Apple’s iOS7: Thoughts and Impressions

by Jeff V. on June 21, 2013

Last week at its annual WWDC conference, Apple gave us a preview of iOS7, the next-generation operating system coming for the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch this fall. As any regular reader knows, I am an entrenched Apple slappy, but I consider myself realistic. Here are my thoughts on what Apple showed us.

ios7

Design

The big change is the banishment of the skeumorphism we had under Scott Forstall and an introduction a new design language led by Jony Ive. The new look is mininal, with bright, colorful, flat icons, more generous whitespace use, and a revamped system typeface. From what I can see so far, it’s nice looking, but I suspect between now and GA iOS7’s look will mature beyond what we were shown last week. Right now, it’s a bit too bright, and the color palette seems…off. But I’m not worried, because it will mature. More on this later.

I think the current iOS (v6) is getting tremendously stale in light of what Android and even Windows Phone are offering today. A new design aesthetic is welcome. But is it a total rethinking? At a visual level, not quite. There’s still the familiar rows of rounded-corner icons, still the folders with limitations. The new look is a blend of a revamped veneer coupled with a GUI structure well-known to iOS users everywhere. And perhaps that’s the point: Apple isn’t going to ape Android or create some brand new UX when its devices – arguably the most successful mobile devices in the world in terms of actual usage – are so well understood by a legion of users across multiple demographics. New for the sake of new when the tradeoff is usability is not something Apple is keen to do.

Functionality

I’m not going to list all the new features in iOS7; if you want to see the official highlights, you can check them out here.

Bottom line: Apple introduced some stuff it’s been lagging on forever (quick access to common settings like WiFi and Bluetooth, anyone?), and a few nice touches that improve on existing functionality (multitasking and app dismissal). There’s lots of angst, particularly from those in the Android camp, that Apple is ‘copying’ features already found in Android, but that’s a spurious argument: the entire Android platform is heavily ‘borrowed’ from Apple’s iOS. But nevermind even that: the dirty little secret of the tech world is that two companies doing similar projects at similar times are bound to overlap one another with the final product. (If you want more discussion about this, iD Software’s John Carmack explains in a video game context.)

When the original iPhone was unveiled, it changed – and simultaneously defined – the smartphone world overnight. From there, Apple iterated on its success, Android grew up, and Windows Phone entered the market. The industry is now mature, and there are very few truly new things under the sun. Every company borrows from another; that the hallmark of an established, competitive market. It’s the way things work. Only comment and forum trolls think the tech world operates in a black and white fashion.

General Impression

Full disclosure: I’ve been becoming lukewarm on iOS for the last several months, maybe because iOS’s evolution has been slow relative to what I want in a mobile OS.

iOS7 represents dozens of steps in the right direction. It’s clean, modernized, more usable and brimming with new APIs that will no doubt lead to improved apps and even apps that are written from the ground up to be iOS7 only – and that could be game-changers. Still, people are looking at this Beta 1 release and complaining. Boy, are they up in arms.

I can’t say this enough: iOS7 is not done yet. Not even close. If anyone is forming a final opinion on what clearly is Beta 1 software, they are being naive. Cap Watkins says it best:

And now we’re complaining that this completely revamped, new, version one interface isn’t perfect. Isn’t polished. Isn’t honed. We asked for a revolution and were delivered one which, all complexities considered, amounts to more than any one of our best first launches.

What I think Apple has done here is create a visually-refreshed mobile OS with a handful of very useful features that are imminently usable. They have not done everything I want them to, because I think the world is moving to open data and web apps. I can’t help but think of the ominous quote from Patrick Gibson:

Google is getting better at design faster than Apple is getting better at web services.

That’s a real problem for Apple, one that no amount of UI parallax or font perfectionism can fix. And that bothers me. Time will tell how much it really bothers me.

But so what? If history is any indicator, the venom bubbling over on forums and blogs about iOS7 is Apple’s best friend. After all, remember what the collective internet community thought about these other Apple products?

  • Upon the introduction of the first iPod: “No wireless. Less space than a nomad. Lame.
  • Upon the introduction of the iPad: “It’s just a big iPod Touch.”
  • Upon the introduction of the iPad mini: “It’s just a smaller iPad. Big deal.”

We all know how those turned out.

My prediction? iOS7 will usher in a new – but not too new – user experience for the vast majority of people, and it will pave the way for even more innovative apps. And let’s hang on that word apps for a moment, because the app ecosystem is truly iOS’s greatest asset. I’m no developer, but I understand the new APIs discussed at WWDC are quite plentiful – if you consider 1,500 to be plentiful.

I think Apple will do immensely well with the new iOS. And let’s remember one last thing: we just saw new software.

New hardware is coming. This fall.

Life is good in Cupertino. (Now to fix that share price and we can go from ‘good’ to ‘perfect.’)

Have a good weekend, everyone.

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