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Why Apple Inc. Can't Be Forgiven for iOS 7


Apple's hubris and hypocrisy get in the way of appreciating its attempts to improve its mobile operating system.

"Can't innovate anymore, my ass!"

That was a remark made by senior vice president Phil Schiller during Apple Inc.'s (NASDAQ:AAPL) keynote presentation at this week's WWDC conference. It came immediately after a sneak peek at the future Mac Pro desktop computer, which boasts a volume one-eighth the size of the current design, one that has remained largely unchanged for seven years.

It also came immediately after numerous live bloggers remarked how similar the future Mac Pro strongly resembles a cross between a Braun coffee maker and a Dyson vacuum cleaner. Sleek, yes. Pleasing to the eye, yes. Innovative? Well, it's an interesting design for a computer.

Schiller may have been referring specifically to the overhaul that's been long overdue for Apple's workstation line, but his comment epitomizes the defensive and self-righteous hubris that has engulfed the company since Steve Jobs was at the helm. Who exactly was the SVP talking to? Why did he feel the need to be antagonistic after showing off a desktop computer with a cylindrical form factor? Honestly, nobody is saying that Apple can't innovate anymore. The term has just been tossed around so often and with so much abandon that it's lost all meaning within the city limits of Cupertino.

Many would regard Schiller's remark as the most important pullquote for the entire conference, and with good reason: It took on a whole new level of irony a few moments later, when Apple showed off iOS 7.

Anyone who's picked up an Android (NASDAQ:GOOG) or a Windows (NASDAQ:MSFT) phone in recent years can see how much iOS 7 is "influenced" by its competitors' features. The lockscreen, the swipeable emails, the settings-heavy control center, the music player UI, the messenger layout, the tabs in Safari, the multitasking cards -- all have strong similarities to existing Android and Windows Phone features. Many analysts have already compared iOS 7's newly designed features to those that have long existed in competing platforms in side-by-side screenshots, and the "influence" is irrefutable.

And if this wasn't Apple, there wouldn't be an issue.

Apple has gone on the legal offensive and attacked any company that implemented a feature that bore a slight resemblance to something it's done -- whether Apple thought of it first or not. Whether it was multitouch displays, a swipeable lockscreen, or a rubberbanding effect when scrolling to the top, Apple's legal team is probably the most overworked department within the company.

So it's hard to let these lifted features slide. Any other developer would be commended for finally stepping up to the plate and delivering an updated OS that users have been clamoring for, even if much of the functionality seemed pretty familiar. But when Apple, for years, has planted its flag in settled territory and fought everyone else that neared the border, it's difficult to ignore the hypocrisy.

But there's something else about Schiller's remark.

The updates made in iOS 7 are, to use the term again, long overdue. Largely unchanged since its 2007 debut, the iOS interface absolutely needed an overhaul. The platform's icon grid and skeuomorphic-heavy design looked dated more than a few years ago, and while Apple's top brass remained steadfast in refusing to update its look and feel -- almost to the degree that caused BlackBerry (NASDAQ:BBRY) to sink to its current level -- its competitors scrambled like hell to refine their platforms into something, well, innovative.

And no one else more than Android stepped up to the task. The evolution in design that Google Inc. has orchestrated since Android's debut is nothing short of extraordinary. Constant revision and refinement have turned a rudimentary mobile OS from 2008 into a powerful platform with a clean interface and widespread support today. All this while Apple stood firmly in place and refused to change pop-up notifications and calendar apps with stitched leather. (It's probably why iOS 7 has a distinct Android feel.)

So while nobody is really saying Apple can't innovate anymore, few can deny that it has been out-innovated by Google in recent years.

Unfortunately, this last-minute push to update iOS is pretty evident in its design. Lifted features aside, there's just something "off" about the way it looks. The pastel color scheme on the homescreen looks like a grid of Easter M&Ms. The cluttered and minimalistic Control Center looks as if it's a wireframe design of what Control Center is supposed to be. The universal symbol for cell phone reception has been replaced by a decidedly nonintuitive series of dots. And while the first six versions of iOS may have looked dated, there was undeniable uniformity between all the apps and tools. Looking through screenshots of the seventh version, that uniformity appears to be slightly broken.

And the gradients. Good Lord, the gradients.

Cupertino waited far too long to make changes to its mobile platform, and when it finally did, the results look like a last-minute term paper. The ideas are there, the intent is clear, but the execution doesn't quite make it. Had Apple made design changes throughout the run of iOS, we'd be looking at a perfectly polished iOS 7. But it's simply not there yet.

Nobody is saying Apple can't innovate. It's just really frustrating when it doesn't.

See also:

Investors and Analysts Have Mixed Feelings About Apple Inc.'s New Offerings

Broken iPromises: Top Apple Inc. Announcements That Didn't 'Just Work'

Apple Inc. Is Actually Spending a Lot of Money, but on What?

Disclosure: Minyanville Studios, a division of Minyanville Media, has a business relationship with BlackBerry.
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