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The world is not flat: Apple unveils 'fresh, light' iOS 7

Apple struts new iOS 7 and OS X 'Mavericks,' refreshes MacBook Air and comes through with free iTunes Radio

June 10, 2013 04:24 PM ET

Computerworld - Apple CEO Tim Cook and several of his top executives took the stage today at the company's annual developers conference to unveil the spruced-up, new-look iOS 7, introduce the iTunes Radio service and talk up this fall's "Mavericks" upgrade for OS X.

Monday's Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) keynote focused on software -- the event is, after all, a banquet for iOS and OS X developers -- but it also included a small portion of hardware on the side: Apple announced Haswell-powered MacBook Air notebooks and gave everyone a sneak peek at a totally reworked Mac Pro.

The most anticipated part of the keynote, which was webcast live, came over an hour in, when Cook touted iOS 7, the mobile operating system that powers the iPhone and iPad, the two product lines that last quarter accounted for almost three-fourths of the firm's revenue.

Most analysts and observers had predicted that iOS 7 would be a dramatic visual revamp, with an emphasis on a "flatter" design with fewer three-dimensional cues, and a complete or partial elimination of "skeuomorphic" software embellishments, like the wooden bookshelves in iBooks and the lined paper in Notes.

"This is the biggest change of iOS since the iPhone," said Cook.

Cook didn't disappoint, but left the particulars to Jonathan Ive, head of product and now software design -- who said his piece via his customary pre-shot video -- and Craig Federighi, who leads both OS X and iOS development. Federighi stepped on stage to talk up the changes.

The icons appeared "flatter" on the webcast, in that they omitted shadows and textures that previously made them jump off the background, but their dimensions were retained by using translucent layers, which, said Ive, "gives you a sense of context."

Yet neither Ive or Federighi used the word 'flat' to describe the user interface (UI) overhaul, and Gartner analyst Carolina Milanesi said it was anything but.

"One thing's clear, it's not about 'flat' at all," said Milanesi. "It doesn't feel that way at all, it feels fresh and light, and actually quite 'deep.' Really, 'flat' is not the word I would use to describe it."

Contrary to some fears that Apple would go too far in its revamp, colors dominated the new UI, though in many places it also featured more white space. Additionally, iOS 7 provided something Federighi called "parallax," which subtly changed the appearance of the screen depending on how the device is held.

"iOS 7 is a comprehensive, end-to-end redesign," said Federighi, not only in look and feel, but also in features. He breezed through 10, ranging from all-new, all-app multi-tasking and a significant Safari revamp to system-wide support for AirDrop and new automatic organization, based on location and time, of iPhone-snapped shots in Photos.

Milanesi said it would be impossible to appreciate iOS 7 without using it, but claimed two things were abundantly clear after the keynote.

Computerworld's Ken Mingis chats with Keith Shaw about his impressions of Apple's Worldwide Developer Conference keynote, in which the company announced iOS 7, a new desktop OS and new MacBook Air and Mac Pro models.

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