When Apple announces 2 new iPhone models, all the attention is clearly on the new hardware. A lot of talk about the colours of the new iPhone 5C. A lot of talk about whether the a gold version of the new iPhone 5S is classy or tacky. A lot of attention paid to the new fingerprint scanner in the 5S, or the improved camera in both models. And justifiably so, people love the iPhone so a new iPhone is discussion worthy. However glossed over in all the hype (good and bad) about the new hardware, is the fact that as part of the new device launches iPhone users are getting a new version of iOS. It’s also understandable that a new version of a phone OS be less exciting than new hardware. After all iOS 7 is just the latest update in a long line of updates over the past 6 years. However iOS 7 is not your average OS update and today a lot of iPhone users are going to learn that fact for the first time.
iOS 7 launches today. Over the next few days millions upon millions of iPhone and iPad users will update their devices. (Unlike with Android, Apple controls device OS updates, not the carriers. With the exception of the early access developers get, all iPhone and iPad users get these updates at the same time. And because these updates can be pushed to devices OTA (over the air) the vast majority of iPhone and iPad users update their devices to a new OS version within days of it’s availability. This is a clear advantage for developers and users alike as the iPhone community avoids the type of version fragmentation you see in the Android world.) However lost in all the hype surrounding Apple’s recent iPhone event is just how radical departure a iOS 7 is in some ways from previous versions of iOS. And the question remains whether your average, non-technical, iPhone user is going to embrace the new OS or find themselves frustrated and discomforted by the strange new OS.
I’ve been using iOS 7 on my phone for a week now, and overall I find the update a delight. Sure there are a few little annoyances that I expect will be fixed when Apple rolls out iOS 7.1, but for the most part the new OS on my phone is wonderful. One of the most wonderful aspects being how all the small changes and flourishes add up to a new OS that makes me feel like I just purchased a brand new phone. (Which is nice because I purchased my phone a year ago and I have no intention of upgrading to a new phone for at least another year, so it’s nice to get that new phone feeling now for free.) And today, as iOS 7 rolls out for general availability I’m seeing some of my favourite apps updated for iOS 7 and these updates are equally wonderful. However I’ve been following the development of iOS 7 since it was first announced at WWDC back in June. I’m technical, I write apps, so I am not your typical iOS user, for whom the new update may come as complete shock. So the question remains, will users embrace this new OS.
Updating something familiar that consumers know and love is always tricky. Apple has felt some pressure recently to give iOS a major design refresh. Many have called iOS stale and stagnant, complaining that it has changed very little from version 1.0 through version 6.1.3. Of course iOS has seen many huge changes, mostly in the form of feature additions, in that time, but the overall look and feel has remained largely unchanged. For some, familiarity is a good thing, something Apple understands. Which is why Apple has kept the overall look and feel of iOS consistent since it launched, in much the same way that desktop OS’s remain largely consistent in look and feel from version to version. (When you change an OS people react. Vista and Windows 8.0 are two examples where Microsoft radically changed the look and feel of windows only to have users cry fowl. In fact a reason many people embraced Windows 7 is that Windows largely returned Windows to a familiar XP look that Vista had erased.) So while tech bloggers and designers may complain that iOS is stale and stagnant, especially compared to Android and Windows Phone, it’s not clear that Apple’s customers were looking for a “new” OS that’s fresh and different. To Apple’s credit, they have tempered their changes somewhat. While a lot of the colours in iOS 7 have changed, and while the focus is a flat design versus a skeuomorphic design, a lot of other aspects of iOS 7 have remained the same. Apple did not ditch the spring board interface of iOS in favour of a live tiles or active widgets design as seen in Windows and Android. Instead, with iOS 7 Apple has tried to strike a balance between new and familiar.
There is another aspect of iOS 7 that will play out over the coming months and years as developers start using the new APIs Apple has provided with this OS update. As exciting as you may find the design refresh of iOS 7, the real excitement will come when your favourite apps embrace the new design aesthetic and start using some of the new features Apple has made available to developers. As people promote HTML 5 and Mobile Application Development Platforms (MADPs) as the solution to cross-platform development, Apple is raising the bar on users expectations for a well-designed app. For example, with iOS 7 developers now have access to a physics engine right in the UI layer of the OS. With a few lines of code a developer can attach a spring to a view that a user pulls in from the top so that it snaps back out of view when the user release the view. Or developers can add gravity to a view that a user pulls up from the bottom so it falls back into place when the user lets go. The developer can even add a bounce effect to these animations with a simple property change. I expect the active and robust Apple development community to really run with these tools and take mobile apps to whole new heights in mobile application design. Your HTML 5 and MADP apps will once again be playing catch up in order to achieve these new design standards.