The world of Apple's iOS 7 is flat. The maker of the iPhone, iPad and iPod revealed the latest update to its mobile operating system at its Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) today with a raft of new features and a new, flatter, cleaner look that CEO Tim Cook declared "the biggest change to iOS 7 since the (launch of) the iPhone."
Apple's vice president of software engineering, Craig Federighi, demonstrated many of the new iOS 7 features on stage before thousands of developers and press, and highlighted the new style that is noticeably more black and white and drops the skeumorphic, 3D feel of older versions of iOS.
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Beginning with a new unlock screen, iOS 7 sports a fresher look, and the device home screen shows off a new "parallax" effect that responds to how the user moves the phone.
The single most notable feature of iOS 7 is iTunes Radio, which is essentially a Pandora clone, but comes with the added advantage of integrating with iTunes and iCloud. The streaming service comes in a free ad-supported version or without ads for iTunes Match subscribers.
Apple's Eddy Cue demonstrated the new streaming radio service, which comes with a number of preset stations but also allows for the creation of new stations in much the same way as similar offerings from Pandora, Google and Spotify.
Ovum analyst Jan Dawson says iTunes Radio was more about playing catch-up than innovation:
"What would be really disruptive is a service that allowed you to call up specific songs on demand as you can with Spotify, but that would likely have disrupted Apple's existing iTunes business, and the music industry as a whole, too much."
More new features
One novel new addition to iOS in this iteration is the always-accessible Control Center, which allows for easy access and control of a number of the device settings and a few other thoughtful features like a flashlight.
Multitasking and sharing throughout iOS also got an upgrade, particularly in Air Drop, which allows sharing directly, via social networks and other channels to other Air Drop users connected via WiFi.
"No need to run around the room bumping your phone," joked Federighi in a clear jab at the near-field communication "bump" sharing feature used by Samsung and other Android phone makers.
Other updates to Mail, Safari and Photos seem to serve to catch up with features already popular on Android and other platforms like swiping away messages, adding notifications to the unlock screen and removing the previous limit on open browser tabs.
Another popular feature receiving a long overdue update is Siri, which comes with the choice of a male voice in iOS 7 and broader data banks to provide more and better answers to requests.
iOS 7 on the road
Siri will also be joining iOS 7 behind the wheel next year. Cue offered a sneak peek at coming deep iOS integration for cars. A number of major carmakers will begin to roll out models starting in 2014 in which iOS will be right at home on the screen mounted within the dash, according to Cue.
In essence the iOS interface migrates to the in-car screen, and can be controlled via the screen or by using Siri when your eyes need to be on the road.
The small (but still cool) stuff
Federighi also mentioned a number of minor upgrades that won't turn many heads, but also offer some new key functionality.
Audio only calls via FaceTime on a WiFi connection will become possible in iOS 7, as will virtual private network access on a per app basis.
Notifications on one iOS device will sync with other iOS devices to prevent having to manage the same notices on all your devices, and a new activation lock provides a new theft deterrent by denying access to data and control of stolen devices.
"Many of the new features Apple added to iOS 7 are fixes to problems rather than dramatic or clever new ideas," says Dawson. "Notifications, Siri, and Multitasking enhancements and the introduction of Control Center all deal with deficiencies rather than providing surprising new features no-one would have thought of."
While there was no fantastic "one more thing" at WWDC today, in the style of Steve Jobs, Tim Cook and the rest of the Apple crew are likely hoping the completely re-stylized iOS 7 will be enough to satiate the masses until the introduction of some new mobile Apple hardware later this year.
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