Dare Apple move the cheese with iOS 7?

Dare Apple move the cheese with iOS 7?

Summary: Innovation is hard, especially with an established product and a satisfied customer base. Can Apple do anything radical with iOS 7? Do they even need to?

TOPICS: Smartphones
iPhones and Cheese
Mmmm. We're all used to the delicious taste of iOS 6 cheese. Will we learn to love the new flavour of iOS 7?

People don't like change. It's not something we're psychologically wired to deal with. Most of us find some comfort in the fact that the sun comes up every morning and sets every evening.

If the sun did something radical like turned into a heliotrope dodecahedron, each face emblazoned with a smiling unicorn — well, it would attract comment.


I installed iOS 7 this afternoon on my iPhone 4S. Do I like it? No.

In fact, it's quite difficult to find people on Twitter who are desperately in love with the thing.

There's an argument that Apple didn't actually need to do anything at all. I'd rather they spent the R&D on making Siri work really well, or coming up with new ways to help people connect with the people and things they love on the device. I don't really need a new Mail app icon.

But, thinking about it, I did need a better way of viewing tabs in Safari. And I've now got that. Although it's a bit like how Chrome on my Nexus 4 has always done tabs. But we'll get to that...

What's happened here is that the market has brought huge pressure on Apple to "reimagine" iOS in the same way that the market brought huge pressure on Microsoft to reimagine Windows. However, it's probably fair the market did that to Microsoft and unfair that the market is doing that to Apple.

Microsoft faces a slow death of the PC — at least as it was prior to Windows 8 — as the primary way that people consume time from a compute device changes from being focused work on a PC over to ad hoc, relationship-centric work on smartphones and tablets. As such, it had to twist and bend Windows by a huge amount just so that it would remain sellable over the next 10-20 years.

Microsoft has delivered on that. We now just need to decide if they delivered the right thing, but that's an ongoing, separate story.

What Apple has been asked to do is to react to a general feeling within the market that iOS is "looking a bit tired" compared to Android, Windows Phone, and even BlackBerry 10.

So Sir Jonny cracks out a crate of Red Bull and goes to work. And what we end up with is something that looks like "Android Plus." It unquestionably leapfrogs Android in terms of the pure aesthetics, but an argument the Ive and Co are now following Android is — I think — valid.

This in itself is a huge shift. Android thus far has largely based its development on incremental improvements on the work that iOS started. And now it looks like Cupertino has been stuffing jelly beans into their Xerox machines.

I suspect that by the time you read this, the Internet will be so chock-full of articles about things that Apple borrowed/stole from Android, it's not worth me commenting. But the point is this: whereas Apple once had a multi-year lead on everyone to the extent everyone else was essentially lapped on the track, the runners are now so close that slomo video is required to see who's leading the pack (innovation-wise) with any accuracy.

Ch... ch... changes

The problem for Apple is that they can't do anything radical at this point. Even if they wanted to, they daren't. People do not like having their cheese moved.

When I was watching the keynote yesterday, the gestures really stood out. For one thing, these are very similar to the gesture-heavy approach in BlackBerry 10. (There's the "following innovation" again. I'm sure The Astonishing Tribe people are pleased.)

I wondered for a moment if they might remove the physical home button from iOS devices.

Can you imagine the reaction to that? I bet most of Microsoft's management can to. They've lived through it.

If you look at things they have changed, they're all very small items if you ignore the new design language. Task switching and killing has changed, but that was likely a rarely used feature in iOS anyway. I've now got a button that I can get at easily that turns my phone into a flashlight. (Whoop-dee-doo.)

The radical changes in Windows 8 have almost certainly harmed adoption of that operating system. But when you're playing a really long game, like all the players here are, the actual sales are just one part of the story. These companies need to get people on message, and that means having the right version of the OS, the apps, the services, and the lot.

Apple has done an astounding job of not letting people drift too far away from their current versions. In the WWDC 2013 keynote yesterday, Cook made this point twice — firstly by highlighting fragmentation of Android, where he said that the majority of Android users are on an OS built in 2010, and secondly by swiping at Microsoft's comparatively paltry adoption of Windows 8. 93 percent of iOS devices out there run iOS 6.

This is really where they're winning. They've lost a little bit of their mystique by now appearing to be following the market, but they are winning grandly in having a massively consistent, addressable user base. The "win" that developers get through that lack of fragmentation is ancillary — the most important thing is that Apple doesn't have to fight fragmentation.

Google in its core web offerings doesn't have this problem either. (It does on Android, though.) That's what Chrome is all about — drive everyone onto the same platform where you can sell them stuff. Note that neither Apple nor Google have any form of "financial gate" that people have to negotiate to get the new stuff. It's open to everyone, whereas upgrades to Microsoft's operating system costs money.

The most powerful feature in iOS is likely the one that automatically updates the OS in small chunks. What Apple has done is swapped radical innovation for a slow, careful maturation of the platform so that the iOS user base can be effectively targeted for ecosystem content.

With iOS 7, and the relentless push for everyone to bump up from iOS 6, everyone gets to keep eating the same cheese. 

Let's just hope we continue to like the flavor.

What do you think? Post a comment, or talk to me on Twitter: @mbrit.

Image credit: Apple, Wikimedia

Topic: Smartphones

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  • Apple Needs To Move A Bit More Than Some Cheese

    IOS needs a radical overhaul. It needs proper multitasking, something more than static icons on the home screen, a more extensible interapp sharing architecture, a wider range of hardware support--basically, look at everything Android does better.

    But it will probably never happen. A centrally-controlled platform can never move as fast as a fully-competitive one. Which is why Apple and Microsoft will be forever playing catch-up to Android.
    • Yeah

      I was disappointed with what I have seen of iOS 7.

      Android Plus? I'd say it is still Android Minus. There was nothing there that had me digging in my draw and dusting off my iPhone.

      As to upgrades, I stopped upgrading my iPhone when the Maps changed, although I wish I had not gone beyond iOS 4, because the iPhone 3GS really began to crawl with iOS5.

      I think it still needs a lot of work. If they hadn't wasted time on the parallax effect and spent it on providing useful information on the homescreen instead, it would have been time better spent.

      That is the number on question I still get from smartphone newbies, who have an iPhone. They see an Android phone with the time, weather etc. displayed in a big font and nice animated images and they ask how they can set up their iPhone home screen to do the same thing.
      • Hmm

        just gone through the photo gallery, it isn't as bad as I thought, within the applications, and some of the new swipe gestures certainly give it a boost, but the new "bright" icons on the start screen look terrible.

        The changes in the Apps and in the setup process are very reminiscent of Windows Phone, but the actual Home Screen looks like it is designed for 5 year olds, it is very jarring, going from the Kindergarten home screen into the nice, well laid out applications.
      • Yeah

        Well, for those who need to see that on their home screen, there is Android. I really hated that on the old Windows phone I had. Don't want it, and I have a watch for time and date, and I can look outside for the weather. Aren't we lucky we have 4 main smartphone flavors? Everyone can have what he wants, and certainly don't doubt your choices, for you.
        • Choices

          The point is, Android HAS choices, iphone does not. If you want widgets with Android you can have them, and likewise if you don't. There is no "choice" with iphone except the choice NOT to have choices...
          • Android has Choices, but not where it counts

            This is what I choose for Android:

            Android Unfragmented

            Android Malware Free

            Android No Snooping

            Android No Java Machine

            Android No Crapware

            Android Great Battery Life

            Oops, no soup for us!
            pk de cville
    • All true, but... Fragmentation, Malware

      A lot more happened when tablets hit the world than just losing a physical keyboard. People learned to expect:

      + instant on
      + instant off
      + 10 hour battery life
      + no more bloody zero-day attacks

      Android can't deliver on that last item.
  • So the new win for Apple is that it has a user base?

    Seems like a lot of fluff in this piece to find some way to say Apple is still winning.

    I honestly cannot thing of anything Apple has introduced before Android over the last several years. Either hardware or software. However, it is insanely easy to point out the things that Apple has done in following Android. I'm not sure why you think the race is so close, when Android has been consistently outpacing iOS for years now.

    That is precisely what has allowed Android to grow to such success that it is the market leader over iOS. Apple has lost its magic. It is not where users go to find what is cool or hot anymore. Samsung illustrated this very well last year with the advertisements where iphone users were pining for features in the new galaxy that were not in the new iphone.
    • Re: Apple has lost its magic

      Could you please think of one valid reason, for a commercial company like Apple to do something "first"?

      Bragging about something does not bring you money. Nor does it bring you more customers.

      Implementing something, that you or someone else "invented" properly and making it usable to your users is all that matters. And Apple apparently excels at this. This is how they can have such profits and such loyal user base.

      By the way, this is the primary difference between an hobbyist and a professional. The hobbyist might do some things better/faster than the professional from time to time. The professional however, must do what they do right each and every time. Or they don't get paid. Who is better? Neither, as they have different goals.
      • Simple

        If Apple had released an 7-8 inch tablet before all of the other Android manufacturers had, they would have crippled their ability to take huge sections of the tablet market and allow it to become entrenched.

        This trend has repeated a few times over the last few years. Apple is largely relying on brand name right now.
  • Typical Apple - Form over Function

    As you note - spend time and energy making the icons look pretty, but fail to fix iOS app issues that have existed since v1 - like Mail's inability to add an attachment, even if created in an onboard iWorks or from iCloud.

    The stuff they do spend time on do appear to be, as has always been the case with Apple, reverse-engineered (sorry - 're-imagined') from other mobile OSs and that's simply not on anymore.

    Sometimes an industrial designer is just a (misguided) industrial designer, regardless of whether they have a Sir prefix.
  • You want something radical?

    Move to Windows Phone 8!
    • Re: Move to Windows Phone 8!

      We wanted radical ... not radicalous.
      • Or you could get Android

        which looks like it was designed by 10 different people. Each not knowing what the other was doing.
        • Re: which looks like it was designed by 10 different people

          For example?
        • back in the day

          Maybe in 2.1
  • Ignoring the fanboys...

    (With WWDC this week I had planned to avoid zdnet, but fortunately E3 happened at the same time, so a lot of the kids are having to fight wars on multiple sites.)

    The point that apple doesn't have a fiscal gate isn't valid - you do pay for Mac OS updates. The only reason that so many people updated to mountain lion was iCloud, which despite offering to windows customers running machines from 2004 and before they didn't back-port to their customers.

    As for iOS seven, I haven't used it yet. I did notice multi tasking looked a lot like my windows phone, but that's all I've heard so far - this looks like that, looks like the other. Nothing too much about how it feels, which is all that matters really. 99% of customers don't care who did something first, just how it works - look at android market share.

    All I know is that with a razr maxx, ipad mini and lumia 620 I get to try them all.. Which is nice
  • iOS7

    Not everything was bad. icons look very bad but I like control center. Josh from TheVerge thinks contro looks like a mess, I mean I agree
  • Chese?

    People really don't like drastic changes to established ways of doing things. There have been trying for years to figure out a viable way to replace the steering wheel in cars, but nothing acceptable has come around. Trying to innovate upon an established product must be done with caution, lest one get put in the same category with 'New Coke' or Windows 8. I an not, personally, fond of the new icons, and see no good reason to replace the familiar with something flat, and ugly. It doesn't improve the functionality. I do like the new multi-tasking system (even if it is copied from Android), and the new Siri functions, and the new quick settings screens. Some of the other features may be even better, when I get to try them out. I hope Apple will consider putting some of the old icons back, particularly the settings icon. Best features, quick settings, multi-tasking controls, and larger folders.
  • Cosmetic cosmetic cosmetic

    Apple really did nothing in iOS7. They basically came up with a new theme. THAT'S IT. The cool thing about Android is, you don't have to wait a year for a theme, there are thousands of them right now :-)