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Typical Pre-WWDC Talk

As we all await news of what Apple has in store for an anxious public at the WWDC in June, speculation has predictably mounted. What we do know is that Apple’s lead designer, Jonathan Ive, one with minimalist preferences, was tasked with handling human interface for iOS and OS X last fall. This presages a huge change in the look and feel of both, and it’s expected the initial changes will appear in iOS 7 and OS 10.9.

That’s where it begins, because the situation gets more muddled from there, simply because there is no solid information to go on. It’s all third-hand, and that’s being charitable. So, for example, the claim that the alterations that Ive has mandated might mean that it’ll take longer to get the work done. I suppose that could explain why Apple has yet to release any information about Mountain Lion’s successor, even though it would theoretically arrive by July or August. Or at least that’s what you expect if Apple keeps with the annual upgrade cycle.

Another story has it that Apple has repurposed OS X engineers to help finish up iOS 7, since that has to be out by fall, in time for the expected release of the next iPhone. Apple could take a huge hit in prestige and sales if an iPhone was launched without a major OS update. Besides, new hardware features, and NFC and fingerprint recognition have been suggested, would likely require extensive revisions of the guts of iOS.

Are you with me so far?

Once again, there’s nothing here, beyond discussing software at WWDC, that is even close to being confirmed. I’m just making some reasoned predictions based on Apple’s history, and what you expect to happen once developers get their hands on prerelease software.

As to the changes, the stories are actually fairly consistent. Power user features may predominate in OS X, such as finally being able to see more than a linen background on a second display when you’re running an app in full-screen mode on the first. The Finder may get tabs and other enhancements that you see now in third-party utilities, and multitasking might be modified to become smarter. So apps that aren’t doing anything in the background can be suspended in the same fashion as iOS. Cutting resource use may increase battery life on Mac note-books, although the display is still the biggest offender when it comes to power consumption. But anything that optimizes power utilization across the board has to be a plus.

Both OS X and iOS will get simplified, more minimalist looks for key apps, such as Contacts and Calendar, which is really just all about window dressing. I think the media makes too much of this. Once the artwork is complete, it’s trivial to replace the older versions. It’s more about what the apps actually do that counts.

With iOS, one hopes that Apple is paying close attention to things that can be done in Android that aren’t yet possible in iOS. One possibility, for iPads, is being able to run two apps or app windows side by side, to take better advantage of the larger screens. That would make the iPad more suitable for doing productive things. Some also suggest Apple could do a thing or two with the Android widget concept, so it’s not all about icons. Notification Center could be made more granular in settings, so you aren’t overwhelmed with the onslaught of alerts.

One suggestion has it that iOS 7 should allow you to easily turn such services as Bluetooth and Wi-Fi on or off with a single tap. Android’s Notification window does provide such a scrolling list, which actually encompasses a bunch of services, but it’s oh so easy to accidentally tap something when you are merely rushing to scroll through the notices. It happens to me on occasion, and I think that Apple’s interface wizards are clever enough to make the settings easy, but not so easy that you hit them with a random tap.

With iOS. the most important improvements may simply be to overhaul some of the settings that require multiple taps and find ways to make them easier to configure. In the end, though, the hallmark of iOS is that you can set up a new iPhone or iPad in minutes, and have most everything work the way you want, or at least in an acceptable fashion. Android gives you far more flexibility, at the expense of ease of use, not to mention some flakiness around the edges. This explains why the number of Android users who plan to switch to iOS next time is several times the number of iOS users who’d select Android.

All in all, I’m reasonably optimistic that iOS 7 and OS 10.9 will be impressive releases, fixing lots of ills that customers have complained about. Will they take iPhones, iPads, and Macs into new directions? That may be a stretch, but Apple is under the gun to amaze yet again.