Apple's long-awaited iOS 7 operating system will finally reach consumers in the fall. Apple wants you to think that once you get iOS 7, you'll have a brand new iPhone that you already know how to use — even if it's largely a pick-and-choose mashup of many great features that Apple's competitors have offered up over the past six years.
(See also: iOS 7: What You Need To Know Now)
Thing is, both perspectives are right. What Apple has shown us of iOS 7 looks like a winner to me, even if it is a retread. Read on to see why.
Innovating? Or Hunting and Gathering?
There's plenty of fodder in iOS 7 for Apple critics. Its revamped notifications and control centers smack of features found in the latest releases of Android. Its new translucent animations and system effects recall HTC's Sense 5 software, a user-interface "skin" the smartphone maker HTC puts on its phones. (Today's weather app demo was particularly egregious in this regard).)
iOS 7's new approach to multitasking? Palm did that years ago with webOS' Cards, and Microsoft did it again in Windows Phone 7.
(See also: Apple Announces Mac OS X Mavericks)
And the copying — er, homage — isn't limited to mobile software. During the OS X Mavericks demo, Apple's Craig Federighi showed off a new feature that lets Mac users look up travel directions and send them to an iPhone. Google called that "Chrome to Phone" back in 2010. And iRadio? (Sorry, make that "iTunes Radio.") It's a straight-up Pandora killer.
A New Phone You're Already Familiar With
But here's the thing. Easy as it is for a mobile-obsessed geek like me to trace the lineage of new iOS 7 features and to call foul on Apple for passing off thievery as conception, I cannot wait to get an iPhone running iOS 7. Why? Because it looks cool and it promises up-to-date features. Perhaps most important to me, the vast majority of people I'm close it use iPhones, and frankly it's just easier to share stuff from iPhone to iPhone.
The Apple on stage today was Apple at its best. In recent years, Apple has thrived by watching market trends, identifying just what's causing consumers the most trouble, and then setting teams of expert hardware and software designers on the masses' consumer tech woes.
The first iPhone taught consumers how to use a new kind of device. iOS 7 — the second coming of iPhone, if you will — is going to take the training wheels off.
I switched from an iPhone to an Android phone about a year ago, largely so I could tweak my home screens more to my liking and access information and services via home screen widgets and controls. Android lets me control music (on my phone and on my home Sonos system) without launching an app; iOS 6 can't do that. So I put up with lousy Android-to-iOS messaging in exchange for rapid fire access to my tunes.
For Geeks and Moms Alike
Today Apple showed that it hasn't forgotten about users like me who want to get geeky on their phones. And it did so in true Apple fashion, by aping the innovations it's seen stick in the non-iPhone world and offering them in ways designed not to confuse the heck out of first time smartphone users.
Apple said today that it worked hard to make all of iOS 7's new functionality easy for iOS 6 users to embrace. If it's right — and a great big pile of shareholder money says it'd better be — that means all of my relatives and friends who jumped from $40/month dumbphones to $100/month iPhones over the past years will continue to use iOS for their messaging, photo sharing, and status updating.
If Apple also did enough in iOS 7 to satiate power users, that means I might just be able to go back to an iPhone, which would make it a lot easier for me to share my messages and photos with all of those iPhone-wielding smartphone neophytes I just mentioned. Like my Mom. Embrace the quirks of my inner geek and iMessage photos to Mom, all from one phone? Hard to argue with that.