Disclaimer: I have in the past been called an Apple fanboy. I resent that term on the basis that I like Apple for a very good reason: they take design seriously. I've been using the iOS7 beta for the past few months, and I've got some definite opinions.
Being a front-end web developer in the current time means that I have to take mobile seriously. I feel like it's an investment not only in my skill set, but also in the future-proofing of the sites I create. This being the case, I installed the beta the second it was available, as Apple is by far the leader in the mobile web. Yes, I know that there are more Android devices, but Apple users visit the web on their devices far more than their Android counterparts. We clear on this? Good.
While I was expecting most of the changes (I watched the Keynote live), having them in my hand and affecting the way I use my device makes them much more tangible and real. There are a lot of tech folks out there who are critiquing the initial beta like they would a final version of the software, but I am trying to look beyond the obvious kinks and see where Apple truly intends to go with their new OS. That's why I'm writing this after using iOS7 (in beta) all summer. Long story short: I like what I see.
Seriously, I've used beta software in the past (including a few of the previous iterations of iOS) and I have to say, the level of fit and finish in iOS7, especially considering that everything is more or less brand new, is quite astounding. It's all in the details—things like showing the phone's background wallpaper through a pressed button in the phone app, dynamically changing the color of the text in the OS and sensing where each icon is on your screen when you zoom in and out make everything quite dynamic.
While I hesitate to use too many emotional terms when describing software, iOS7 has a much more personal and approachable feel than the previous version. Everything adapts to your usage style and visual choices seamlessly. My iPhone feels much more like my iPhone and less like one of millions.
While I love a lot of the new visual treatments and features, there have been plenty of hitches as development progressed this summer. However, the Gold Master is going to be more or less pristine—of that we can be sure. Apple is far too much a lair for perfectionists to allow any less. Especially with Sir Ive at the helm.
It's quite obvious visually that this is a major overhaul of iOS, but the changes are more than superficial. Apple added a ridiculous 1500 developer APIs in iOS7, so it's obvious that they are addressing more than the look and feel—they're continuing to push the use-cases for apps beyond what both other mobile OSes and the web are capable of.
Regardless of anyone's opinion on the matter, Apple is not only an innovator, but also a style-leader. When they change the way that they're designing, be it hardware or software, many folks follow suit. This is particularly true in the area of app design. When iOS was heavily skeumorphic (iOS6 and previous) a lot of apps followed suit. Now that it's about to get a whole lot flatter, expect many app designers to adopt this approach as well.
Apple, Microsoft and Google are all going this route—integration is the new technological black. However, Apple is probably the biggest influencer in the trio, as their ecosystem is arguably the most well maintained. As they further integrate iOS7 and its devices with the OSX ecosystem and its accompanying Mac hardware, expect for the two to continue becoming more similar to each-other, and for the industry to follow suit.
While change is usually a good (and necessary) thing, Apple is risking a lot here. Apple has as many fans as it does because users find their products easy to use. If iOS7 doesn't keep that ease of use (in my opinion it does, but I'm a dyed-in-the-wool techie), they're going to risk losing a large portion of those users to another mobile camp.
Regardless of any issues that are possible, I think that Apple is on the path to being an innovator in software again. iOS7 is definitely a combination of innovation and playing catch-up, but it's a massive step in the right direction. After almost 5 years of progressive enhancement, I'm excited to have something brand new - and yet familiar - to play with.
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