Let’s say you go to a restaurant almost every day for years. It’s your favorite restaurant, and you’ve practically memorized the menu. The staff knows you, your favorite dishes and you know a little about the chef. Then one day you walk in and everything has changed. The menu looks weird, there’s a bunch of new dishes and the staff is a little distracted– but the food is amazing. Everything else is throwing you off but you cannot deny that the food is better. It’s as if the chef changed out the kitchen entirely and got 10 times better overnight.
After over a week of hearing pundits work their magic, I keep returning to my notes from chats with developers who were at WWDC and AltWWDC. For anyone who is worried about iOS 7 or Mavericks let me tell you right now: breathe, relax, things are going to be great.
Beauty is skin deep
Yes, iOS 7 looks really different. As one writer said, it will be polarizing. Consumers are a blob of people are scared of changes in technology. Forcing users to grok some new interactions, no matter how much more sense they make, will prove a little problematic for Apple. I anticipate slower uptake from existing users at first. But as word spreads about how much better iOS 7 is, I think those people will jump on board.
If you’re only looking at stills of iOS 7 you really aren’t seeing the full picture. Parallax is a subtle thing, maybe the new active desktops are useless, but the zooming hints of depth. There are so many cognitive touches that will make iOS “just work” better that it’s hard to delineate them all (never mind that I’m going to try to avoid chatting too much about things that are covered in Apple’s non-disclosure agreement with developers — although I am not a developer and have signed no such agreement). Suffice it to say that what you’ll see when you start using iOS 7 is a better sense of where you are in the OS at any given moment. By zooming in and out, by seeing what pages are open as you multi-task, you’ll feel like you have more context at any given point. This interesting method for using 3D spatial cues has prompted some interesting thoughts, like this great opinion piece by Jeff Rock. When you get designers thinking about this stuff, great things happen.
Something that is impossible to understand when simply looking at frozen pixels on a screen is the interaction when using the OS. iOS has relied on buttons for many interactions, and iOS 7 does away with a good bit of this. Last week I kept joking with developers about the “Oregon Trail” your thumb takes as it traverses down, left, up, right, etc. just to do a simple thing. In iOS 7’s Settings, however, if you want to go “back” you no longer have to reach way up to the left corner to tap a little button — you just swipe to bring the previous screen back, much as you do on the iPod nano today.
All of those little interactions add up to a significantly enhanced experience in iOS 7. Anyone who has been fixated on the pixels they see within a tiny rounded square is missing the forest of UX for the trees of UI.
New kitchen, new rules
Folks, there are 1,500 new frameworks. More importantly, those frameworks are all coming together to enhance the user experience and build better apps. Some of those frameworks may even hint at future Apple products.
Every single developer I spoke to was excited about what they saw at WWDC sessions. iOS 7 isn’t just “flat” design and a few new interactions, it’s a significant boost to an already powerful mobile operating platform. There are new tools and toys that developers are still wrapping their minds around. In the end, you’re going to see another app Rennaisance. I don’t think I’m overstating it — users have no idea how much better apps about about to become.
As one example, I was told by one source that at some point Eddy Cue corralled more engineers to fix the iCloud Core Data sync issues. Apple finally woke up and realized it had a serious problem on this one, and dedicated the resources to fix it. If anyone wonders whether Apple listens to developers or users, there’s your answer. Apple listens. But as the WWDC keynote hammered home, Apple does its best not to ship features until they are ready. When something breaks, it works to fix it, but not in a haphazard way, because we’ve all seen how “quick fixes” can sometimes make things worse.
The biggest disappointment among developers: A continuing lack of inter-app communication. Yes, there’s a way to do it with URLs, like LaunchCenter Pro and other apps have utilitized, but that’s not a round-trip solution and it’s often confusing to your average user. We’re talking about true connections between apps that allow realtime data sharing and cross-talk. My theory is this is still on a whiteboard at Apple, but the intricacies of doing it “just right” will mean a wait for at least another year. Developers tended to agree with this theory — or maybe they’re just being hopeful.
Don’t Worry, Be Happy
There are some incredible things coming in Mavericks and iOS 7. Macworld has a nice rundown of some features you might have missed in Mavericks. How about this for you power users: I heard AppleScript has been seriously beefed up and it can now dip into Cocoa. If tagging didn’t float your boat, maybe that will.
Every single thing I heard at WWDC and AltWWDC indicated that Apple continues to relentlessly perfect its product. For someone like myself who has followed the company his entire life, this is not a surprise. For those who are younger and maybe grew up in an era where Windows NT was a common fixture and Apple was relegated to the design department, this might be a revelation. Apple’s “Designed in California” and other propaganda videos shown at and after WWDC point to its core values of making the best products it can, and helping people do more with those tools.
And if it’s any indication of progress, I took a hands-up poll at AltWWDC’s panel on the keynote. About half of the people who had jailbroken their iPhones said they wouldn’t continue to do so after they saw what they wanted in iOS 7.
“Can’t innovate, my ass.” — Phil Schiller
It should go without saying that iTunes Radio will be a hit and likely introduce people to streaming radio who, until now, have resisted Spotify, Rdio or Pandora (there’s a good opinion piece on this over at Engadget). It should also go without saying that the new Mac Pro will be a hit. The folks at Aerohive were impressed with the new Airport and Time Capsule hardware, and who isn’t loving more battery life on the new MacBook Airs?
In-between the propaganda films and dizzying array of new stuff, there was a steady drumbeat last week of Apple messaging to its core constituents: We are here, we are still innovating, we are still kicking ass. If you don’t believe this, prepare for some tasty claim chowder in 300 days after sales and update numbers come out.
I’m happy to report that Apple is still unafraid to tear down its own creations to build something new. While Mavericks is getting a good overhaul, iOS 7 fully embraces the ethos of radical change for the better. Those who don’t get this don’t really get Apple’s core values. Developers are on notice to update their apps. iOS 7 will be radically different, and it should be. And that’s a very good thing for everyone. I can’t wait to see what’s next.