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Bigger, Flatter, Badder, But Have Apple Gone Too Far With Their Redesigned OS?

Image depicting the iOS 7 Evolution

Having been quiet for the first six months of the year, the Apple marketing machine has finally cranked into full gear. On Monday June 10th, Apple CEO, Tim Cook, took to the stage of San Diego’s Moscone Centre for his company’s annual World Wide Developers Conference (WWDC). The WWDC is traditionally the occasion when Apple sheds light on the upcoming software developments that the company will implement into its latest product releases throughout the year.

Although the tech-giant unveiled a number of new and updated products including an upcoming software update for their Mac line-up, once the dust had settled after this year’s keynote, all eyes were on iOS 7; the latest iteration of Apple’s mobile operating system for iPhones and iPads.

Along with a number of new and updated features, the most notable changes to Apples’s mobile operating system can be seen in the new “flat” design that has been introduced by Apple’s Senior Vice President of Design, Jony Ive. Ive is the man who has been, until now, responsible for the look and design of the hardware. Apple has changed the look and tone of every app that comes pre-installed in the operating system. While many of the redesigned apps appear to offer a more simplistic form of functionality, such as the photos and calendar apps, what appears to have people commenting most is the appearance of the new app icons. While a purely cosmetic change, the new app icons have attracted more attention than any of the new features that have been built into the operating system. iOS 7 is by far the most dramatic update that Apple have unveiled since the launch of the very first iPhone in 2007.

From what has been shown at this year’s WWDC, it seems that Apple have finally included a variety of features that both fans and critics of Apple and iOS have been clamouring for since 2007. For example, multitasking and app switching on the iPhone and iPad would appear to be greatly enhanced in iOS 7. Multitasking, although introduced in iOS 5 has been heavily criticised since its introduction for being too simple and not providing true multitasking. Equally, Airdrop, which is Apple’s built-in mechanism for file sharing, is to be introduced in iOS 7 for the first time. While Airdrop has been available in Mac OS for some time, this will be the first time that Apple has opened up iOS in a way that allows users to share files easily, which is something that consumers using rival platforms have enjoyed for some time.

The updated multitasking and Airdrop are but two of many new features that were unveiled at the WWDC with iOS 7 but they have largely been overlooked. The attention has been focused on the new appearance of the operating system. Although opinions seem to be divided, there has been a lot of criticism of Jony Ive’s new ‘flat’ design. The new app icons that have been designed are thought by some, to be ugly. It had been suggested for some time before the WWDC that Apple would unveil a heavily redesigned iOS that would more resemble Windows 8 than it would iOS. While iOS 7 definitely resembles previous iterations of the software, the influence of Windows 8 can be seen with the incorporation of primary colours and a much more simple design at the expense of the traditional more detailed appearance of our home-screens since 2007.

In developing iOS 7, have Apple really gone for something new or have they simply followed the trend set by their competitors? There can be no question that when Google first brought the Android operating system to the market, it borrowed heavily from iOS. Apple arguably took some revenge when they practically cherry picked “Notification Centre” from Android and dropped it straight into iOS a few years ago. With the introduction of “Control Centre” in iOS 7 it seems that Apple may have repeated this somewhat.

Microsoft’s Windows 8 which has been used on Windows smartphones since 2012 was commendable in that it tried to be completely different from iOS and from Android. The thing that made it stand apart from its contemporaries was the fact that it had a very flat design which relied on live tiles that show limited app information rather than generic icons. These tiles are much bigger than the traditional app icons found in iOS and they tend to be all one colour which is chosen by the user.

It would seem that Apple have looked to Windows in designing the new look of iOS 7 as primary colours have been introduced and all traces of “real objects” have been removed. The calculator is no longer designed to look like the old calculator we had in school, the calendar is no longer designed to look like an old calendar that we used to hang on our walls, and our notes don’t look like they have been torn from a digital post-it, and so on. But the main focus of iOS 7 is on transparency. Many of the built-in apps are now transparent, taking colours and themes from the user-set wallpapers and building their themes around them. This allows simple apps like the phone, to take on characteristics that are effectively user determined.

But the question is have Apple gone too far in their redesign of the world’s most popular operating system? It has been suggested that that iOS looks quite different now compared to how it looked when it launched in 2007, but the updates in appearance have, until now, been very subtle. There is nothing subtle about iOS 7. Love it or hate it, Apple appear set on taking the plunge into flat design and while I’m sure there will be more subtle changes made to the OS in the future, the new look iOS is sure to be with us for some time to come. While the new look iOS certainly seems a lot like window dressing, it’s fair to say that a little window dressing is long overdue. The question of whether the changes are indeed an improvement over previous software versions, cannot truly be answered until iOS 7 officially launches this Autumn.

Until then we will have to wait and see, and hope.

You can read more of Ronan’s technology articles on his personal blog, The Hutchinson Post.

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