Five features to expect from iOS 7

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Mike Dano

As the iPhone 5 heads into the history books as one of the world's most successful smartphones, I'm betting the Apple product machine is deep into work on the next big thing (possibly the iPad Mini? Or the Apple TV set?). While pundits often focus on what the next iPhone will look like, just as important is what new features will be added to Apple's newest version of iOS.

But to get a sense of what's in store for iOS 7, it's worth taking a look back at iOS 1 (before it was even called iOS). The first version of Apple's operating system didn't support third-party apps, it didn't offer multitasking and it didn't include any speech-recognition services. Today iOS offers all those things, and in many cases the addition of features to iOS has been partially in response to competitive pressures. For example, Apple added multitasking to iOS in 2010 after Android vendors including Motorola and others used the lack of multitasking in iOS as a competitive wedge. And Apple's speech-to-text service (not Siri, specifically, but the ability to input text via speech) is virtually identical to the setup Google introduced to Android in 2009. And in iOS 6, Apple dropped mapping software provided by rival Google in favor of its own Maps app.

Thus, it's reasonable to assume that Apple has been carefully watching the competitive smartphone landscape in order to maintain parity with competitors in terms of iOS features and functions, as well as to protect its own interests. The below list are the main features I expect Apple to add to the next version of iOS, iOS 7:

Offline maps. Apple has taken a beating due to user concerns that its refurbished, Google-free Maps app is not as useful as the previous, Google-powered version of Maps for iOS. Some users are arguing Apple's mapping database doesn't have as much information as Google's.

And in response, an Apple spokesperson said the company is "working hard to make the customer experience even better." I expect those improvements will be made gradually during the next several months.

However, for iOS 7, I would expect Apple to again ape Google with the release of offline iOS Maps, a feature Google introduced to its Android platform in June. The usefulness of offline maps is obvious to anyone who has relied on a smartphone map only to become lost due to connection problems. Offline maps solve this potentially critical situation by storing mapping information inside a user's phone instead of loading it through a wireless network. And since Apple no longer uses Google for mapping information, it could potentially add new mapping features, like offline maps, more quickly.

Live icons/widgets. I wrote last year about the potential for live icons or widgets in iOS, and I still believe it's a feature that Apple will eventually bring to iOS. Google has long offered home screen widgets, which display all kinds of information. Moreover, Microsoft has made its Windows Phone live tiles a key selling point for its own OS. Thus, I would expect Apple to eventually respond with a similar function of its own.

Indeed, Apple could potentially create a completely new channel in its wildly successful App Store with inexpensive home screen widgets (priced between free and 99 cents). These programs wouldn't work like full apps--instead, they would provide glanceable information about things like weather, sports scores or news headlines. These widgets could function like the stock ticker in Apple's notification shade, but would reside on an iOS device's home screen.

Speed dials. Another function that has been long present on Android is the ability to add a contact to a device's home screen. This allows users to quickly and easily place calls or send text messages to close friends or family.

In iOS, however, users must enter into the phone or messaging app first before being able to communicate with contacts. This situation is particularly strange considering iOS users have long been able to add web page bookmarks to their home screens.

Thus, a "speed dial" function would make sense in iOS, where a user could create an icon of a friend or family member on their home screen (using the person's picture) to more easily connect with them.

App-specific data tracking. Within its Ice Cream Sandwich release, Google introduced a service that will allow users to see how much data each of their Android apps consumes. Microsoft too offers users a way in Windows Phone for users to see which apps are chewing through their data.

With most of the nation's top wireless carriers moving users to tiered data plans (even Sprint has hinted at such a shift), I would expect this kind of information to be useful to most smartphone users, even if it is hidden in an operating system's settings menu.

Apple has already bolstered its privacy settings for location data and address books, so it would make sense that Apple would add app-specific data usage to its system.

Select third-party service integration. Apple has already tied several third-party content vendors into the core features of its iOS platform. Twitter and Facebook sharing is now build into iOS, while Apple's own Ping social networking effort has fallen by the wayside.

Thus, it's reasonable to assume Apple will continue on this track, adding additional third-party vendors where appropriate. For example, Apple has integrated information from Rotten Tomatoes, Yelp and other sources into its Siri digital assistant service. I would expect Apple to continue forming specific, strategic alliances with third-party vendors (but probably not Google). +Mike Dano

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