Apple released iOS 7, a complete remake of the look and feel of the iPhone and iPad’s operating system, last week.
iOS 7 had the potential to be a complete and utter disaster for Apple. It was tossing out Steve Jobs’ design, which featured life-like illustrations, in favour of a simpler design that had none of those.
It was, in many ways, the first truly post-Steve Jobs product Apple released.
iOS 7 is not a disaster, though. It’s a success. A smash hit, if measured by consumer downloads. Over the opening weekend, 200 million people signed up for the new software.
The new software looks great, and works well.
The relative lack of an outcry is astounding considering what a change Apple made. Going into iOS 7, a lot of Apple bloggers expected a massive backlash from mainstream consumers, and mainstream media.
So far, that hasn’t materialised. People seem pleased.
This is an excellent turn of events for Apple. In the past three years, Apple’s new iPhone led to a variety of controversies, and embarrassments.
The iPhone 4 led to Antennagate, which ultimately proved to be utter nonsense, but still led mainstream news programs and even forced Apple to hold an impromptu news conference to explain why people thought the phone was losing its reception.
The iPhone 4S came with Siri, which was supposed to be a voice activated personal assistant. Siri didn’t work as billed. It was, and still is, essentially useless. A year after it was released, a former Apple employee said, “People are embarrassed by Siri … Steve [Jobs] would have lost his mind over Siri.”
The iPhone 5 came with Apple Maps, which were another mess. Apple Maps replaced Google’s maps on the iPhone. But, Apple Maps didn’t (and still don’t) have transit directions. It gave (and still gives) bad directions. Its vaunted 3D maps were glitchy and filled with inaccuracies.
Apple Maps were so flawed that Tim Cook apologized for the product, and recommended other mapping apps to customers. The failure of Apple Maps led in part to Scott Forstall being forced out of the company. Forstall was the iOS leader, and he built the iPhone’s software with Jobs.
With Forstall out, Cook promoted Jony Ive, the design god who made the hardware that defined Apple through the years. Ive, who had no real software expertise, took over the the look and feel of iOS.
At the same time, Craig Federighi, who was leading OS X, the operating system that runs Apple’s iMacs and laptops, took over as the lead engineer for iOS.
Essentially, Ive was responsible for the look of iOS, Federighi was responsible for the nuts and bolts of iOS, making sure it works. Federighi contributed ideas for the look, but his role is less visionary than Ive.
Together, Ive and Federighi got started on iOS 7 in November. We don’t know all the inner workings of Apple, but it seems like they ripped up whatever Apple had planned and started from scratch.
In just 10 months, it managed to overhaul almost every piece of the iPhone’s software while still adding new gestures and features. At the same time, Apple was adding features to OS X, it was developing the new iPhones, it was developing new iPads, and we assume it was working on new products like an iWatch, or Apple TV, or something else we can’t imagine.
It would have been very easy to botch iOS 7.
The fact that Apple got iOS 7 right has largely been taken for granted. It shouldn’t be, especially considering all that we just detailed.
When Apple delivered back to back flops with Siri and maps, it was worrisome. Apple’s rivals were catching up in hardware quality, and by offering bigger screens, one could argue rivals were beating Apple in hardware.
Apple’s only defence against Android is the superior quality of iOS. But, the last two major innovations for iOS — Siri and Maps — were not good. It was a bad sign for the future of the platform.
That Ive and Federighi managed to pump out a totally new look for the operating system without any deadly, major flaws in less than twelve months bodes well for the future of Apple.