Image from apple.com
On June 10th, 2013 Apple presented the next version of their mobile operating system — iOS 7. So, the question is, will this version turn out to be a success? In this post I will provide a brief review and share my personal opinion about iOS 7. Note that I will only be using sources that are open to the public, since disclosing any information from Apple’s developer portal (a.k.a. iOS Dev Center) isn’t allowed by NDA.
I’ll start with the most obvious, perhaps even shocking change: the new design of the User Interface, since it’s the first thing that everyone’s talking about.
Ever since Scott Forstall left Apple, the responsibility for further iOS development passed to Jonathan Ive, a well-known industrial design genius of Apple. During his previous work in Apple, Jonathan Ive was responsible for hardware design (iPod, iPhone, iMac), but iOS 7 was his debut in Apple’s user interface design.
What is so revolutionary about the new iOS design? Well, all of a sudden, Apple got rid of the extra decorations and the tendency to imitate real-world objects and textures: no more imitation of leather covers, no more yellow paper notepad, no more 3D interface elements, etc. What was earlier (during the days of Steve Jobs and Scott Forstall) considered most natural for human use is now declared unnecessary, redundant, and outdated. In iOS 7, the main goal is simplicity. However, it is not mere minimalism. Instead, this new simplicity is achieved though considerable effort in order to provide only the most necessary and easy-to-understand elements, without distracting the user from the main purpose of the application. At least that’s how Apple presented the concept.
So, what was the overwhelming reaction when people saw screenshots of the new design?
“Looks a lot like Windows Phone 8!”
“Reminds me of Android’s look”
“The icons look weird. Is this the final version, or a draft?”
“WHAT’S WITH THE COLORS?”
“Why does the font look so skinny?”
Based on what I hear from my friends and co-workers, I’d say 70% of people around me are unhappy with the new interface and are quite sceptical about its usability. Only 20-30% are excited and eager to try the new version once it is officially released.
Personally, I’m not a fan of the new screenshots presented by Apple. In fact, I don’t like most of the standard app icons. However, when looking at video clips published on Apple’s website and seeing how the interface looks in practice, things don’t look so bad at all. Even Apple claims that before judging the new look we should see the design “in dynamic”. Soon, the summer days will quickly pass and all iOS users will get a chance to try the new version to decide for themselves, whether Tim Cook and Jony Ive are on the right track trying to improve what was already widely acknowledged as good, and even perfect.
Now, from a developer’s point of view, I see a problem. For existing apps with customized UI, we might face challenges upgrading the app to support iOS 7 (and the more customized the interface, the harder it will be to upgrade). It is likely that we’ll see a change in the development environment of Xcode, to allow the development of interface for iOS 6 and earlier versions. But as usual, Apple left some time between the first announcement and the official public release, so that all such questions could be clarified as much as possible.
Control Center is a new pop-up screen that can be opened from any screen. All the user needs to do is swipe up the screen (as you remember, users can also swipe down from the status bar to see the Notification Center). The Control Center is available even from the Lock screen.
The Control Center contains various switches, so users can quickly turn on/off Airplane mode, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth. Also, users can change brightness, control the music player, and access several apps, including a brand new one -- the Flashlight!
Users will certainly appreciate this new feature. As for developers — I doubt the Control Center will offer any advantages. It’s unlikely that Apple will allow third-party apps to somehow use the Control Center.
The notification center has a new “Today” feature that contains all information about plans for the day. This includes reminders and other info that might be of interest to the user on any given day (i.e. weather, etc.).
Convenient for the user, but doesn’t offer anything new to the developer.
Multitasking is an interesting novelty that both users and developers are sure to like. Now the system is smart enough to associate time and periodicity of user's habits and typical activities with update requests from certain apps. Thus, if a user typically reads the news during breakfast at 9:00 AM, his or her system will run the update for the news app and there will be no need to wait upon starting the app. That's really awesome.
The list of all opened apps — the panel you summon by double-clicking the Home button — has been improved as well. Now you can see not only app's icon but also live screenshot/preview with the updated state. You could easily quit an app by swiping its preview up and out of screen.
From developer’s point of view, the implementation of this feature would probably require some extra efforts rather than being provided automatically. Either way, it's a clever addition that will be popular beyond doubt.
Camera has been also enhanced in the aspects of preliminary image and video processing (Shooting formats) and filters. This is certainly great news but more so for users rather than developers.
A drastic change concerns the way photo and video libraries are organized. Now a user can group photos according to a time period, place or time of shooting. Besides, meet shared photo stream! Synchronizing through iCloud, photo stream allows sharing and all "subscribers" could add their own media to the stream.
Users will love these improvements. Developers wonder if they could make use of these through SDK.
This one looks like the most popular new feature. It offers iUsers a simple way to exchange photos, videos or docs without e-mailing, third-party services, and even Internet connection. Two devices with iOS 7 and WiFi or Bluetooth switched on are enough to share data via a secure channel. This feature seems extremely useful for certain categories of software.
Safari, the system has a bunch of improvements, including a new interface that allows switching between open tabs. Now it resembles Cover Flow somehow. Besides, the browser has learned to process links from Twitter timeline of a user, which is a good example of flawless integration with social networks. Passwords for web sites are now stored in user's iCloud account. Moreover, passwords for new accounts could be generated by the browser itself and, of course, remembered correctly.
While users will probably appreciate these changes, for developers they are of little use if any at all.
This is an analog for desktop iTunes radio. USA users only (at least for now).
Siri, iOS digital personal assistant, has been changed as well: new design, new voices, extra features and considerable performance gain. Russian languages support has not been announced. Sad. Although english-speaking users with no AI phobia will be surely pleased.
One of the just-out features — Apps Near Me — deals with finding useful applications on the basis of user's location, e.g. tour guides and alike. The other news is automatic updating of the application.
Find My iPhone
Blocking lost and stolen iPhones has become one bit more secure recently: even if some device has been reactivated, to unlock it a user should enter the Apple ID and password of the account from which it has been blocked.
Some other news include Apple announcing an opportunity of integration of iOS 7 with cars — navigation, calls, music. Although no details have been revealed so far and the project has just been generally outlined. Car manufacturers promise support, but not earlier than 2014.
I can't but agree that iOS 7 announcement is one of the most striking events since the first iPhone. Some features are hard to accept, some features are a sheer breakthrough. What's important — iOS doesn't stand still. It moves, evolves. It lives.