While many people I know I are raving about the terrible interface structure and design inconsistencies of the new iOS7, I, personally think it's a bold move and that's an important step for a company like Apple. Apple's WWDC keynote yesterday shows that the company has some significant talent and focus in hardware innovation. It also showed that they're willing to accept that Microsoft and Google both had something to teach them.
The best thing they've done is taken the best software functionality from their competitors and given it a solid home that will make sense to the average user is ways that Microsoft and Google have not been able to articulate to customers. iWorks is given a clear home on the web because documents are created to be shared. Apple screens will be able to sync up with each other and be used more effectively because why shouldn't all your screens be able to carry your content?
Over and over I kept seeing functionality that I had wished Apple would have introduced years ago but didn't. Much of that had to do with integration. On iOS that means integration between calendar, mail and maps ensuring that the most common task I perform on a device will no longer be the most frustrating, which it was until I switched to Android a few months ago. And that's what one could say is "the problem." Much of what Apple showed off, much of the "innovations" in mobile are really just integrations of 3rd party apps (tabs in browser) or functionality that Android has had for awhile.
The challenge that Apple has is that this is the new norm for them.
Android will, I bet, always have functionality that is more advanced than iOS. The Play store is full of interesting little hack apps that would never make it through the review process of the App store (Swiftkey, Tasker, that app that allows for custom vibrations.) This means Apple should prepare itself to follow after Android.
But here's the thing. Apple has never really been "innovative" in software, at least not since launching OSX. The pattern for as long as I can remember goes something like this:
- Apple launches solid, nearly bullet-proof software with intuitive navigation
- 3rd party developers make buggy but functional add-ons
- 3rd part debs optimize add-ons and begin to gain traction (and make a bit of money)
- Apple launches an updated version of the software to much applause and consumes the ideas of the 3rd party dev (essentially taking their lunch money)
For decades (not kidding, decades) Apple has been doing this. Being a developer of 3rd party apps is really only good business for a year or two between launches then … poof! The proof can be seen in apps like Quicksilver which became Spotlight and TotalFinder which is now tabs in OSX Mavericks.
But what about mobile?
Again, Apple launches the innovation platform, touch-screen based mobile interface and an app store. The device works great, the apps are all vetted to work but there's always going to be functionality that's missing because of a lag time between developers, users and expectations. Apple doesn't like to overwhelm users with functionality and buttons because choice = overload.
What isn't often talked about is that too many features and functionality leads to designers and developers taking short-cuts and creating bad apps. Powerpoint is the best example of this (to any one out there willing to listen I submit that Illustrator is now the best presentation software available.)
Apple doesn't want to appear like the kind of people who would cut corners so they release software that simply has fewer of them to cut.
So where in OSX, 3rd party devs exist to give Apple ammo for new functionality, in iOS that task falls on Android and Microsoft. In this case it was Android for functionality and integrated applications, Microsoft for interface design principles. Apple played catch up with them and that's ok. Apple's market is about a particular design aesthetic, a particular point of view that technology should be easy to use and core processes shouldn't be buggy. Techno-philes can make fun of them because we can put up with a certain amount of weirdness in our highly customized devices, but Apple isn't for us. Apple is for the people who want to live in the future but don't what to be reminded of how it got there.
After 30 years of using Apple products (starting with BASIC on an Apple II in 1983) I can say that Apple's sole job is to deliver functional products, beautifully designed to challenge the basic assumptions of the computer world. For its faults I think iOS7 does this and I know that OSX Mavericks nails this. You could also say that their job is to translate technology into the hands of laymen but that's not fair to many of us laymen.