iOS 7: Good Artist Copy, Great Artist Steal
Apple is often criticized for not actually inventing anything, but taking other people's ideas and refining them. What those people fail to realize is that refinement can be innovation in itself. Sure there were smartphones with touch screens before the iPhone existed but most people didn't use them. Why? Because they were mostly unusable. Apple refined some existing technologies while inventing some of their own and created a user interface that was functional, easy to learn and fun to use. It wasn't perfect, but it laid a foundation for what was to come. This is how I feel about iOS 7.
Apple has been getting lots of flack as of late for it's aging OS. When the iPhone first launched in 2007, Steve Jobs boasted that it was at least 5 years ahead of any phone on the market, he was almost exactly right. Even though Apple consistently added new features every year, their competitors had caught up by 2012 in many ways, even past them in some. So it was only right that in it's 6th year Apple rebooted the look and in a few ways, the feel of iOS. Now this new direction doesn't put them ahead again for 5 years, in fact a lot of the big features touted yesterday at WWDC can be found on phones now or in older mobile operating systems like the failed Maemo and WebOS.
As the famous Picasso quote goes "Good artist copy great artist steal". Steve Jobs is often cited for using that quote and for good reason. The essence of that quote is something I think Apple takes to heart still today. Doing something exactly the way someone else does something may be an impressive feat but won't put you in the history books. However taking everything that is great about something and improving it allows you to steal the idea in a way. Another one of the reasons some people dislike Apple is because of what other people think about them. When they present their spin on a technology to the public that has already existed, Apple haters will scream that they didn't invent it and it's been around in some obscure form for years. That's how Apple "steals" instead of "copies" and they continue to do it in iOS 7.
This has been a feature Android phones have had for a while and iPhone power users have been begging for, for just as long. Quick access to features that are commonly used will not be easily accessed in iOS 7. It's a relatively basic feature that is extremely useful. Instead of taking 2-4 gestures to turn on/off Wifi, Bluetooth or screen brightness can be done in one simple swipe and tap.
In iOS 4 Apple announced a somewhat limited version of "multitasking". Instead of allowing any app to constantly run in the background Apple choose specific functioning apps that could continue to run like music, location, Airplay, VoIP and notifications. In some cases, apps that don't fall into those categories are allowed 10 minutes to complete a task before being put in a suspended state until reopened. The reasoning for this was to preserve performance and battery life and Jobs's belief that if the user sees a task manager the creator "blew it".
Android on the other hand allowed multitasking pretty much from the beginning with improved iterations over time. In iOS 7 "true" multitasking will now be possible. However if you thought iOS was going to do it the way Android does it, you haven't been paying attention. They've basically taken what they've learned from the Power Nap feature on MacBooks and applied it to iOS. The OS will "intelligently" update apps in the background at opportune times by learning how you use your iPhone. Apple says this will still preserve battery life but prevent you from having to wait for your Facebook feed to download and update when you open it. Some will say that Apple is "copying" Android with this feature but that would be technically and historically inaccurate. WebOS was actually the first mobile operating system with the app card system.
The different ways Android and iOS handle this one feature is a perfect metaphor for the philosophical differences of the two operating systems. Android gives you all the tools available and puts the burden on the user to figure them out and to decide how to best use them. Apple on the other hand meticulously curates the experience for the user, often times coming late to the party with features that could compromise that experience. Neither approach is inherently wrong or right, it comes down to personal preferences.
Moving files from an iOS device has been a pain since the beginning. Without a files system users are forced to used the dreaded iTunes to import/export files or resort to emailing or texting files and images. iOS 6 brought photo sharing that made it incredibly easy to send other iOS devices pictures but neglected every other type of file. AirDrop, originally introduced in OSX has been brought to iOS and it's about time. It allows you to set up an ad-hoc wireless connection with any other iOS device in your area and allows you to send and receive files, pictures and videos after an invite is accepted. A relatively simple but useful feature that further pushes mobile into a post-PC world.
iTunes Radio is a Pandora style internet radio service that has been included into the Music App. It's simple, beautiful and works great (even in Beta). It is ad-supported but if you pay the $25/year for iTunes Match, iTunes Radio is ad-free. Pretty sweet deal.
Notification Center, Calendar, Game Center, Passport Photos, Camera, Safari, and Siri all got redesigns. All sport a much more elegant, clean look with tweaks here and there in the functionality department. None of these new features are anything that will sale more iPhones but collectively it comes together in a nice package.
When I first saw iOS 7 I wasn't sure what to think of it. I initially hated most of the revamped icons but was pleased with the overall look. After using it for a full day, the icons feel less disjointed and I get the overall asthetic of the OS (although I still hate the Safari icon). Yesterday, Apple pundit and developer John Gruber wrote about Jony Ive seeing the design of software as an extension of the hardware and making them both harmonious. Using it for a while you begin see how the "functional layers" Ive's talked about in the promo video work well together and make sense. The Beta 1 is still kind of rough around the edges, as Beta's by name naturally are but I definitely see the design teams vision and i'm excited know where they go from here. iOS 7 truly feels like a reboot for iOS, like something entirely new yet very familiar.