To write that the 2013 WWDC keynote was monumental would be an understatement. From the changing of the OS X big cat naming convention to the complete redesign of iOS with iOS 7, it was a significant day for Cupertino.
What surprised me most compared to last year, is that while OS X Mountain Lion was all about unifying Apple’s desktop and mobile platforms (e.g., bringing Reminders and Notes to the Mac), iOS 7 widens the gap considerably. iOS 7 is indeed the “fertile ground” as Marco Arment writes. It’s again a brave new world for designers and developers.
Meanwhile, from a design standpoint, OS X Mavericks will seem out of place and maybe even old or outdated relative to its iOS 7 counterpart. Arguably, it could have been better for Apple to introduce its new design language across iOS and OS X at the same time. OS X Mavericks is an extremely solid update but from tabs on the Finder to tags, it’s an iterative update and not the paradigm shift iOS 7 is. Looking at the developer preview of Xcode 5, however, it’s clear OS X will see a similar overhaul in the not so distant future.
It’s hard to not compare iOS 7’s buttonless, typography-driven interface to what Microsoft introduced with Metro two years ago (see Chris Millr’s observations). Similarly, Google’s iOS apps in particular have been much flatter over the last year. Apple often is a tastemaker and leader in driving design trends but iOS 7 seems more like the first iPod than the first iPhone: it’s an Apple-take on an existing trend, not an Apple innovation. That’s not a dig on Apple, it’s more a compliment to Microsoft and Google.
I’d like to believe that what we’ve seen and experienced in iOS 7 will be different than what consumers install on their iOS devices later this year. That’s not because of the bugs expected in beta software but rather that iOS 7 does not look or feel worthy of Apple quite yet. To that end, I found Frank Chimero’s words comforting when he wrote that iOS, “lacks nuance, but has courage” and that he’s hopeful for its future. I’m not confident that iOS 7 itself will have that nuance because once Apple unveils something, they usually only iterate on it after it goes to the market. That could mean the nuance returns in iOS 8 and I’m certain that Apple would be fine with that.
The analysts have stated that Apple has lost its ability to innovate. Anecdotally, I hear comments from friends and family that the iPhone is no longer new or cool, with regular questions about whether to buy an iPhone or a Samsung device. So, whether your initial reactions to iOS 7 are of love, hate, or indifference, iOS 7 is exactly what Apple needs right now. It’s exactly what iOS designers and developers need right now. And it’s exactly the kind of change only Apple is insightful and bold enough to both recognize and make. It’s time for a change.