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

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While introducing iOS 7 on Monday, Apple(s aapl) 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(s msft) Windows Phone, Android(s goog), third-party widgets, HTC Sense and even Palm’s(s hpq) 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(s msft) 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.

40 Responses to “Much iOS 7 design inspiration came from others but Apple elegantly puts it all together”

  1. Argonaut

    Well…. Nobody knows how much Apple is “excelling” at putting all the ideas together this time. At a glance its new “flat” design seems a cotton candy festival. Yuk.

  2. oscar padilla

    Finally!!! someone mention’s WebOS. An operating system that has been taken from so often, from it’s elegant notification style to the bundling/exiting of apps in the cards pattern. Apple, Microsoft and even Android have all taken from it and labelled it their own. But no one annoys me more than Apple, since Steve Jobs boastfully called everyone under the sun a copier in 2011.

  3. John S. Wilson

    Good article. But let’s not forget that iOS jailbreak devs have been doing as good a job at design and function as have devs on other platforms, in many cases. I agree that Apple has borrowed a lot here but they do so from all corners. And as far as patent infringement, Apple still sues offensively less than Samsung or Microsoft. (I’ll send you the link later. Have to find it.)

  4. Apple must’ve done something right! They’ve turned a lot of people into sniveling whiners, Apple haters and lovers alike. To me that’s a good sign.

  5. Where the elements came from doesnt matter much to me. I think this coat of paint is a pretty big dissapointment.

    Its not flat – gradients are everywhere – inconsistently, for no reason, the icons would look better without them at all – or with the old gloss back. But half hearted gradients look awful.

    Skuemorphs are still everywhere, however toned down. But the are still there so this is not “getting rid of skuemorphism in any sense.

    The redesigns of the icons are not going to make me or anyone else want this phone any more, it may make them want it less.

    As for the other features, they are so inconsistent with themselves that I doubt Ill eve use them or figure out how to use them. They are mostly android rip offs.

    It time for Jony Ive to get back to hardware.

  6. Richard Frost

    Really interesting seeing the complete difference in views between GigaOHM and The Verge. I have to agree with The Verge – it looks nice but its horribly inconsistent. Jobs would be turning in his grave its that bad.

    Windows Phone is way better designed than this in its consistent ‘look’ throughout the entire phone.

    iOS7 is a mish mash of designs – in my view its Apple’s least coherent phone OS release yet.

  7. Adriano Laurentiu

    So, i think Apple make wrong step, really. I thought Apple will change completely to flat, but now icons looking very creepy and the icons are not Flat Style. I can suggest an very good article about flat design principles – with really nice examples and professional designs and icons.

    Second, about colors: colors in new iOS are horrible, please Apple, take a look for example here – and inspire yourself about how to use colors correct in flat design.

  8. Ray Cromwell

    The difference is, Google doesn’t sue other companies for being “inspired” by their UI designs, Apple does. It’s sad that GigaOM doesn’t call out this hypocrisy that is harming the industry. Apple is given a free pass for their “theft”.

    Great artists steal I guess.

  9. Kevin,

    I think you’re simplifying thing, i.e. interpreting design as how it looks as opposed to how it works.

    iOS 7 isn’t flat at all—it’s LAYERED. The Windows Phone have a layered approach?

    I think there’s a fundamental different between flat vs. layered. iOS 7 is clearly is not flat at all, but actually 3D realized.

    • i think by “flat” he means flat design (no shadows, bevels, embossing, gradients, …) which you can’t deny.

      the layer-design is, indeed, a very nice idea and worth mentioning.

  10. 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.

  11. Nicolyn

    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

  12. 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.

  13. peterdeep

    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.

    • Ilaiya

      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…

      • Tableuraz

        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…

    • 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.

  14. Stuart Gannes

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