Apple's iOS 7 Buys Time With Ideas Borrowed From Other Mobile Platforms

NEWS ANALYSIS: The latest features finding their way into iOS 7 have been collected from elsewhere in the mobile industry revealing little that's new, except that the ideas are new to Apple.

Several people have written about Apple's new iOS 7 interface as being something like Microsoft's Windows Phone 8, with the flat, simplified icons being similar to the tiles on Windows. But they're not.

The new iOS 7 screen looks more like the BlackBerry Z10. As with the new BlackBerry devices, the latest new version of iOS has icons that don't have the defined edge that looks vaguely raised. Nor do the icons have the shadows that make them seem to float above the wallpaper. Instead the icons look as if they're simply attached to the wallpaper, and they are somewhat simpler than the iOS icons of days past. Just like the Z10.

But this isn't the only place where Apple has taken inspiration from its competition. In today's announcement at the Apple World Wide Developers' Conference in San Francisco, Apple's senior vice president of software engineering, Craig Federighi, announced that iOS 7 would have actual multitasking by allowing apps to run in the background even when they're not open in the foreground.

Of course this is something that Android and BlackBerry have had for a while. Android lets you run apps in a split screen, as does the BlackBerry. You can even have up to eight apps running at once on the BlackBerry in minimized windows. It's not clear from the announcement how many apps can run at once on an iOS device.

Apple is also doing away with some complexity in its apps. For example the iBooks bookcase will apparently do away with the fake wood grain look. iBooks will now let you synchronize the books you're reading, so if you pick up another device, the book will open to the right page—something Kindle does now. The update process will be easier, with many of them happening in the background—another Android trait.

iOS 7 will have some new features, including AirDrop, which lets you share multimedia with another user. In the case of AirDrop the phone doesn't have to have near-field communications (NFC) because the transfer can take place over WiFi. Federighi took a potshot at Samsung by noting that you won't have to bump your phones together to use it. But of course that also means that Apple is figuring out that NFC would be a good thing to have.

So what's going on here? Is Apple so badly off for innovation that it's resorting to software tweaks in hopes that nobody will notice? Sort of, but not exactly.

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash is a freelance writer and editor with a 35 year history covering technology. He’s a frequent speaker on business, technology issues and enterprise computing. He covers Washington and...