Please Apple, don't turn iOS into an Android lookalike

While I do believe that Apple's iOS needs a facelift, I don't think that the Android approach of allowing CPU and battery-sucking widgets and live wallpapers is the way to go.

Image: ZDNet

The iOS user interface has remained virtually unchanged since the original iPhone was released back in 2007. Sure, it gets the job done, but as my ZDNet colleague and all-round mobile expert James Kendrick noted, it "desperately needs some pizzazz to modernize the interface".

I agree — iOS needs a facelift. But I hope Apple doesn't turn the platform into an Android clone.

Now don't get me wrong, I'm no Android hater. In fact, I've fallen quite deeply in love with my Nexus 7. It's a device that falls nicely in between my iPad and my iPhone, and I've already done stuff on it that some people think you need a PC to do.

But my experience with Android has made me certain of one thing — I don't want iOS to become another Android. Why? Because I've realized that having too much freedom to tweak and customize the interface is not a good thing.

Here's how I discovered this.

After unboxing my Nexus 7 — the first Android device that I have chosen to add to my every day carry — I was suddenly struck by how much Android let me do with the user interface that iOS doesn't. This was something of a surprise to me because I'm not normally one to get carried away with customizing interfaces. Not only did I start throwing icons all over the place, but I downloaded live wallpapers and widgets galore.

Life was good.

Well, OK, it was good … but …

While being freer to organize icons is a good thing, widgets and live wallpapers are a double-edged sword. Yes, they're cool and expand on the functionality offered by the platform, but they have two quite nasty side effects.

First is the performance hit that these enhancements bring with them. I quickly noticed that after installing a live wallpaper and a few widgets, my previously snappy Nexus 7 began feeling far from fast and fluid. In fact, I was surprised at how unresponsive the tablet started to feel. Even simple things like entering the password to unlock the device became hit and miss.

Flexibility and eye candy is good, but not when usability is the price.

Another aspect of the Nexus 7 that took a hit after installing the live wallpaper and the widgets that I had been lusting over the entire time I've been an iOS user was battery life. The 7 to 8 hours that I was previously getting out of the Nexus was slashed to under 5 hours.

This wasn't just a noticeable drop in battery life, it was painful, and for a while, it felt like my Nexus 7 was continually on charge.

Needless to say, I've scaled back my customizations, cutting widgets down to a handful of useful ones, and downscaling the live wallpaper to something more conservative.

It's also taught me that Apple is better off keeping iOS simple. Customizations and add-ons can quickly kludge up devices, and people who don't know better might not know how to fix the mess they're found themselves in. It wouldn't be long before some owners would start blaming their iPhone or iPad rather than things they've installed on the system.

There is no doubt a happy medium between the sparseness of iOS and the crazy carnival that is Android, but if I have to choose between performance and customizations, I will always choose performance.