What the iPhone Interface Could Learn from Android and Windows Phone 7

Look, I love my iPhone, probably more than I should. Still, as I continue to use Android and Windows Phone, I can’t help but think that there are some things Apple could possibly “borrow” from the other two mobile operating systems.

Let’s take a look at a few of those things that I’d like to bring back to the iPhone.

A Note on “Borrowing”

Look, it’s not like Apple hasn’t borrowed from other operating systems before. Case in point: Notification Center. Apple’s linen-centric pull down is an almost direct copy of Android’s “lampshade” model.

Of course, a petty man would say that it’s fair for Apple to borrow from Android just because Android practically stole, ya know, the entirety of iOS. Whether or not that’s true isn’t what I’d like to talk about today; instead, I’d like to take a look at how Apple could improve iOS by learning from their competitors, just as those competitors are learning from them.

From Android:

The Lampshade

I know that Apple has already taken this from Android, but their implementation feels half-baked at best. That linen texture is just awful here, and doesn’t fit in at all with Apple’s established user interface interactions. Android’s solution feels more modern, sports a clean look, and reacts far better than Apple’s Notification Center.

Android's lampshade looks much better than Apple's Notification Center.

Android's lampshade looks much better than Apple's Notification Center.

Instead of those tiny, easy-to-miss Clear buttons next to notifications, Android’s lampshade allows you to slide a notification right into oblivion.

Home Screen Freedom

While I can live without the widgets from Android’s home screens arriving in iOS, I’d like to see the way that Android handles home screens come on over to the iPhone.

Instead of having the Home Home Screen (because that made sense) right next to the Spotlight search, it would be nice to be able to have home screens to the right and left of the main screen. Just a little bit of freedom would go a long way.

From Windows Phone:

Updating Tiles/Icons

Windows Phone is all about the Metro interface, which features what Microsoft likes to call Live Tiles. Essentially a cross between the icons from iOS and the widgets from Android, these tiles can update with information automatically, without the user needing to launch the app.

Windows Phone's automagically updating live tiles.

Windows Phone's automagically updating live tiles.

Technically, Apple already possesses the ability to do this; just look at the Calendar app. This is the only app icon that I’ve seen with the ability to update itself, and it just proves that Apple could allow developers to make this happen. This would be handy for, you know, every other calendar app in the App Store, or weather apps, or any number of applications.

Disappearing Status Bar

With Windows Phone the Status Bar disappears when you’re using an application. I can accept the iPhone’s screen size remaining the same, but every once in a while I find myself wishing that the Status Bar would get out of the way so I can view that extra little bit of application.

Some apps can already do this (Instapaper comes to mind) but making it the default would help out. Whether or not this would interfere with Apple’s “rolling notifications” at the top of the screen is anyone’s guess; I’m not really a fan of them, but some people like them.

From Both:

Both Android and Windows Phone sport a clean, modern interface. I’m still a fan of the way that iOS looks, but there are certain things that could stand to change.

The opposite of modern? Notification Center.

The opposite of modern? Notification Center.

First: all the linen. In small doses it’s fine; I like texture. I’m a fan. When you see it on a larger scale, as you do in Notification Center, it actually starts to look a bit silly. Apple chose to go with a bunch of jagged lines to simulate a texture that most people probably don’t want to see in the first place.

Don't think that you've escaped unscathed, lollipop lies!

Don't think that you've escaped unscathed, lollipop lies!

Second: the gloss. Oh, the gloss. While the little bubbles on the app icons may have looked fine back in 2007, in 2011 they’re starting to look a bit long in the tooth. Apple is moving away from this Aqua-inspired, candy-like interface on the Mac and it would be nice if it would disappear from iOS as well.

In Closing

I still love iOS. It does a lot of things really well, and it certainly appeals to a large variety of users. I think that with five years of staying the same, though, a visual tweaking, revolution, or complete overhaul is overdue. Apple is more than capable of producing a fine, enjoyable interface without the overly-done visual gimmicks — one need look no further than iTunes Movie Trailers.

I don’t have the answers. All I can do is point out a few of the things that Apple’s competitors are doing properly, and hope that Apple can either meet or beat the bar that has been set by others. I love everything else about iOS; it’s time that the interface caught up to the level of sophistication present in the rest of the software.