Change for Change’s Sake

iPhone OS was, but for copy-and-paste, a perfect OS (bear with me here – assume this is true).

It handled every function the iPhone was expected to do in an incredibly elegant and polished way, and it’s not an accident that much of the core functionality has gone unchanged for six years. The tech press and gadget junkies are demanding something new, but then again, they demand feeds and speeds as well, and we know how Apple feels about that.

Apple will not change anything about iOS simply for change’s sake.

Yet, on Monday, I suggested that change was indeed afoot.

Today, as the premium smartphone market moves towards saturation, an increasing portion of iPhone users are buying their second device. The context is changing. And, likely, so is iOS.

It’s all about the context: I don’t have any insight into iOS 7, and I’m not arrogant enough to tell Apple what they should do. But I can see three significant contextual differences between 2013 and 2007, and I think it’s those differences that likely provide the best hint as to what to expect in upcoming versions of iOS.

So what has changed since 2007?

1. The App Store Launched

iPhone OS did not support 3rd-party apps, and I am in the camp that believes Jobs in particular had no desire to do so. The best evidence is the haphazard way that so much app functionality feels tacked on: Springboard very much feels like it was designed as a single screen view, double-tap for multi-tasking is an elegant hack, but a hack nonetheless, and the only types of inter-app communication that work are photos and music, both of which rest on functionality that has been in iOS since day one.

On balance, with the exception of Springboard, I don’t think the situation is nearly as dire on the iPhone as most critics paint it to be. But there’s clearly room to rethink some aspects of app launching and management.

As for the iPad…

2. The iPad Was Invented

It’s no accident iOS was originally called iPhone OS. It was clearly designed for a phone form factor, and while the “iPad is a big iPod Touch” trope has been justifiably trashed, it is fair to say the iOS for iPad feels like a big iPhone OS.1

What might iOS look and feel like if it were designed for the iPad from the start? It’s something to think about and is certainly an opportunity for improvement. Moreover, it’s on the iPad that many of the aforementioned app frustrations come to bear, particularly inter-app communication.

3. Communications Channels Have Proliferated

The original iPhone included three communications channels: Phone, SMS, and Mail.

The Original iPhone
The Original iPhone

My homescreen has 10: Facebook, Twitter, Phone, Skype, Google Voice, WhatsApp, Messages, LINE, Lync, and Mail (and I have other, lesser-used channels on other screens). The vast majority of these channels didn’t exist in 2007, or weren’t widely used. Since then, social interaction has both exploded in use and fragmented in type, but iOS simply wasn’t designed to support multiple channels intelligently.2

I didn’t really mean the first sentence as a thought experiment: iPhone OS was one of the most astounding v1’s in the history of computing. It really was largely “finished”, and Apple has rightly resisted changing too much. And, to be fair, there certainly isn’t time to change all of this this year.

But context is everything, and thinking about what has changed around iOS gives clues as to what might change in iOS.

  1. Yes, I know the iPad idea came first. Shipped and finished matters here, especially when it comes to the UI 

  2. Other OS’s, particularly Windows Phone and Blackberry, are seeking to unify all these channels, but I’m not sure that’s what users want. They seem to rather like the proliferation