I’m going to take the Devil’s Advocate stance. People saying that iOS 6 or the iPhone 5 is ‘disappointing’ are not just comparing feature checklists. iOS as a platform feels stagnant, because it has been for 5 years now. NFC and other whiz-bang features are neat, but I’m not disappointed that the iPhone doesn’t have those.
I don’t think iOS is a bad platform. It’s formed the entire modern mobile industry. The rub lies with Apple being comfortable where iOS is in the smartphone market. iOS is the reason why Apple is so valuable right now. I think, as an old Apple fan, where it is very disappointing is that the architectural approach of iOS has remained the same for a solid 5 years. In that time, Android, Windows 8 and even webOS have grown up and in webOS’s case, completely vanished in that time.
For this industry, 5 years is an eternity.
Since 2007, Android has gone from fledgling to very mature. The very first time I used Android regularly was on a Nexus One as a daily carry phone. In the short time I carried that device, it was brutally apparent to me that while Android was full of amazing potential, it had not quite come into it’s own. Fast forward to JellyBean, and it’s a completely different story (though not without it’s own issues). It feels fast, smooth, mature, fully baked and extremely innovative.
Siri is the example of where Apple has started going. Siri runs on user input directly. You say
please do this thing, Siri processes that and gives you a result you’re looking for. Cause and effect. Google Now has a radically new approach. You put things into Google services you may use already, or it watches your location, and Google Now parses that, and brings up helpful cards based on those things.
That indirect input is where it’s at.
When Google Now pro-actively alerts you to leave in 5 minutes to make it to the appointment on your calendar on time, it feels like the future. When Siri alerts you to take out the trash, you told her to do that. Bear in mind we are talking to computers, the computer processing it into something useful on it’s own. That is definitely progress, in it’s way, but it still requires direct input.
There is this breed of user interface bubbling up in the form of Google Now, what I’m going to call ‘indirect user interfaces’ (lack of a better term really). IFTTT is another great example of this. You set it up exactly once, it then relies on input from other sources to actually use it. F.lux is a Mac app that modifies your monitor calibration based on time of day. Install once, never think about it again, it makes your laptop screen less retina-searing. Dropbox is like this too. Use a ‘magic’ folder as you do, and it syncs across all of your devices. I would have loved to see Apple capitalize on the indirect interface in some way with iOS 6, and instead, we got a 4” screen & Mapocalypse®.
I think where this is eye-opening is that historically, Apple has been a primary source of innovation in software. I think what we’re seeing here is an effect of Tim Cook’s Apple. Steve Jobs’ Apple kept pushing hardware, software and UI and they churned out revolutionary products consistently. Now, competition is fierce and real innovation is happening outside of Apple.
Google has a real opportunity here to shake things up. Let’s all hope it’s not a 5” Nexus phone.