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  • Annoyances: Petty and Otherwise

    August 15th, 2013

    When the Control Center feature was first announced for iOS 7, you were reminded of the Android solution, which puts a number of system setting toggles in the Notification panel. The purpose was to ease the drudgery of dealing with such basic functions as Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. You may want to turn them off, for example, to increase battery life, but you don’t want to have to go through menus and submenus to do such a simple thing.

    All right, that makes sense. But the Android version is highly imperfect. When you pull down Notification to check a message or a status report, it’s just too easy for a wayward tap to turn off the wrong thing. The end result may be an unexpected and sometimes exasperating problem. So one day, the synced bookmarks in the Chrome browser on my Samsung Galaxy S4 vanished. I had to go through a couple of settings panels to figure out that Sync was off. A wayward tap, no doubt. Once I toggled it on with another tap, I got my bookmarks back.

    Of course, losing one’s bookmarks because of such a silly error of this sort, deliberate or otherwise, makes little sense. At worst, the bookmarks simply shouldn’t sync if that feature is turned off. They should not just up and vanish. You wonder about the Google developers who make it work that way.

    Apple’s solution for iOS 7 is to put them in a separate Control Center. Rather than a catch-all Notification Center, you have another place to go, and thus the chance of error is reduced. So maybe Apple was influenced by Android, but they found a way to do it better.

    iOS 7 also has a solution for people who neglect to update their apps. I know I’ve seen App Store icons sporting high numbers of waiting updates. With the new mobile OS, you’ll be able to receive your updates automatically in the background, timed to arrive for maximum battery efficiency. So you don’t have to worry about forgetting, and using an older version of an app that may not work the way you like. Of course, there’s the side effect of not having control over the updates you receive; maybe you want to hold off on some. And, yes, Android lets you receive app updates automatically, but you still have to go through a manual process to receive a system update; not that they are ever available.

    The biggest annoyance to me on any smartphone I’ve used is handling the removal from your pocket in a comfortable and reliable fashion, particularly when you are receiving a phone call and are rushing to answer. Unless the handset is in lock mode, it’s almost too easy to tap the wrong thing and lose the call. Carelessness? Maybe, but I’d think the designers and engineers at Apple and Google could devise a more fail safe method. After all, to some people, the cell phone is the only phone.

    On the Mac I’ve already covered some minor irritants, such as Apple’s decision to hide the user/library folder and the silly workarounds. One of our loyal readers reminded me there’s a “secret” way to do it in OS X Mavericks, assuming that method is retained in the final version. It’s almost akin to offering a feature on a need to know basis.

    A more serious quibble on the Mac, though, is the way the Open/Save dialogs are set up. They haven’t changed much over the years since OS X arrived. Yet there is an elegant solution out there, Default Folder X from developer Jon Gotow. He essentially puts the dialogs within a fancy overlay, allowing you to perform Finder-style functions, such as renaming and trashing a document. It also rebounds to the last-used or saved document, which greatly simplifies navigation when you’re dealing with loads of files and folders. And, no, I have only covered a tiny bit of the overall enhancements.

    Now Jon has been at this game since the 1990s, and Apple hasn’t adopted any of these oh-so-logical features. I expect that Default Folder X sells most to power users, but Apple should pay attention, write Jon a large check and integrate this utility into OS X. Even better, give him a well-paying job with stock options.

    This isn’t to say that OS X doesn’t need a better way to manage your stuff. iOS has divorced itself completely from the traditional file system, although it lurks there below the surface. That may be an extreme solution. Maybe Apple will move OS X towards a middle-of-the-road approach of some sort, allowing power users full access to all the files and folders they want, but shielding a lot of it from regular people who just want to find their stuff without the extra baggage.

    The real issue about OS X Mavericks, however, is that it’s just an incremental update. Based on the published details from Apple and developer reaction, there are loads of useful improvements. But the fundamentals haven’t changed very much. There may be an OS XI or something revolutionary being considered for the future of the Mac, but I don’t expect it to be just another version of iOS.

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