What to expect from Apple's iOS 8

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Mike Dano

Although Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) is reportedly hard at work finalizing its iOS 7 operating system for release sometime this fall (likely in conjunction with the release of its next iPhone), there's no doubt the company is also doing some initial planning around what it could offer in the next version of its smartphone and tablet operating system, iOS 8.

Now, to be clear, predicting Apple's next moves is notoriously difficult. I don't think anyone expected Tim Cook to oust Scott Forstall last year and subsequently use his departure as a chance to throw a fresh coat of Jony Ive-inspired design across its flagship iOS operating system. But, on the flip side, industry watchers have been predicting some kind of new music service from Apple (along the lines of its new iTunes Radio service) since Apple acquired Lala in 2009.

Nonetheless, it's worth taking a look at where iOS is today, where the competition is today and where lines can be drawn into the possible future of iOS:

Multiple user accounts: Already Amazon has acknowledged the need for user profiles in its Kindle Fire with the introduction of FreeTime for children last year. And, of course, Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) has long offered the option on its Windows platform. Any parent can tell you that child-safe settings on any kind of gadget are, at the very least, appreciated.

Thus, it would make sense for Apple to introduce the ability to change settings based on which user is accessing a particular iOS device. If a sports fan grabs the family's iPad, they might want to have direct access to ESPN, but a 1st grader accessing that same iPad should only be granted access to educational games. There are some accessibility settings in iOS now, but not the kind of system wide changes that user accounts could enable.

Indeed, such user accounts could make their way to the iPhone 5S based on reports that the device will support fingerprint scanning technology.

Live widgets: For the past two years I have written about the potential for live widgets on iOS. Other smartphone platforms already offer support for live widgets--Microsoft has made them a cornerstone of Windows Phone--but strangely they remain absent on iOS.

Instead, users are greeted with a weather icon that doesn't show the correct weather and, on iOS 6, a clock icon that remains stuck on 10:15.

I'm assuming Apple has its reasons for keeping its icons dead, but I don't know what those reasons are, and I'm surprised the company hasn't made more movements in this area. If the New York Times iOS icon can show me a thumbnail image of each day's front page, surely Apple can figure out other ways to supply iOS users with glanceable information on the homescreen.

Additional third-party partnerships (like LinkedIn): After getting burned by Google (NASDAQ:GOOG), Apple clearly is loath to integrate other companies' technology into iOS. However, Apple has made some tentative progress in this area, first with Twitter and then Facebook (NASDAQ:FB).

Now, with iOS 7, Apple is adding Wikipedia and Microsoft's Bing to the mix as Siri helpers. And I'm expecting this trend to continue with iOS 8--LinkedIn, Yahoo and others could join the party.

After the complete failure of Ping, Apple has shown that it's willing to relinquish the social networking space to the big names in the market, and LinkedIn is the next logical partner for Apple along that path. As for Yahoo, the company already supplies weather and other information to Apple's iOS, and based on Yahoo's renewed interest in mobile I would expect Yahoo to push strongly to increase the ties between its services and Apple's tablet and smartphone operating system.

Mapping improvements. As my colleague Jason Ankeny pointed out, Apple executives made little mention of the company's mapping program during the unveiling of iOS 7. This is definitely strange, considering Tim Cook's mea culpa in the wake of complaints over Apple Maps' accuracy.

However, I don't believe Apple will give up on maps--maps are integral to smartphones, and Apple has the will and resources to own this particular piece of the experience.

Thus, for iOS 8, I would expect Apple to provide an update on its mapping progress by adding support for offline maps, an indoor mapping service like the one available from Google and potentially real-time mapping information. Indeed, Google acquired Waze for just this kind of real-time mapping information, and I expect Apple to continue to follow Google's mapping innovations with a similar offering. A real-time mapping service from Apple could also rely on anonymous data supplied by Apple or its carrier partners--Apple has previously hinted at this kind of strategy.--Mike | +Mike Dano | @mikeddano

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