There was a missing device at Apple's 2013 WWDC keynote, and it's one of the company's most popular product lines. iPad, where were you?
iOS 7, a product of Jony Ive, Apple's design mastermind, took the stage at WWDC -- but the iPhone 5 was the featured runway model. Apple's Web site shows app after app on the iPhone 5's 4-inch screen. iOS 7 beta is available, but just for iPhone and iPod Touch. the iPad was mentioned for all of a few seconds. Macs and iPhones ruled the day.
The iPad beta is coming soon, in the next few weeks. Will it be different from what we've seen on the iPhone? I really hope so. Not because I do or don't like the new visual aesthetic, but because iPhones and iPads are very different devices, and it's high time iOS treated them both differently.
Something new, or another coat of paint?
"What did they show that's really revolutionary? Did they show something that's really revolutionary?" That's what my wife asked after watching an iOS 7 video on Apple's Web site. Not my opinion, hers. Unforced. She's used an iPhone for about three years.
AirDrop had some interest to her. But for the rest, nothing really stood out. In fact, she told me the whole video reminded her of an airline commercial. The music, the tone, the pace. Like those videos that play before takeoff. Relax, get ready to fly.
Maybe this is the mission of Apple and iOS 7: comforting those about to fly with a new operating system. Relaxing the apprehensive. Comfort comes at odds with the new; change means uprooting, discovering, disrupting. But the iOS 7 video, and the whole mission statement, seems to go so much toward leaning into comfort that I wonder if the subtlety ends up lost on the average person.
But beyond that, I can't see how aesthetics make a huge difference. Redesigning the look of iOS isn't about the color scheme of the coat of paint put on it. It's what's underneath that counts.
What I want: iPad and iPhone-specific features
Control Center is my favorite new iOS 7 feature, because it's the remote control and flip-up easy-access settings panel I've wanted for years and admired Android for. It suits the iPhone's shape and hand use. AirDrop is, potentially, another tool to break iOS devices away from PCs forever.
I hope Ive and iOS 7 have come up with separate and equally compelling use cases for the iPad. It's time for the iPhone and iPad to flex their wings and be different devices. They already are, but the operating system they share keeps the UI of both too similar, and it holds the iPad back. If the iPhone is a device meant for one-handed easy-access controls, the iPad's a machine that's the future of all computing. It's the laptop replacement, e-reader, and very capable multitasker. And it has a larger, wider screen.
I've wanted truer multitasking and even split-screen apps on the iPad, like other tablets offer. I've wanted support for Bluetooth devices like mice/trackpads and universal game controllers (the latter is finally here in iOS 7). I want the simple clean pane of the iPad to be free to become what people need it to be: a true laptop alternative, a presentation tool, a power information browser. It does these things already, but I hope iOS 7 will do its best to facilitate these tasks.
iPad's golden opportunity to be different
I don't really care, in the long run, how iOS 7 looks. I care about how it works. How will it make using iOS appreciably better, and how will it make iPhones and iPads better at what each does? Hopefully, iOS 7 will acknowledge this and make the two more distinct than before.
I hope the invisibility of the iPad at WWDC means Apple's planning a separate discussion of iOS 7 on that device, with other features and surprises.
Otherwise, iOS 7's new design won't have changed that much at all.