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Apple needs to do more than just change the iPhone design

Farhad Manjoo (via Slate/ SMH) | June 12, 2013
To really fight back against Android, Apple will have to do more than just change its aesthetic.

iOS 7 - which is available only to Apple developers now, and will make it to your phone this fall - represents a typically Apple-y attempt to solve its smartphone woes. Like the ad says, they started over. They refined, perfected, simplified. They ended up with an operating system that looks very different from today's iOS but isn't jarring, one that's pretty without being flashy. It's quite nice, if not groundbreaking - iOS 7 borrows many ideas from other companies' touchscreen designs, especially Microsoft.

What's more, Apple's new design is only a first step in reinvigorating the iPhone's prospects. To really fight back against Android, Apple will have to do more than just change its aesthetic. It will also have to alter its business strategy. More than anything else, it needs to make a cheaper iPhone, one that potentially cuts down its massive profit margins. To see whether Apple does that - and if it can do so without hurting sales of its flagship phone - we've still got to wait a few months.

In the meantime, if you want to sum up iOS 7 in a word, it would be flat. Last year, chief executive officer Tim Cook fired Scott Forstall, Apple's former iOS head, and appointed Jonathan Ive, the company's hardware design chief, to oversee all design at the firm. Everyone has expected Ive to clean up iOS' rampant ornamentation - the faux textures like stitched leather and green felt, or the buttons with deep shadows that made them look three dimensional - which design snobs had long ridiculed.

That's exactly what Ive has done. If you scan through the gallery of iOS clips that Apple posted on its site, you'll notice there are no drop-shadows on the buttons and icons - they're all simple, 2D lines and colours. In the Messages app, your text now appears in bubbles that don't have a cartoonish inner shadow.

In Notes, there's no longer a yellow legal-paper background. In the Calculator app, every button is spare, dimensionless, just colour and text. These may sound like small tweaks, but they combine to make iOS look elegant and grown-up. The design now feels like it belongs on a touchscreen, and it no longer relies on real-world metaphors for meaning. More than that, it looks modern. The old iOS looked like an Applebee's; the new one looks like an Apple Store.

OS design isn't everything. If it was, I'd have a Windows Phone, and so would you. Apple makes the best-looking phones, and now it has a mobile operating system to match its hardware. As I've argued before, the iPhone's customers never had any real problem with iOS, and I don't believe the folks choosing Android are doing so because they can't stand Apple's too-cutesy interface. Indeed, despite Android's greater market share, usage stats show that iPhone owners are much more addicted to their devices than Android users, and the iPhone's customer satisfaction ratings demolish Android's.

 

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