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Apple iOS7: What's Missing

Apple introduced a complete rethink of its smartphone and tablet OS Monday. Though iOS 7 has 200 new features, it doesn't reshape the OS game.

5 Apple iPad 5 Wishes
5 Apple iPad 5 Wishes
(click image for larger view and for slideshow)
Apple has finally revealed iOS 7, the first major redesign of its smartphone and tablet operating system since the original iPhone's 2007 debut. Not only does iOS 7 bring with it an entirely new look and feel, it adds hundreds of features to the operating system. The new platform is in beta testing right now and will reach iPhones, iPads and iPods later this year.

Some of the changes are unique, while others were culled from the best of what's offered by the competition. Now that we know what iOS 7 looks like and what it can do, let's assess just how much progress Apple made. Does iOS 7 go far enough with this redesign, or did Apple take things perhaps a bit too far?

One word that describes iOS 7 is "polarizing." The Web showed a strong reaction to the new design of iOS. Some like it, some don't; either way, iOS 7 generated a heated response from people who watched as Apple unveiled the new operating system. Apple changed the fonts, the color palette, the size of the text and the icons, and removed the 3-D textures that have long been a part of iOS. Apple calls the new look "modern," a term Microsoft uses to describe its own Windows Phone platform. In fact, many of the changes to iOS were likened to some of Windows Phone's features, such as the new lock screen.

[ Apple is bringing its productivity software suite to the browser. See iWork In The Cloud: 5 Things To Know. ]

iOS was in dire need of a refresh. iOS 6 looked and functioned nearly identical to the way iOS 1 looked and functioned back in 2007. It was time. Whether or not you like the new design, it was something that had to be done.

In some areas, Apple clearly played catch-up. The weather app, for example. It has been the same, boring, static app since Day One. The iOS 7 weather app adds animations and an easier way to look at your list of favorite cities. Of course, HTC had animated weather apps as far back as its Windows Mobile smartphones in 2007.

Multitasking, too, takes a page from the competition. In iOS 6 and earlier, a double-tap to the home button brought up a dock along the bottom of the screen that showed recently used apps. Tag the app you want to jump to and away you go. The new multitasking screen looks like a mishmash of Palm's webOS and Windows Phone, with cards -- each representing an open app -- that float across the screen. This is another area where Apple needed to catch up.

Same goes for Control Center. Android smartphones have for years had easy access to toggles for the wireless radios, brightness settings and other system tools. The new Control Center in iOS 7 adds these in addition to some app shortcuts and music controls in a translucent screen that can be accessed by swiping up from the bottom of the display.

All these and other changes bring Apple's smartphone and tablet operating system up-to-speed with the likes of Google and Microsoft in areas where it was behind.

But there was little "wow." There was little to put Apple leagues ahead of the competition.

Despite the complete visual overhaul of the operating system, iOS 7 does not add any truly revolutionary features. There was nothing buried in Apple's WWDC keynote that made everyone's jaw drop with excitement. One might argue that there's little left that smartphone makers can do to truly wow people, but if there's one company that could do it, it's Apple (or, at least it used to be).

Apple also failed to touch on a wide number of features that could (should) have been added to iOS, but weren't. iOS 6 brought us PassBook last year, an app that fell several steps short of becoming an iWallet. Apple did not announce any new features for PassBook or a new mobile payments app for iOS 7. Apple may be reserving these for when it introduces the next-gen iPhone, but the chances are slim. Apple didn't talk about support for Bluetooth 4.0 Low Energy or NFC; it didn't talk about running two apps on the screen at the same time; it didn't talk about using both cameras a the same time; and so on.

In other words, iOS 7 may be good, and it may even put Apple slightly ahead of its competitors, but it doesn't change the game completely.

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Bob Gill
Bob Gill,
User Rank: Apprentice
6/12/2013 | 9:55:32 PM
re: Apple iOS7: What's Missing
Your NFC comment is very USA centric. In Japan and many other countries, no NFC = no sale. NFC is a mature, widely available tech in cell phones worldwide.

AirDrop is an Apple feature. Only 20% of smartphone people have an iPhone. I'll stick with Dropbox (or Skydrive) because the world isn't Apple.
User Rank: Strategist
6/12/2013 | 6:37:17 PM
re: Apple iOS7: What's Missing
Feeling a little defensive? NFC has always felt like a gimmick to me. Innovation isn't merely the addition of new features, it is the building of something useful. Apple does not typically introduce the newest technologies in their devices, but they are often the first to make new technology truly useful. After all, there were phones, portable digital assistants and touch screens before iPhone, but Apple was the first to put them together in an intuitive and thoughtful manner that provided a compelling and market-transforming product. Apple is usually conservative in their use of technology. Where they excel is in the integration of software, hardware and technology.

Both Apple and Google are developing deeper integration of features and situational awareness into their products. Thinking back to the fantasies of artificial intelligence research, the ultimate computer was one that could not only answer your questions, but figure out what you really meant to ask and anticipate your needs. In that realm, bullet points on a spec sheet are not as important as how everything works together.

Here is the WIkipedia article for Bluetooth Low Energy and a page from the Bluetooth SIG so you can look up the mobile devices that support the technology:

I'll leave it to you to find the web page that describes "Bluetooth 4.0 Low-Power".
Cara Latham
Cara Latham,
User Rank: Apprentice
6/12/2013 | 12:55:19 PM
re: Apple iOS7: What's Missing
Eric, I definitely agree that it is hard to "wow" smartphone users today. Maybe it's because we are used to having companies competing against each other to win us over in sales. That being said, I think that there is still room for more innovation, and a new "wow" feature is bound to hit the market soon, whether it is from Apple or one of its competitors.
User Rank: Apprentice
6/12/2013 | 1:29:44 AM
re: Apple iOS7: What's Missing
No NFC? No -Apple doesn't support every new or old gee-whiz feature. Several times in the past week I have had to Email information to colleagues who use iPhones. I can just use NFC with most others. This is one reason I will not own an overpriced (and over-valued, and very proprietary) Apple device. My Galaxy Note 2 can actually show three apps, not just two at once (one must be a video). Not something I use often, but when needed- it's nice to have!

Some of my friends who use Apple have been heard to say "This [problem] would not happen with an Apple.... And they're usually right, not because Apple is better, but because it
doesn't support the feature or function that they can't master.

The article mentioned Bluetooth 4.0 Low-Power. Apple doesn't support Low-Power mode. It's so...non-Apple. Apple has gone from innovation to rent-seeking.
User Rank: Strategist
6/11/2013 | 7:16:58 PM
re: Apple iOS7: What's Missing
Apple did not talk about Bluetooth LE at WWDC because it is already supported in the iPhone 4s and newer devices. Apple's answer to NFC was simply that they don't intend to support it. Unlike other device makers, Apple intentionally does not support every new gee-wiz feature. Whereas other phone makers may attempt to overwhelm its customers with the breadth of its features, Apple tends to focus on depth and usefulness.

Now that NFC has been in the market for a while, how useful is it, really? For transferring files, the iOS AirDrop feature appears to be much more useful, but perhaps, not as fun as trying to physically tap every phone in the room. As a payment system, NFC requires special readers which are generally not available whereas Passbook cards can be read with any optical scanner and works just fine for me at the local Starbucks or boarding a plane at the airport. One of the differences between Apple and Google is that Apple does not have to own everything to be successful. Google Wallet sounds more like a gimmick at this stage of the game and I am not sure where I could actually use it. Passbook can can simply store cards or tickets and make them available when needed and it already integrates with Square Payment System.
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