After spending a day using iOS 7 Beta on my iPhone 5, I’m confident that Apple’s iOS 7 will be the best mobile OS when released this Fall. Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) had fallen behind Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG)’s Android and Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT)’s Windows Phone in many ways. iOS 7 will put Apple out in front once again.
As an iOS developer, I was priviledged to download a beta copy of iOS 7 as well as peruse the developer documentation for it. Naturally, I have to be rather circumspect in my observations, but what has struck me about the comments from analysts and critics in the media is their lack of perspective. This is probably due both to a lack of direct experience with iOS 7 as well as a lack of technical insight into its inner workings.
This started with the rumors about iOS 7, describing it as having a “flatter” look, as if it were just a pale immitation of Windows Phone. This simply isn’t accurate. What is gone is the skeuomorphism, the tendency to represent software objects with on screen “realistic” depictions of physical objects: software buttons represented by a mechanical-look button, calendar apps that affected the look of a paper calendar, etc.
The new iOS look actually has much more depth and three dimensionality. Notifications and allerts slide over the screen on translucent panels. Buttons have subtle contours. Backgrounds in apps and the home screen are now, at last, animated.
Now that iOS 7 Beta is here, the critical emphasis in the media seems mostly misplaced. iOS 7 was very much about catching up to and hopefully surpassing Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL)’s competitors. However, the areas where iOS has regained the lead have been mostly overlooked:
1) Animated backgrounds. Android has had marvelous animated backgrounds for the home screen for some time, available from third party developers, while Windows Phone leaves little room for any background. Apple’s animated backgrounds are still very rudimentary, but Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) now provides developers the ability to build animated backgrounds into their apps, and this was demonstrated in Apple’s Weather app.
2) Better multitasking user interface. The multitasking UI in iOS was cumbersome to use, and stopping apps was a tiresome process. Now iOS users will be able to dismiss apps with a flick, similar to a feature of Android, but Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL)’s version is actually better thought out and easier to use.
3) Air Drop peer to peer file sharing. Both Android and Windows Phone device makers have pointed to the inclusion of Near Field Communication (NFC) as an advantage over iOS devices. Android devices use NFC for Android Beam, which is why Android devices need to be in close proximity when transferring information via Beam. Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL)’s version of peer-to-peer wireless sharing for Mac OS devices, called Air Drop, used Wifi and didn’t require close proximity. Air Drop has been available since Mac OS Lion, so it was only a matter of time before it came to iOS.
Air Drop is only one part of Apple’s push into peer-to-peer device communication. In “Why Apple’s iWatch will be an iPod” I predicted that the first sign of the iWatch would be a greatly expanded set of APIs to support it. iOS 7 will support a broad range of wearable devices, provided either by Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) or by third parties, using WiFi or Bluetooth. No NFC needed.
In other areas, it remains to be seen whether Apple will catch up or even pull ahead of its rivals, Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG) and Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT). iTunes Radio will compete with other radio services and Google’s Music All Access. Siri will have access to larger data bases, becoming more informative. Siri will even access Microsoft’s Bing, but it’s unlikely to equal Google Search.
And then there’s Maps. Both Microsoft and Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG) tout their mapping products as having superior accuracy. Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT) Windows Phone uses Navteq mapping technology from its partner Nokia, while Google continues to improve Google Maps. At Google IO, Google announced many enhancements to its mapping software that will keep it ahead of the pack, including real-time incident reports and course re-routing, and vector based graphics and 3D views. Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) is unlikely to best its rivals in mapping any time soon, but it’s gradually living down its bad reputation.