A look at iOS 7: the good, the bad and the same

Written by Colton Chesnut on . Posted in Tech

Here I was sitting and watching the live broadcast of WWDC and I thought, “Things have really changed with these Apple events.” I don’t want to get all uber-nostalgic with fanboy grandeur or anything, but I do have a comment on certain aspects of the Apple keynote that were completely missing from Monday morning’s presentation of iOS 7. In a word, defense. In a few more words … I know that Tim Cook is not Steve Jobs. I don’t expect him to be. However, when you wield a company like Apple, you don’t have to justify to your audience that you still do incredible things. We know that. The problem is, we expect that. I don’t propose we give a book by Stephen Covey to Tim Cook, I just remember that in the past an Apple keynote felt more like a cult-ish mob rally and less like a formal apology at a public trial.

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Lets get into the actual announcement. iOS 7 is a very welcomed update for me. Now that I have had it in my hands for a few days, I am pleased to see just how many interface annoyances Apple has addressed here. When I leave my house and want to turn off wifi and bluetooth to save the battery, it now only takes two gestures. Before this week (when I’m not jailbroken) that was at least an eight gesture task.Add that up over time and I was spending entirely too much time worrying about which wireless radios were eating my battery life. Those kinds of things should be quick and then get out of the way, something the new Control Center does extremely well.

My thoughts on look and feel are very positive. I enjoy the depth that transparency adds to an operating system. Take Windows for example and how everyone criticized Windows 8 because it removed something called Windows Aero, a loved and hated thing that was brought about by Vista. Hated because of how much of a resource hog it was, it seemed to almost take a dedicated graphics chip just to run the thing and on some laptops it was like asking a Geo Metro to pull a boat. Could it do it? Probably. Should it do it? Probably not. I know one of the interface wow-factors they were going for was that the background image moved ever so slightly as the phone shifted in your hand, which I believe was intended to just add more depth to the overall new look. What it actually did for me was make me think that I updated my iPhone to a Nintendo 3DS and this was the Apple way of doing lenticular 3D – cool.

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At first glance iOS 7 might seem like a major overhaul because of the radically new look and feel of the icons on the home screen. If you were to make that assumption you would be wrong. iOS is the same old lady with new lipstick. Was that a bit harsh? Was that a bit snarky? Yes to both. Besides the actual introduction of the iPhone in 2007 and subsequent release of the App Store in 2008, the iPhone hasn’t really changed much in the last five years. New features here and there, sure – but actually changed? Nah. Now I might sound like I’m complaining a bit, acussing Apple of complacency even. On the contrary, I am pointing out that while most people think Apple is standing by and watching Google pick up where they left off so to speak, I believe that they aren’t. Apple’s strategy is a longer term one. Seamless integration between hardware and software is a lot more powerful than you think. What I believe Apple is trying to do is create an experience. An experience that doesn’t need to be completely re-done every single year. Refined and polished? Of course, but not re-invented. Ryan Block said it really well on Twitter a while ago:

“If genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration, then perhaps innovation is 1% invention and 99% iteration.”

-@ryan

When you zoom out and just look at the new features added, its hard not to feel like Apple looks outside of Cupertino for inspiration. In some ways I think this version of iOS feels the most reactionary when it comes to “new” ideas.

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A look back at Palm OS cards, a multi-tasking solution that was the copy for Apple’s paste

Let me explain – when people criticized that there wasn’t a good way to get notifications, Apple borrowed the Android version of notification center that pulls down from the top. Now it seems people are demanding apps to auto update, borrow that from the Android Play website.People want better multi-tasking support, borrow that from Palm (because they aren’t a thing anymore, so maybe people will have forgotten keystone parts of Palm OS… ). People want easier/faster control over certain settings? Borrow control center from Cydia.

A new trend that I feel most people haven’t mentioned much in iOS 7 is just how personal it is becoming. For example, on my birthday I pulled down notification center and there was a birthday wish from my phone. I glanced down below and instead of telling me when my next meeting was to the minute like a robot calendar, it simply told me how free my day looked in the afternoon after my one meeting in the morning.

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This is also becoming apparent with whatever updates they are doing to Siri. Yesterday I asked Siri how the SF Giants were doing. It gave me the usual useful information. Then I got a bit more obscure. “How is a lower league baseball team doing in Utah?” She didn’t know, but the answer wasn’t the usual 404 garbage about not understanding the question and then offering to Google it for me. Siri said in effect, “I do know quite a bit about Utah sports, but that is something I can’t give you much information on.” The answer was a fail, but the response felt nothing like an error message. One step closer to a Jarvis-esque computer that more people can afford to have besides Tony Stark.

What am I not happy with; the home screen. I didn’t mind the old icons, that isn’t what’s killing me. What’s killig me is that even though its pouring rain outside, somehow the weather icon has the audacity to tell me its 73 and sunny. It is not! I know it’s not! Seriously, why would you announce that every app will now have new APIs to access actual background processing like you (Apple) do with apps like Stocks and Weather, but then not show us what those apps are doing on the homescreen? It won’t take much more battery to display the process you’re already running, right? Android had this figured out a long time ago, Microsoft has even figured it out with Windows 8 (and that is saying something). Why can’t my Google Analytics app show me total unique views for the day? Or my trading app be able to show me how my portfolio is doing, up or down overall? A notification badge with a counter is nice for some things, but saying that you can quantify all imaginable data with a little red number is about as open minded as a trying to store all your data in MySQL with the int data type. Would it kill a guy to add a little VARCHAR every once in a while? OK yeah, definately crossing a very niche line with all these database analygies. I’m sorry for that. A more general adage I should have probably gone with was that they’re trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. I hope you’re saying to yourself, “What about the clock icon?” Yeah, I didn’t miss that. I noticed that the clock hands actually move around the dial like  they are supposed to. That’s great, but if my $950 iPhone could, at a glance, show me more information than a wrist watch I would appreciate that as a customer.

All in all I am pleased to see that Apple felt like there needed to be some big changes. Even though I’m disappointed in the ommission  of customizable homescreens with widgets and actual live data, I can see that they are moving in that direction.  But I guess that is all that Apple has to do to stay relevant in the marketplace, because lets face it – they are Apple.

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Colton is a software engineer for a company in Lindon UT. He loves spending time with his girls, photography, being outdoors, and working on his classic mustang. You can find him on steam @marlais and twitter @coltonjchesnut.