The key to the next stage of Apple's iOS mobile experience may lie not in the number of changes the company makes to its software but in the kind of changes it makes.
By marrying a UI redesign with deeper changes that let iOS handle more complex tasks more easily, Apple can consolidate its position as the definitive post-PC platform. The world will be able to evaluate those changes on Monday, June 10, when Apple reveals iOS 7 at its Worldwide Developers Conference in San Francisco.
Over the past week, some details from apparently credible sources indicate that at the least Apple will introduce a new visual style to the user interface layer of the operating system. But unless or until these are married with deeper changes they will remain, precisely, surface changes that by definition will have little impact on the user experience.
While there's no lack of specific changes being called for by developers, users and bloggers, it's easy to lose sight of the forest for the trees. The question is whether the specific changes made by Apple are part of an overall plan for sustaining iOS as the definitive post-PC computing platform. "Plan" doesn't mean an unchanging scheme set before the release of the first iPhone in 2007. Rather it means a flexible, disciplined way of constantly questioning how Apple iOS fits with the Apple hardware and services that, together, constitute the "mobile experience" for Apple users.
This marriage of visual UI changes and underlying OS changes also has some direct implications for one subset of Apple users: those in the enterprise.
The iOS 7 UI changes, such as those described by Mark Gurman's reporting for 9to5Mac, suggest that Apple Senior Vice President for Industrial Design Jonathan Ive is looking to create more visual consistency, based on a simplified layout and color palette, that dispenses with visual cues of textures and shadings. Part of this approach also could be minimizing and simplifying the pixel-eating "chrome" that surrounds onscreen information. Together, these changes can form a new surface style that can improve navigation, which requires knowing both where you are and where you're going, and in this case, what you're doing and what you want to do.
The "doing" aspect of UI design calls for reaching beneath the surface to the underlying kernel.
One way to think about the deeper changes is suggested by Fraser Speirs in a recent blog post. Speirs (@fraserspeirs) is the head of computing and IT at Cedars School of Excellence, "the world's first 1:1 iPad school," in Greenock, Scotland. He is an Apple distinguished educator, Apple education mentor and Apple professional development trainer. He shares the Out of School blog and podcasting site -- "the intersection of technology and education" -- with Bradley Chambers, director of information technology for Brainerd Baptist School, Chattanooga, Tenn.
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