The star of Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference this year was clearly iOS 7, which gets a new look and a raft of new features. Officially slated for release sometime this fall, it's already in the hands of developers, giving them a few months' lead time to update their apps and prep for the rollout -- likely at the same time new iPhones are released.
iOS 7 represents a fairly fresh approach to on an already successful design. And while there will inevitably be changes before the final version arrives, the preview version shows the direction Apple is moving and gives a broad look at what's in store for iPhone, iPad and iPod touch users later this year. Based on some time with the preview, here's my thinking on what Apple is up to, and why it matters.
The look of it
As iOS matured since it first arrived in 2007, Apple gradually added new features and capabilities. But the overall look remained pretty much the same. Not so in iOS 7, which delivers an interface overhaul that's been a long time coming.
Where iOS 6 and previous versions featured an emphasis on graphical decorations to convey information -- for example, glossy effects around buttons and textures like linen and felt to fill empty space -- iOS 7 uses solid colors and a thinner font set free of borders. It's a cleaner look that focuses more on displaying content, with many interface elements that were once framed by ornamental graphics now filling the entire screen. The new iOS design makes one thing clear: Content is king, and everything else should get out of the way.
iOS 7 features a different color scheme, as if the folks behind Flower Power iMac and the new iPod touch models had stormed into the design office, raised their minimalist, multicolored pirate flag, and looted all things shiny in iOS. The result is a brighter, more minimalist interface than iOS users have grown accustomed to. It's not unlike the text-centric Windows Phone, melded with shades of iOS past.
In the past, Apple's OS tended to reflect the hardware. OS X was all cute and bubbly when iMacs were key, but as the iMac line became more sophisticated, so did the color scheme of OS X. I do wonder whether the iOS color scheme will be reflected in upcoming hardware, especially now that Apple design guru Jony Ive is leading both hardware and software designs.
If you're afraid of change, you can take comfort in the fact that iOS still bears more than a passing resemblance to previous versions, and navigating the interface is just as simple as before. You still get a home screen with app icons, and you'll still be swiping up and down and side to side. The main difference between iOS 7 and previous releases is that the update leaves you feeling that every design element has gone through a formal vetting process by someone who had many nits to pick about the way things looked and behaved before.