The Not-so-Earth-Shattering flattening of iOS 7

Is Apple too scared to ‘rock the boat’? Eric Fescenmeyer takes a look at the company’s new mobile operating system, iOS 7.

The stories about iOS of late have been about the restyling of the icons. Some like them, and some do not, but all of this talk misses the crucial issue. The real story here is that the iOS user interface is really dated. Aside from face-lifts and the small bits of ornamentation, this is the same user experience that has always been on the platform. Sure, it’s been good. In fact, it’s been great; it was a genius implementation to help get a lot of tricky functionality easily within grasp of the less tech-savvy. But for the rest of the world who lives well within the Late Adopter portion of the innovation curve, we’re quite used to what this stuff can do. We users need something more. Now is the time for making data relationships rather than continuing to make introductions to technology.

Of course, it’s probably hard for a major phone manufacturer like Apple to take larger leaps, especially when looking at Windows 8’s reception (even though I would posit that the backlash has been a bit over-sold.) It would be a difficult decision to take their customer base well beyond what has worked in the past, not to mention a pretty darn scary one. Rocking the boat may be the last thing Mr. Cook would like to do, especially as it would seem their post-Steve identity hasn’t been finalised. They may have even chose right, judging by the ribbing they’re getting about the gradients.

iPhone iOS

There’s a lot of heat out there on the iPhone now. Taking into account Samsung and other Android-supporting manufacturers coming on strong, Apple may be worried more about losing market share rather than making big splashes. They also don’t have the luxury of Android developers’ nearly minute-by-minute evolution speed that’s shared across a number of competing companies. HTC and Samsung can A/B test across a number of devices and carriers whereas Apple’s design ethos and supply chain performance is founded upon polishing only one product. A small mis-step can become a big problem in the margins – all but assuring conservatism in decision-making, especially when the visionary has left.

This environment doesn’t change the fact that our ‘cell phones’ provide for us a magnificent amount of data that we have become increasingly dependent upon for nearly all of our waking hours (and for some, our sleeping hours as well). With all of this data crashing in and our lives moving faster and faster there is an ever-increasing demand to absorb this information in more and more advanced ways. We don’t really have time to shuttle between apps when we have to find the things we need. It must be faster than that. Besides, the future is already here. We’re now beginning to daisy-chain apps together, so a world of distinct programs is just not how it’s going to be.

All of this puts an interesting focus on the updates, perhaps the changing of the colours is an acknowledgment of the iOS experience becoming long in the tooth and it may even be used to point out that Apple may be lost as to where to go next.

The one thing that Apple has been great at has also been the thing that’s propelled them to where it is now. That thing is being able to take new and complex technology and distill it to something that gives us exactly what we need to make that technology sing for us. What Apple needs to do now is re-invent the mobile user interface again to make all this data easy again. This is what Apple should have done this time but certainly needs to do the next time. Hopefully Mr. Ives is up to the task without Steve, because it’s going to need more than just a new colour palate.


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