Apple WWDC Conference – But Wait, There’s More!
As you probably know, Apple announced a little somethin’ somethin’ last week called iOS 7, the all-new, totally redesigned, flatter, more better, intense, clean, magical, amazing and reimagined follow-up to the current iOS 6. If you didn’t hear about it, welcome back to the Internet and brace yourself for months of non-stop iOS news.
Also unveiled was the next-generation of OS X, dubbed “Mavericks” because Apple painted itself into a corner by using cat breeds for the past 12 years. Considering no recent discoveries have been made in awesome cat names, one would think Apple could have guessed that river was running dry. Doesn’t matter, now it’s all about California cities! Up next: OS X Compton.
Also making its debut was a refresh to Apple’s MacBook Air lineup, which promises a ridiculous amount of battery life. According to Apple’s testing hobgoblins, the 11-inch version can last up to 9 hours, while the 13-inch holds on for up to 10 hours. The energy savings is mostly thanks to Intel’s new Haswell CPUs, but there’s also some software optimization going on to reach those lofty heights.
Also announced, but not yet for sale, was a new Mac Pro. The latest lust object is an all-black affair with cutting-edge graphics, speedy new CPUs and a radical waste bin design. It’s also shrunken down from the previous Mac Pro towers, mostly due to the lack of internal expansion options beyond the fast 1866MHz DDR3 memory. Instead of letting users swap out drives and such, Apple chose to go with six Thunderbolt 2 ports and four USB 3.0 plugs to hook up external hard drives, monitors and other expensive equipment. If you need to ask, you can’t afford it.
Also at the event was iRadio, Apple’s new Internet radio service. It took them quite a while to reach agreements with the big music labels to get this thing going (I wonder why-oh iTunes and the death of endless money for content owners, that’s right), but all parties have finally settled on the royalty specifics. Early impressions are good, but we shall see if iRadio’s music discovery algorithms can really drive sales. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go pay off last week’s $12,000 iTunes bill.
So we have some stuff to show you…
As you can see by the above paragraphs, “also” was a running theme at WWDC. Apple has been eerily quiet since spitting out the iPad mini last fall, meaning its been holding back the floodgates on some very interesting work.
The iOS 7 Primer
I’ll start by talking about iOS 7, since the operating system was really the most important thing unleashed at WWDC. Given the revenue share iOS devices account for in Apple’s billions-of-dollars bottom line, I’d say the success of iOS 7 is pretty crucial to the company’s future, at least until its coffers dry up in 3023 (I did the math).
I mentioned somewhere in the above hyperbole that Apple’s latest mobile OS is redesigned. That part, at least, is for real. You’ll probably be hearing from all your friends how awesome/horrific the new look is; perhaps you already have an opinion of your own. Let’s explore the majesty/travesty that is iOS 7.
While Apple’s software engineering chief Craig Federighi took the stage to show off the latest and greatest iOS, it wasn’t entirely his baby. In fact, most people will tell you it was design guru Sir Jony Ive who single-handedly created the latest OS using nothing but telekinesis. Those people wouldn’t be completely wrong, just mostly.
It was instead a collaborative effort from both parties after Ive and Federighi got handed the project late last year. Oh yes, they weren’t always in charge of iOS.
Here’s what went down in one long, grammatically suspect sentence: When former SVP of iOS Software Scott Forstall — the silver-tongued, bug-eyed mad genius behind pretty much all of what Apple’s mobile OS is today — was fired for soiling the bed by not apologizing for the whole iOS Maps debacle (and reportedly having a not-so-chill demeanor), Ive’s crew took over design duties, while Federighi’s team handled the engineering. Boom.
Pundits (it’s a funny word, just like the people it describes) said iOS 7 would have a flat design language, and for the most part, they were right. Actually, they were completely wrong. Yes, the icons themselves are flat, that is they aren’t meant to look like three dimensional buttons, but the world those icons live in has depth…man.
Allow me to explain.
The Feel (of Cotton)
The new iOS has a slick feel, in no small part to the super clever animations Apple’s software engineering team built in to manhandle all those pancaked graphics. As a whole, the theme of iOS 7 is layers, conveyed by animated panels, windows and pop-up menus. It’s like an onion: some will find it delicious, some will find it makes them cry like a little girl. I shall henceforth refer to what Apple has done to iOS 7 as “onioning.”
Important to the entire concept of depth is that a user feels like they’re navigating through a space not confined to two dimensions. Nowhere is this more clear than iOS 7’s home screen, which puts the icons in parallax.
The OS uses data from its onboard sensors, like the accelerometer and gyroscope, to dynamically reposition the home screen’s wallpaper in relation to how a user is holding the phone, but leaving the apps stuck in place. Basically, the iconography and background appear to live on two separate layers. It’s a cute trick, and Apple has finally found a way to take control of your mind.
Besides being hypnotized by the screen you most often look at, Apple has hidden subtle forms of onioning throughout iOS 7. One word: Translucentpanes. Wait, two words: Translucent panes. This feature can be summoned from anywhere in the OS, even the lock screen, by calling up either Notification Center or the new Command Center.
The pull-down (or pull-up in the case of CC) has a nice frosted glass look that gives users a vague hint at what’s lurking “beneath.” Instead of boring black bars and other indicia, some panes actually have graphical assets that are completely transparent. So much onioning going on here.
This style is also present in contextual menu pop-ups. Though they are much smaller, “Select, Copy, Paste” and other options appear on darker panes, which turn lighter when pressed.
Transitions are also very important to the experience, and Apple has gone through a tremendous reworking of iOS to get the feel just right. These types of animations are triggered by swiping away in-app pages, or moving from one level of a menu hierarchy to another. Not only does it imbue a sense that you’re connected the UI, but the sliding panes add yet another layer of onioning.
A Visual Bounty
There’s also a number of little tweaks here and there that are more eye-candy than anything else. Perhaps the most notable example is the Clock app, something people have been crying about since the first iPhone debuted in 2007. The icon moves now! While completely useless — can people not look at the digital clock located on the status bar? — it does show Apple is giving some pizzazz to its home screen.
Google’s Android has a few live icons, and Microsoft, in an “I can do that too *throws stick on ground, runs away crying*” move, has gone completely insane with Windows Phone. I’d tell you to take a look, but the epileptic seizure triggered by those constantly updating tiles isn’t worth it. It’s almost like like they’re compensating for something. Intriguing.
Apple is bringing some of that life to iOS, though in a very restrained way. The hands on its Clock app icon now tell the correct time down to the second. Sure, the Calendar app has been changing for years, but you’d have to stay up from 11:59 p.m. to midnight to watch those numbers flip. Not what I would call lively.
I would, however, call the new home screen UX animations lively. Now when users open an app, the OS zooms in instead of the iOS 6 version that just opens from the middle of the screen. The fun doesn’t stop there! Opening up a folder rewards you not only with a whiz-bang zooming animation, but also slightly enlarges the background immediately behind said folder, invoking a sense of depth and exploding your mind.
Wrapping Up the Onion
So, animations on the home screen with parallax and (one and a half) live icons. Is that enough, or too much?
It’s difficult to balance eye candy and clarity. We already know what not to do with live tiles thanks to Microsoft — trailblazers in that department — but no one has really come up with just the right recipe for a complete solution. Apple’s OS is in flux and Android seems to be that one kid who’s off in the corner doing his own thing, like making a Lego house only to leave it half-built six months later so he can start a new one (fragmentation joke).
Perhaps the answer is in the apps and how they handle user experience…
There’s much more to…peel away…so stay tuned for part two, in which I get elbow-deep in the apps Apple plans to ship with iOS 7.
Mikey Campbell is a self-professed tech geek. Perhaps it was the “100-in-one” electronic learning kit his father gave him as a child, or some genetic disposition to solder, but his need to break into a shiny new gadget cannot be stopped. After graduating from college with a degree in journalism and working a brief stint at a local daily print publication, he explored his roots in Japan for three years; making countless visits the electronics sanctuary that is Akihabara. When he’s not tearing down perfectly good hardware, Mikey is out taking artsy photos or hitting the beach in his home town of Honolulu, Hawaii. Mikey is currently an editor for Apple news site AppleInsider.
*Some of the views and opinions expressed are those of contributing authors and editors and do not necessarily represent the views of Otterbox. See OtterBox Blog Content Disclaimer