So here’s how the story goes: In October 2012, Tim Cook puts Jonathan Ive in charge of software as well as hardware. Eight months later, iOS 7 is put on display at the WWDC. Well, actually just the iPhone version. The iPad version will come soon, according to published reports. The conclusion: Apple spent just eight months on remaking the iOS.
As you might imagine, an operating system development project doesn’t happen overnight. It took Microsoft three years to move from the well-accepted Windows 7 to the Windows 8 train wreck. Even that forthcoming 8.1 refresh, said to make critical changes to address customer concerns, is little more than a glorified service pack or maintenance update, and no doubt a serious rush job as far Microsoft is concerned.
Compare that to Apple’s decision to release iOS and OS X roughly annually. Roughly, because it appears OS X Mavericks will arrive 14 or 15 months after the debut of OS X Mountain Lion. Perhaps that’s the result of Apple deciding to move some OS developers to the iOS project. Or maybe not, since that’s just a rumor that was never officially concerned. Maybe it’s just taking Apple longer to make all those promised under-the-hood improvements.
But when it comes to iOS 7, there’s an unfortunate assumption that the actual work began in October and somehow Apple managed to whip enough of it into shape to make a credible presentation at the WWDC. That, however, is only partly true.
It’s a sure thing that Apple was outlining the changes for iOS 7 long before Ive got involved. It’s likely that all or most of the interface changes you see were crafted by Ive, but it’s just as likely that most of the new features you’ve seen so far, visible and otherwise, were on the drawing boards even before iOS 6 was released. It’s absurd to think those features appeared out of whole cloth in October, as Ive rushed to consolidate his position and make the initial design changes.
But that won’t stop the media from making up stories.
It’s also a sure thing that any defects found after the public release will be attributed to the rush to complete iOS 7 in time for the WWDC and for the next generation iPhones and iPads. On the other hand, it’s also true that all previous iOS versions shipped with various bugs of one sort or another that required a few maintenance updates. It would be naïve to expect anything different this time, although I also expect Apple has been seriously stung with complaints about buggy releases. Maps for iOS 6 comes to mind, so maybe there will be a more stable release this time. We’ll see.
Already I’ve read a number of reports that focus on the iOS 7 features that appear to mimic, in whole or in part, features from other mobile operating systems. Control Center? Well, take a look at Android and even Windows Phone. Application switching? Doesn’t that scheme remind you of Android and WebOS?
It’s also true that some of Apple’s changes step on the toes of iOS app developers who may have to give up some money-making software, boost the features to make them indispensable, or focus on other products. But this is the plight of any developer who builds a utility that somehow enhances OS functions in one way or the other. They are filling gaps left open by Apple, but such approaches invariably exist on life support. Nothing stops Apple from borrowing or being influenced by these apps as operating systems are upgraded.
While some would prefer that Apple leave well enough alone, it’s not easy to deliver 200 new features every year, and many new features will answer concerns from iOS and Mac users. In the interim, third-party solutions may arise to fill the gaps. Apple will finally get around to doing it for themselves in a way that is reminiscent of the third-party app, or moves in a different direction. Regardless, developers will be hurt.
Indeed, some hope that Apple will provide more OS hooks for developers to do their thing. What about third-party keyboard apps for the iPhone and iPad? What about expanding OS X’s sandboxing feature to accommodate mission critical apps that tap system capabilities that aren’t being sanctioned now? Well, at least with the Mac, you can get your apps from any source you want. OS X Mountain Lion’s Gatekeeper will put up first launch warnings, but that’s nothing you can’t get around, so it’s a minor inconvenience.
Some would like to see the iOS offer an approved way to get any app you want from any source you want so long as you take responsibility for the consequences. Android doesn’t prevent you from doing that, but you have to jailbreak your iPhone or iPad, which may have warranty implications unless you can restore your device if it needs repair. But Apple built the iOS from scratch, without the baggage of the past, and the fact that 97% of mobile app malware is on the Android platform has to count for something.
Meantime, iOS 7 sure looks promising for something that only took eight months to develop.