers doesn’t seem too complicated.

Mission Control

Launched with OS X Lion, Mission Control mixes Exposé, Spaces and Dashboard in a single user interface. We’ll talk about the Exposé part, since I don’t see any need to implement Dashboard or Spaces in iOS. Exposé is the feature that zooms in and organizes all the open windows so we can see them at once and switch between them. For those of you who don’t use a Mac, this is what you can see in the image above.

In iOS, as you know, switching between applications is done with the multitask bar. By double-clicking on the start button, the bar with the recently used applications appears. Unlike Exposé, the Multi-Taskbar only shows the application icon, not the application itself. Apple experimented with an interface somewhat more similar to Exposé in the first version of iOS 4 , plus there are some tweaks for Jailbreak that provide a similar interface to iOS, such as Multifl0w, which indicates that it is not impossible to do so. The way to switch between Android and Windows Phone applications also uses application previews and not just icons, and considering that the iOS multitask bar debuted almost three years ago, there is a feeling that it is time to review this feature.


By default, Gatekeeper locks the Mac so that only applications downloaded from the Mac App Store and developers registered with Apple can run. However, in OS X you can disable Gatekeeper. On iOS, this option is not available: only applications downloaded from the App Store can be downloaded and installed. Because of this, and because of Apple’s policy of reviewing all applications, there have been some incidents in recent years, starting with the blocking of Google Voice, which damaged the company’s reputation with some developers. By implementing a system similar to Gatekeeper, which would be easier for Apple to defend against criticism of its approval policies, developers could sell their applications through their websites. On the other hand, iOS developers would also be able to get updates from Apple, even if their applications have been rejected.

However, this system could pose certain problems. Apple would have to allow the download of applications through Safari, which means that it would have to build an interface to manage the downloads . On the other hand, application piracy could increase under such a system, unless Apple implemented DRM. Malware is another concern, although as with Gatekeeper on the Mac, users would only have to leave the default system on in iOS if they want to be fully protected.

Anyway, I personally think that we will not see this implemented in iOS soon, and probably never, since Apple is very concerned about the security of its users and I would be surprised if they left the door open to install applications that have not passed through the App Store.


Versions, introduced with Lion, provides an interface similar to Time Machine for searching the different revisions of a document. When activated, the desktop slides the current version of the document and places it next to the previous versions that are stacked on the right side, as you can see in the image above. The navigation through the previous versions is done by means of a sliding system. You can edit the current version as well as elements of the copies of the previous versions.

Versions has never appeared in iOS, which is understandable given the size of the devices. How do you adapt this feature to the small screen of the iPhone or iPad? Under OS X, an application’s window can be resized to comfortably fit Versions, but under iOS it’s not possible. Versions for iOS would have to be significantly revised to work on smaller screens, so we probably won’t see anything like this in iOS 7.

Many of these features that work so well in OS X are, without a doubt, as they say today in Gigaom, a risky bet if you want to implement them in iOS. However, with Craig Federighi in charge of both systems after Scott Forstall’s departure, there is at least a chance that some of OS X’s best features could be ported to iOS.

What do you think? What other OS X features would you like to see in iOS?

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