iOS 7 itself introduces a fresh design on what was becoming an aging operating system. Apple and its design team, led by Jony Ive, took pains to modernize the look and feel of its smartphone and tablet operating system. In order to do that, they ditched the 3-D textures, flattened everything, and changed up the colors. The result is a more modern-looking operating system that no longer feels antiquated when compared to Android 4.2 Jelly Bean and Windows Phone, both of which have clean, current designs.
Apple didn't just update the way iOS looks. It added more than 200 new features. Many of them, such as easily-accessed radio controls and improved multitasking, were long overdue. The new operating system makes changes to Siri, Safari and core apps such as email and calendar, and does things such as support Mobile Hotspot 2.0 and Bluetooth 4.0 Low Energy.
All the changes made to iOS 7, even the new design, were evolutionary, not revolutionary. That doesn't mean iOS 7 won't play an important role in shaping the future of the smartphone market. It will.
[ With each new release iOS becomes more like a social network. Read 5 Ways iOS 7 Will Change Social. ]
First, Apple's competitors will respond. Though none has so far made public comments about iOS 7, you can be sure that BlackBerry, Google and Microsoft, each of which makes its own smartphone platform, will spend the next few months picking iOS 7 apart for insight and ideas. (To be fair, Apple was called out for stealing some of iOS 7's features from Android, BlackBerry OS, webOS, and Windows Phone.)
Will they match the features of iOS 7 in their own platforms? Probably, at least to some degree. Though iOS 7 itself doesn't bring anything particularly game-changing, it will push the companies that design mobile operating systems to do more, to be better, to surpass it if they can. That benefits everyone.
Google, for example, is on the cusp of releasing a new version of Android. Android 5.0 "Key Lime Pie" is expected to debut this fall, at about the same time iOS 7 will leave beta and become available to everyone. Although Google provides minor system and app updates for Android fairly regularly, it hasn't announced a major new version of Android since October 2012.
It won't be just the platform makers that choose to respond to iOS 7. Hardware makers will, too. Companies such as HTC, LG, Motorola, Nokia, Samsung and Sony will look at iOS 7 and see how they can each make their own products better competitors, perhaps by including similar features.
Perhaps the biggest statement made by iOS 7 is that it clearly shows that Apple can and will rethink things, even its most successful product lines. iOS and its associated devices account for huge portions of Apple's revenue. The company is taking a big but very necessary risk by making such a big change to its money-maker. Others, such as Palm with webOS, have done so and failed. It's not clear yet where BlackBerry 10 and Windows Phone will land in the history books, but at least BlackBerry and Microsoft took the risks to bring them to market.
Given how static Apple has been with iOS over the years, iOS 7 marks a new beginning in many respects for Apple. It's a new launching point. A new angle of attack. The question is, will Apple's competitors swerve to avoid the attack, or bring their own weapons to the fight? Either way, it will be exciting to watch the battle continue to unfold.