It has not been a good summer for iOS 7. Apple’s mobile operating system for iPhones and iPads, which is still in beta, has been critiqued from the moment it was announced, plagued with bugs, seen its developer portal breached and briefly shut down and finally surprised many would-be beta users by locking them out of their devices without warning.
For Apple, iOS 7 may be a victim both of great expectations and a little mismanagement. When the eyes of the world are on one company and one product, every little hiccup along the way gets magnified.
And the iOS 7 beta has had a lot of hiccups.
Flat Design, Functional Decline
One of the reasons the iOS 7 beta has gotten so much attention is that Apple completely redesigned the operating system this time around. It moved to a “flat” design that eschews the look and feel of real-life objects, and which is also much simpler and sleeker. This move away from the principles of skeuomorphic design actually began last year when Apple fired the head of iOS, Scott Forstall, and gave control over look and feel of the operating system to Sir Jony Ive.
Ive was the man long responsible for the look and feel of the hardware of the iPhone. In that role he was a tremendous success. His deft hand has not translated quite as well to iOS.
The design of iOS 7 reportedly hit delays earlier this year, leading many to wonder if it would be ready for its traditional announcement at Apple’s World Wide Developer Conference in June. Apple indeed released iOS 7 beta to developers at the conference to general acclaim. But when users began to get their hands on the iOS 7 beta, reports were that the flat design had, well… fallen flat. Some criticized the icons as amateurish and cartoon-like, and rumors surfaced that Ive had let members of the Apple marketing team create icons in a rush to get the OS out the door for the WWDC announcement. Apple has since updated and upgraded those icons in subsequent versions of the iOS 7.
Yet the rush to get iOS 7 in front of developers may have led to other problems.
There are over 1,500 new software developer kit (SDK) packages within iOS 7. That is a lot to push on mobile developers all at once. Not all of them have worked well, causing developers (and non developers that gained access to the beta product) to experience more bugs that crashed apps and, at times, the entire phone. While beta software is always prone to such bugs, many developers have reported that the problems in iOS 7 beta have been worse than previous beta versions of the operating system.
Developer Portal Breached, Taken Offline
For mobile developers and designers, the go-to website for all things iOS is Apple’s developer center. That's where developers flock to discuss functionality and talk over problems in the company’s developer forums; it's also a central location for download the beta OS and learning how to work with new features.
But the Apple Developer Center hit a major snag in the middle of the summer. A security researcher reported to Apple that he had found a way to hack the portal and exposed some major flaws in its system. The flaws exposed the personal information of thousands of registered Apple developers, leading Apple shut down the developer center for more than a week as it worked through the issues.
Apple had most of the developer center up and running a little more than a week after the breach. Still, areas such as the help center, developer forums and troubleshooting remained offline for an extended period of time.
When a company releases a major redesign of its core product and implements thousands of new SDKs to support that release, the last thing it wants is for its developer website to fail, for any reason. Mobile developers and designers were already feeling the rush to build apps for the new iOS 7 as they worked through major changes on a truncated timescale. For them to spend more than a week cut off from key developer resources was not, shall we say, helpful.
People Locked Out Of Their iPhones & iPads
Wednesday evening, some users of the iOS 7 beta reported that their phones had switched off and deactivated. No matter what they tried, they couldn’t revive them. Users reported that their iPhones and iPads were telling them they weren't authorized users and that the activation server at Apple was down. People, understandably, freaked out.
The iOS 7 beta has seen a huge surge in popularity among non-developers this year, unlike any other iOS beta that Apple has come out with. Some app publishers have said that nearly 7% of their total iOS traffic has come from iOS 7 beta, meaning that many, many people that are not developers have downloaded and installed the new version of the operating system. Historically during an iOS beta period, fewer than 1% of iPhones and iPads tend to be running the beta software.
Third-party websites are responsible for this. These are sites that have signed up for Apple’s developer program (at $100 a year) and then sold access to iOS 7 beta to curious users by registering their Unique Device Identifier (UDID) with the site. This is against Apple’s developer program terms of service and generally frowned upon by actual developers.
Apple has tried to squelch these UDID registration sites by going after the sellers, but found it difficult to extend that dragnet over such a large number of users that already have iOS 7 beta on their iPhones and iPads.
Last night, many such users hit a snag.
Apple releases iOS beta versions in stages, usually about every two weeks through the summer until the new iPhone is announced in autumn. This year there have been six different betas, with maybe one more to come before the Gold Master that is the final version before the new iPhone is released. These betas come with expiration dates, and if you are still running an old beta (like versions 1, 2, 3 or 4 in this scenario) when Apple lets it expire, then the device will stop working.
Apparently, many of the people that have downloaded the iOS 7 beta (developers and non-developers alike) did not follow along with Apple’s over-the-air updates of new beta versions and subsequently got locked out of their phones. With so many non-developers using iOS 7 beta, this caused quite a ruckus.
While letting old beta versions expire is standard operating procedure, many users reported that the Apple activation server was down as well meaning that people could not get back into their phones without completely resetting it and downloading the latest version of iOS 7 (beta 6) from the developer portal. While it is unlikely that Apple was going after non-developers using iOS 7 beta, letting their phones brick was perhaps an intended consequence.
The End Is Near
The summer of iOS 7 is nearly over. Apple is expected to announce the new iPhone on September 10, and it will likely ship with the final version of iOS 7 a week later or two at the very most. (That would put it in line with many developer guesses that September 23 would be the final finished version of iOS 7.)
Apple only has a couple of weeks to get everything together. In many ways iOS 7 has been very un-Apple-like. It was apparently rushed into production, after which Apple then pushed a massive change out to its developer ecosystem in order to get the new iPhone out at its appointed time with the new OS. As a result, complaints about iOS 7 design, bugs and functionality have been louder than with previous iOS versions.
Apple has faced tough times with the iPhone before (remember AntennaGate?), and come out on the other side with a great product that millions of people bought and loved. None of the problems that iOS 7 has faced are impossible to overcome with a little time and patience.