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iOS 10 chooses renovation over innovation

iOS 10 chooses renovation over innovation


The iOS 9 Service Pack has arrived

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"What focus means is saying ‘no’ to something that, with every bone in your body, you think is a phenomenal idea and you wake up thinking about it, but you say ‘no’ to it because you’re focusing on something else."

This quote, belonging to Apple design chief Jony Ive, neatly encapsulates the legacy of Steve Jobs on the thinking and decision making inside Apple’s Cupertino offices. It also helps to explain why the new iOS 10, in spite of being "the biggest iOS release ever" according to Craig Federighi, lacks any groundbreaking new announcements or capabilities. Before moving on to its next grand project, Apple is taking the time to sort out and refine the stuff it already has. That's what Ive meant by focus.

Apple Music and Apple News launched with iOS 9 last year and both are getting design reboots in version 10 this year. Neither of them was greeted with an exuberant reception at the first try, and Apple’s reset is an unspoken acknowledgement of the errors made and the need for improvement. Apple Maps joins them in the UI redesign lab as part of an obvious effort to institute greater visual coherence and unity across Apple’s major apps.

Also evolutionary is Apple’s new Home app, which builds on the HomeKit initiative that Apple has been working on for two years. The new app is basically the user interface to the underlying system for controlling connected home gadgets and appliances. To better tie in with Apple TV, iOS 10 will also bring a remote control app that emulates the real remote control. And to expand on its Continuity project to make working across various devices seamless, Apple is introducing a Universal Clipboard that lets you copy and paste between iPhones, iPads, and Macs.

Predictable, yes, but also necessary

iOS 10 is everything we expected it to be because it addresses some easily apparent and well known weaknesses. The tweaks may not be flashy, but they’ve certainly been necessary, either to rectify issues, develop fledgling services (as with the Home app), or to catch up with the lead of Google’s rampaging Android. The new lock screen is a great example of all three: it adds a "raise to wake" feature in response to people complaining about the iPhone 6S fingerprint sensor being too fast, and it uses 3D Touch to enable richer, interactive notifications that let you do a lot more without unlocking the phone. Android users are already enjoying the benefit of such features, so it was obvious that Apple had to catch up, but that doesn’t make it insignificant.

3D Touch was in dire need of a compelling reason to exist, and Apple has significantly expanded its utility in iOS 10, allowing you to use it to trigger app widgets in lieu of opening full apps. Between this and the new lock screen capabilities, 3D Touch might establish itself in the user’s mind as "the thing to do when you don’t want to open other things." Anything would be better than its present status as the most disregarded function on a modern era smartphone after the Bing button on Windows Phones.

The Photos and Messages apps are getting substantial updates, with the former adding deep learning algorithms for sorting and search, and the latter mixing in elements of Google Allo, Snapchat, and Facebook. Siri is becoming smarter, context-aware, and more proactive in making suggestions rather than just responding to commands. And laying the foundation for future innovation coming from without, Apple is opening Maps, Messages, and Siri for developers to create extensions and build on top of them. One of the cool examples given during the iOS 10 launch was the ability to book restaurants and track and pay for Uber rides right from inside the Apple Maps app.

With the latest iOS, Apple is finally going to allow users the option to remove some of those pesky default apps that never get used. All of these steps are in response to user wishes and demands, and they’re all driving the iPhone closer to its Android competitors.

iOS and Android keep moving ever closer

At the same time as Apple has been working to expand iOS, Google has been working to streamline Android, and the inevitable destiny for both seems to be to meet in the middle. We’re pretty much there already, with every new feature on Android practically guaranteed to appear on iOS and vice versa. 3D Touch wasn’t even official on the iPhone when Huawei introduced its variant with the Mate S. Android’s energy-saving Doze feature is at least inspired by the iPhone’s stringent power management approach, while Apple’s smarter Photos, interactive notifications, and proactive personal assistant all sound like they’ve been lifted from Google’s playbook.

There’s nothing shockingly new being added to iOS 10 because there’s too much work left to be done on what’s already there. Apple overhauled much of its operating system with iOS 7, launched HealthKit, Continuity, and the Swift coding language in iOS 8, and added split-screen multitasking, 3D Touch, and a redesigned Spotlight search in iOS 9. Over the course of these changes, imperfect execution — as with the unloved Apple Music — and Google’s faster development of Android have simply forced Apple’s hand on a number of fronts. This wasn’t like Google or Microsoft’s recent events, where they showed off major new products and features. Apple needed to clean up and catch up, and iOS 10 does exactly that.

Read next: Apple and Google are playing catch-up — and that's a good thing