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5 iOS features that OS X needs


iOS 5 is set to launch this Wednesday and the beta testers I've talked to say it's a monumental leap forward. iOS 5 adds over 200 features to an already polished mobile operating system, which is arguably the best on the planet.

As many Mac users know, Mac OS X Lion is no slouch either. Features like Mission Control, Launchpad, and full-screen apps make Lion the most powerful, intuitive OS Apple has ever released.

However, that's not to say that Lion can't be improved. Apple only needs to look to iOS for further inspiration. Below is my list of five iOS features that I hope will migrate to OS X. Feel free to leave your requests in the comments.

5. iBooks

I actually just added this one in because I know a lot of people have asked for it. Even paperback fans can't deny that ebooks are the future. Though they may not be quite up in Kindle territory, iBooks and the iBookstore are growing more popular by the day. While users can access their iBooks on the iPad, iPhone, and iPod touch, there's no way to get them on the Mac...yet.

This is one area where Apple needs to take a play from Amazon. Kindle owners can read their books on the Kindle, the iPhone, iPad and Android phones, as well as with Mac and Windows apps and a web browser. While reading an iBook on a desktop might not be the platform of choice, it would be nice if iBooks users had the option. This is especially true for people who buy research or school books through iBooks and want to reference the book on the same screen as an assignment in progress.

4. Notification Center

The Notification Center is one of the big new features of iOS 5. It allows users to see all their texts, emails, news alerts -- nearly every kind of notification -- all in one place. Currently OS X relies on numbered icon badges to show users notifications on a per-app basis. And while there are third-party apps like Growl that do a good job at alerting users to notifications, a dedicated Notification Center would further solidify the link between iOS and OS X and make it easier for users to see the things they need to attend to all in one place.

3. Reminders

The great thing about OS X's and iOS's Mail and Notes app is that a user's email messages and notes sync between iPhone and Mac. However, iOS 5 offers a dedicated Reminders app that allows users to set reminders with an impressive array of notification options.

While a dedicated Reminders app makes infinitely more sense on a mobile device, OS X Reminders integration would be a welcome feature. After all, many of us will use the app to set reminders for tasks to be completed at our desks. Why not be reminded by the computer we are working on?

I'm not suggesting a dedicated Reminders OS X app. But what I would like to see is the Reminders app features and UI built into OS X's Mail app, much like Notes is today.

[Note: Many readers have rightly pointed out that reminders are synced with iCal on your Mac. However, my take on it is that the array of ways to set reminders in the iOS app and the app's UI should be integrated better with OS X.]

2. iMessage

FaceTime was perhaps the coolest feature of iOS 4. When it first came out it allowed iPhone 4 users to video chat with each other. Then Apple added iPod touch support and iPad 2 support. But, for me, FaceTime didn't become really useful until Apple released the FaceTime app for OS X. When they did, FaceTime brought unity to the entire Apple ecosystem (which, incidentally, is the common theme of all my feature suggestions in this article).

iMessage in iOS 5 is arguably cooler than FaceTime because many people text a heck of a lot more than video chat. iMessage is great because it allows free texting among iPhone owners. But what's even more impressive is that it also allows iOS users to text people on Wi-Fi-only iPod touches and iPads. Like FaceTime before it, the last piece of the puzzle is adding iMessages to OS X. It's a lot easier for me to reply to a text from my iMac while I'm working on it than to stop and pick up my iPhone.

Of course, the arrival of iMessage and FaceTime presents somewhat of a problem. I've had a lot of people who aren't the most Mac-savvy users say they are confused about the differences between FaceTime and iChat's video conferencing. If Apple would add an OS X iMessage app, that would probably only broaden the confusion ("Is an iMessage the same thing as an AOL IM?"). While I think Apple needs to absolutely add iMessage functionality to OS X, it needs to do so without adding more clutter and confusion to its messaging (be it IM, video, or texting) apps. Do they scrap iChat in favor of an iMessage app? Or do they add iMessage support to iChat? Dedicated apps are simpler, but all-in-one apps are more convenient. It's a tough call.

1. Siri

Siri, iOS 5's AI personal assistant, is the start of the future for smart phones. It takes dictation, and lets you do dozens of other things using only your voice. But it's not just voice recognition software. It's powerful AI that knows what you want based on syntax, history, and context. There are no rigid voice commands needed. You can talk to it like you do to a human being and it figures out what you want it to do.

Right now Siri is only available on the iPhone 4S. That's because it requires quite a bit of horsepower under the hood to accomplish its tasks. Or, quite a bit of horsepower for a phone. Every Mac sold today has more than enough memory and processing power to support Siri integration. And when Apple adds Siri to OS X it will be the start of a revolution in personal computing. Indeed it may one day even lead to the elimination of (or drastic reduction of) the keyboard and mouse. And don't get me started (yet) on a Siri-integrated Apple television set. Goodbye remote control. But first, let's get Siri into OS X.

Imagine being able to talk to your Mac like you do a person, saying things like:

"Pull up the Keynote for my April meeting."

"Take me to Apple's website."

"Revert to the Version that I was working on last week."

"Show me all the photos from my trip to Berlin."

"Organize all my Word files into a folder and then sort them into sub-folders based on month created."

The possibilities are almost endless.

Hello OS X 10.8.

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