Apple Stays the Course with iOS 10

Posted on September 12, 2016 by Paul Thurrott in iOS with 0 Comments

Apple Stays the Course with iOS 10

Tomorrow, Apple will release iOS 10 for iPhone, iPad and iPod touch. It is a minimally disruptive upgrade, with mostly minor changes, as usual. But younger iPhone fans, in particular, may delight in the upgrades to Messages, which Apple is trying to evolve into a platform of its own.

Apple announced iOS 10 at its Worldwide Developer Conference back in June and it has provided developers and the general public with various beta releases ever since. I’m on the Apple Developer Program, so I’ve installed all of the beta releases on my iPhone 6S Plus, which is my primary phone, and my iPad mini 2. And this past week, I installed what I expect to be the final release, though Apple has a habit of quickly issuing updates after these things go public too.

This isn’t a review, nor do I intend to ever review iOS 10. It’s not so much that iOS is review-proof as it is that it just doesn’t matter. If you have any compatible iOS device, you will upgrade. There are no major negatives to doing so, and if the history of this platform is any guide, there won’t be any major issues.

I’m interested, more broadly, in the fact that Apple has only once issued a major upgrade to the iOS look and feel, with the introduction of the Windows phone-inspired design that debuted in iOS 7. And that it has never—not once—updated what I still consider to be iOS 10’s biggest shortcoming. I am referring, of course, to the “whack a mole” grid of icons, an overly-simplistic interface that has not aged well, or scaled to the needs of modern users.

The stark iOS 7+ UI is subject to some debate, I guess. Some love it, but some still pine uncontrollably for the skeuomorphic days of iPhone OS 1.0 through iOS 6, where Apple’s designers sought to recreate the look and feel of real world objects—a wood shelf, green felt, or wool linen—in software. I feel that the change was necessary, and while Apple really got it wrong with iOS 7.0, it has since refined and improved the design, and it is at least cohesive and more fully-realized today. But you can tell it’s working by going back to an older version of iOS: Those skeuomorphic systems of the past look horribly dated now.

The whack-a-mole thing, though. That is not open to debate.

Here’s the thing. You don’t need to make an argument for, say, live tiles and widgets to make a case for the simplistic, Playskool-like nature of iOS. Alone among mobile OSes, iOS is the only system that doesn’t separate “all apps” from “those apps that I use all the time and wish to highlight on my home/start screen.” That is, Apple only offers an “all apps” view. The best you can do is hide infrequently-used apps on secondary home screens or in crap folders. It’s like pushing clutter inside a closet when your friends visit.

On more sophisticated mobile OSes like Android and Windows Mobile, “all apps” is separate from the home screen. The home screen isyours, a place to put only those apps you wish to use, and in the order you want them. If you would like to place app icons at the bottom of the screen, you can do so … in Android. But in iOS, icons fill in from the top left of the screen. In the exact hardest place to reach when you use the phone one-handed.

Oh, Apple.

iOS 10 does almost nothing to change this. There are improvements all over the system, mostly minor, that improve the lock screen experience, the weird Control Center UI that swipes up from the bottom of the screen, and you can finally hide a few stock iOS app icons. But that latter bit is Apple’s only concession to what I see as a major user experience flaw. And it’s one that has gotten worse as users have installed more and more apps on their devices. Where the frick did I put that again?

Android and Windows Mobile have other issues, of course. All the benefits Android 7.0 Nougat I’ve been touting in various tips over the past few weeks will benefit absolutely no one until the system is available to more users. And don’t get me started on Windows 10 Mobile: It’s the poster child for broken promises, and that platform obviously has even bigger issues than are worth discussing here.

Anyway, iOS 10 doesn’t really change anything for Apple or for the hardware platforms on which it runs. That is almost certainly by design, and Apple and its best fans will explain that there’s no need to fix something that isn’t broken. But they’re wrong, because the iOS user experience is broken, and Apple needs to do something—like live tiles, yes, or even Android widgets—to bridge the gap between its whack-a-mole past and its machine learning/search/Siri future.

Maybe that will happen in iOS 11, which will hit just as the platform celebrates its first decade in the market. Now that’s what I call a slow boil.

One more thing.

Yes, I’ll be looking more closely at some key new and improved iOS 10 features in the days ahead. But it’s weird how uninspiring this system is to me, given that I literally use it every single day.

 

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