When Apple releases iOS 7 this fall there will be a few features that capture users attention immediately: the newly designed flat UI, AirDrop, Siri improvements, and an updated Camera + Photos interface. While all of these are welcome improvements, the features that I’m most excited about are the background update capabilities.
Background updates will allow applications to update their content when the app is not running. This means that when the user opens Mailbox his new email will be waiting for him, and he won’t have to wait for it to load. When he opens Twitter he won’t have to pull to refresh and he’ll automatically be taken to the most recent tweets. And when a friend shares a Youtube video with him it can automatically download in the background so it can begin playing immediately upon the user clicking the notification.
This may not sound like a major feature, but it has the potential to improve user experience across nearly every single application on the phone. Weather, stocks, sports scores, driving directions, media, and more can all be kept up to date and made accessible immediately whether online or offline. In a world where data and services live in the cloud, and people interact across multiple devices, background updates will allow the phone to always contain the freshest content personalized for the user.
From a product development perspective, I strongly urge developers to wow their users via creative uses of background push. Apple gives developers the option to check at certain intervals for updates if they expect updates frequently (though they’ve built intelligence to optimize for battery life, usage patterns, and connectivity), or the option to push updates to users only when they become available, in the case of less frequent updates or in response to events. From this point forward, if an app icon is badged, I’m going to expect to see some new content the second I click to launch. Away with the expectation of web latency and onto the era of responsiveness becoming the norm.