The Hills Are Greener: Is a Fresh Coat of Paint Really Innovating?

The Hills Are Greener: Is a Fresh Coat of Paint Really Innovating?

Jun 17, 2013

Last week at WWDC, Apple made their big reveal of iOS 7, the massive visual overhaul spearheaded by Jony Ive. Most notably, the OS has been flattened like a steamroller. There’s definitely still some three-dimensional elements and hints of skeuomorphism, but this is a fresh new coat of paint for the OS. But really, in comparison to Android, that’s largely all it is: a new coat of paint. The core product underneath is still the same, and still lacking in certain areas.

It’s easy to accuse Apple on a macro level of stealing ‘flat’ design from Android and Windows Phone 8, both of which used this kind of design first, and it’s right in a certain sense. Apple is playing follower here. But then again they weren’t the first with a touchscreen phone, either.

However, much like how Android and WP8 don’t really look alike, iOS still has its own individual look. It’s basically a more abstract version of iOS, with no more buttons. There’s lots of color gradients too. Looking at the OS, it still looks different. There are natural similarities, but many things that separate all three OSes still.

In fact, really, iOS 7 is so familiar because all that really appears to have changed is the look of it. It’s largely a fresh coat of paint, the structure is still largely the same. The most drastic change was gutting of Game Center into something way different. But the massive feature overhaul that iOS 7 could really use at this point just isn’t there.

iOS7 Game CenteriOS7 Home Center

Customization is still largely left to just wallpapers. All apps still clutter the homescreen, and default apps can’t be hidden away from view, like how Android allows for users to choose what they want on homescreens. Widgets are still not an option, though I personally am not the biggest proponent of them. Most of the changes are minor feature tweaks. It’s still largely the same OS that it was back in 2007. Sure, it’s a lot better now with the added features, and I still overall like my iPhone (reviewing a lot of iOS games will make you go down crazy paths like that) but it just still doesn’t feel like the ideal mobile OS experience.

Google has been far less conservative, having overhauled Android not just visually but also making major feature changes with Ice Cream Sandwich and later Jelly Bean. The spirit of the OS has remained the same, but stock Android proves that there doesn’t have to be a compromise between design and functionality. And I believe that more changes will be on the way with the next big Android update.

Microsoft can’t be accused of resting on their laurels with Windows Phone, either. These operating systems just feel more…modern. iOS looks more modern, but at the end of the day, it’s still a closed and cluttered OS. There are advantages to Apple’s approach, but their strength remains as much the developer community around iOS as much as the OS itself. A new coat of paint can’t really change that.