Much iOS 7 design inspiration came from others but Apple elegantly puts it all 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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