Watching the iOS 7 debut I couldn’t help but notice design cues from Android, HTC, Microsoft and even Palm. In some ways these have caught up to Apple in terms of design, but Apple is best at putting the pieces together.

iPhone 5 iOS 7 WWDC Apple screenshot phone iOS

While introducing iOS 7 on Monday, Apple called it the “most significant design” since the original iPhone. That’s obvious the moment you see the new mobile software with its overhauled fonts, spacing, flat-looking icons and buttons. For some, iOS has been feeling “stale” so the timing of this particular release is likely good for Apple; those considering a switch based on a six-year old design will likely stay put. And all of the changes can be attributed to Jony Ive, who took over iOS for Scott Forstall in October.

How much of Ive’s new design is groundbreaking? From what I saw, actually not much. Many of the items that caused the crowd to clap and cheer have been around on other platforms for some time. I noticed elements from Microsoft Windows Phone, Android, third-party widgets, HTC Sense and even Palm’s webOS, which may have been ahead of its time. That’s not to take away from iOS 7 though. As a fan of all things mobile, I can appreciate the refinements Apple has built into iOS 7. Let’s take a closer look.

Where have we seen iOS 7 elements before?

HTC Windows Phone 8XYou can’t look at iOS 7 without immediately noticing the flat design of the icons and native apps. Gone is the old “skeumorphism”: the virtual representation of physical objects such as a notepad, calendar book or bookshelf. In its place is a fresh, clean design that’s far easier on the eye and more elegant. And Microsoft is likely stomping mad right now because it led the way with flat design in Windows Phone as early as 2010.

Palm webOSHow about that new multitasking feature? You can actually see the open app windows — in addition to their icons — in iOS 7. In fact, they look just like the cards that represented open apps in the ill-fated webOS. Apple didn’t show much more than the look of multitasking so I don’t yet know if those apps are active, i.e.: changing in real time on the screen when displayed. And in webOS, you closed the apps by flicking the cards off the screen. I suspect Apple will keep the current method of app closing.

I love the new Control Center in iOS 7 that comes up with bottom-up flick on the screen. It provides one-touch access to Airplane Mode and toggles for Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and Do Not Disturb mode. Of course, this has long been available natively in Android — some third-party manufacturers have even extended it; some too much (I’m looking at you, Samsung!). Control Center also provides brightness and music control as well as easy access to some quick functions. It’s much the same as Android, but this is one of the best parts of Google’s platform, so Apple chose well.

htc-sense-weatherThere were many “oohs” and “aahs” when the iOS 7 home screen wallpaper and Weather app was shown. Tilting the iOS device allows you too see more of the image behind the icons, which is pretty nifty. And it’s something I’ve seen on Android launchers for a good two years. And while the weather app now has moving images to show the weather, that was one of the features found in the Rosie version of HTC Sense, circa 2009!

Another “wow” moment was had for synchronized notifications. And Apple deserved it. There’s nothing more annoying than seeing the same notifications over and over again when switching devices. That’s probably why Google announced it for Android devices at last month’s Google I/O event.

In the end: it doesn’t matter

I could go on with more examples, but you get the point. I do find it ironic that Apple is borrowing heavily from competitors — Steve Jobs once said “good artists copy, great artists steal” — yet it viciously fights back if it sees a competitor product having a similar look or feel. Perhaps that’s more a testament to Apple’s legal team and not its design team: It could be that Microsoft, Google, Samsung and others aren’t as good at the patent game.

Regardless of where the best ideas come from, Apple can put them all together like nobody else. And ultimately, that’s what’s going to matter. Apple will provide the best of its own ideas along a few from other sources when it delivers iOS 7 this fall.

And that is a testament to where Apple excels: Combining hardware, software and services to produce best overall experience across the widest audience. Make no mistake: iOS 7 will be a hit because of that singular integration expertise Apple illustrates time and again.

We’ll be highlighting the future of experience design at our annual RoadMap conference in San Francisco in November, and tickets will go on sale later this Summer. To learn more about the event sign up here.

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  1. jameswdixon Monday, June 10, 2013

    That’s the nature of the game. Much of the same could be said for Google and Microsoft taking many of their cues from iOS as it was the first innovative mobile OS since PalmOS.

    1. No argument there!

  2. Galih Pratama Monday, June 10, 2013

    have u seen miui? its lot more elegant

  3. Stuart Gannes Monday, June 10, 2013

    btw the ‘great artists steal’ quote you attribute to Jobs came from T.S. Elliott via Pablo Picasso, and probably William Faulkner.

    1. If I recall correctly from art history class –> It’s also about stealing ideas vs implementations (carbon copy cloning).

  4. Please. I saw nothing in iOS 7 that resembles Windows Phone. Microsoft did not invest flat, and their implementation of flat is childish and ugly. Let’s face it, Microsoft’s major reason for being so stubborn about Live Tiles is that they intend to sell the tiles for Live Advertising. They haven’t admitted that, but let’s face it, we all know that’s where that particular design is headed. It’s not for any graphic design awards, that’s for sure.

    1. invent, not invest.

    2. Tills in iTunes radio are very metro ui

    3. Somehow I feel, when Steve Jobs was there, others where trying to catch up with the technology. Now I feel apple is catching up with others. Sad…

      1. I agree, almost everything Apple implements now comes from other OS, mostly from Android, it seems like they’re just listening to consummers and apparently Google got a lot of things right, I’m an Android user from 1.6 and it always makes me crazy seeing jailbroken iPhones users installing UI modifications to get the same thing Android has by default, those same users are most of the time trolling Google like crazy…

    4. well, if it’s ugly or not is a matter of opinion. of course flat is not their invention, but imho WP (and Win8 as well) is a very good job in flat design.
      iOS 7 definitely has some similarities, not that much on the homescreen, but when you look at a rather flat design in messaging-app, settings, …
      not that apple would have copied it directly, but i think there are obvious influences.

  5. In the iOS 7 video you can see one of the app “cards” getting flicked off the top of the screen to close it, just like WebOS.

    1. @3:31 Calculator app

  6. I really do hate the new app icons. Safari’s icon was a signature-icon than that any iOS-device user can instantly recognise as *the app* to tap to browse the web. The look of the compass overlaid against a faint image of North & South America was uniquely Safari, and now they’ve totally butchered it.

    All the icons look like they could’ve been drawn by a teenager.

  7. EvilReincarnation Monday, June 10, 2013

    When MS does it, the tech world goes in rage. But when Apple does it, it doesn’t matter? Hypocrites.

  8. Ahh… So others blatantly steal Apple’s design but Apple “elegantly puts together” others’ designs. I get it.

  9. Elengantly? Please! Do you think people are stupid? Just because you use the frase ” but Apple elegantly puts it together” it does not hide the fact and reality that Apple is not bringing anything to the table. BTW, I can see your fear to mention that many features come from BlackBerry 10

  10. MountainWalker Monday, June 10, 2013

    I think the author has a great point: While other see the trees, Apple see the forest. You can make stunningly beaufitul tree all day, not gonna guarantee you a beautiful forest. Vertical integration is always what Apple is all about. I think they’ve delivered again. Tip my hat to the author.

    1. That is the biggest pile of corporate double speak I have ever heard.

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