With iOS 7, Apple plays catch-up
For all the pomp from Apple, the upcoming iOS 7 operating system represents the company pulling abreast of rivals rather than reclaiming the lead in smartphones that it once held. By Craig Wilson.
If Apple could pick one word it would most like associated with the announcements it made at its annual developers’ conference on Tuesday, it would probably be “innovative”.
It’s been accused of losing the innovation edge in the recent past and, despite the usual grandiose comments by CEO Tim Cook and his lieutenants, that’s not necessarily the word that leaps to mind.
Tuesday’s announcements demonstrated Apple’s eagerness to shift public perceptions on this score and assuaged some concerns about its ability to continue to produce revolutionary hardware and software, but beneath the hype Apple’s big reveal showed it to be a company catching up to its rivals rather than surpassing them.
“Can’t innovate anymore, my ass!” said senior vice-president for worldwide marketing Phil Schiller when unveiling the radically redesigned Mac Pro. It’s clear the criticism is hitting home.
At Tuesday’s keynote, Apple ticked the boxes it had been expected to: updated desktop and mobile operating systems, refreshed MacBook Airs and a new Mac Pro, and a streaming service called iTunes Radio.
The star of the show was iOS 7, the operating system that powers iPhones, iPads and the iPod Touch, and with good reason: with 600m mobile devices sold to date, and competition in the sector getting ever fiercer, mobile is the real battleground.
But Apple’s “innovation” was not particularly striking. If anything, the company has — gasp! — borrowed ideas from other platforms. The new, round, translucent buttons in iOS 7 look remarkably like those found on Microsoft’s Windows Phone, for example. And the new “control centre”, with its toggles for Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and shortcuts for things like volume and screen brightness — welcome as it is — is clearly borrowed from Android’s playbook.
Similarly, Apple’s take on multitasking, its weather app, and its revised lock screen all look inspired by the Google operating system. That’s not a bad thing. Android started out awkward, unintuitive and inelegant — the antithesis of Apple’s design principles — but in recent versions, particularly in Jelly Bean, those problems have largely been ironed out. There are plenty of sensible design decisions in Android and Apple shouldn’t be afraid to adapt them for iOS.
“Innovative”, however, isn’t a word I’d readily attach to iOS 7. Apple’s saddled with the burden of ensuring its operating system remains sufficiently familiar to long-time users, while simultaneously making sure it offers new bells and whistles to keep those whose faith might be wavering interested. On top of that, it has to maintain its status as the device even Luddites can master. That’s an unenviable juggling act.
With iOS 7, Apple has ditched the skeuomorphic textures, switches and dials it clung to long after their sell-by date, and it’s taken some user suggestions to heart by including the option for multiple pages in folders, excellent photo organising and sharing options, and greater functionality from its digital assistant, Siri. For these it gets two thumbs up.
But there are still problems. The weather app’s icon, which in iOS 6 permanently displays an optimistic 23º, now doesn’t display the temperature at all. Apple can’t be blamed for avoiding the widgets favoured by Android — arguably with better notifications and multi-tasking the move would be unnecessary — but as it’s done with the long-awaited setting toggles, it could do more to keep people having to go into apps or notification-like menus for the sort of information that should be available at a glance.
Gripes aside, I can’t wait to install iOS 7. However, rather than making me feel like I’ll be showing off my advanced new device when the operating system is launched sometime in the southern hemisphere spring, I get the feeling I’ll just be pleased I can finally do many of the things my peers can already do on their Android phones.
At least Apple, notorious for deciding what consumers want rather than asking them, appears to be listening for a change. Frankly, it has to. It’s getting crowded at the top end of the mobile device market.
With iOS 7, Apple’s drawn alongside competitors, but it’s going to need to work even harder if it wants to pull ahead again. — (c) 2013 NewsCentral Media