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Apple WWDC 2013: What’s still missing from iOS 7

“This is what it looks like when an OS grows up,” was one of the first reactions on Twitter I saw, from an Ottawa-based developer, to the debut of iOS 7 at Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) on Monday. That kind of feedback is almost as good as the standing ovation the company reportedly got from the live audience. Now it’s a matter of whether investors will find as much to cheer about.

An OS, or operating system, used to represent a major milestone for tech companies. The fervor probably reached its peak with Microsoft’s launch of Windows 95, when the Rolling Stones’ “Start Me Up” became the platform’s theme song. In the years since then, however, consumers and even businesses have been much more preoccupied with the hardware on which the OS runs, and the software, or apps, that give them interesting or useful things to do.

That’s why, putting aside the less talked-about introductions of OX Maverick and new MacBook Airs, Apple’s decision to treat iOS 7 as a showcase launch akin to the iPhone is something of a throwback.

This is a company whose value and share price, which is down more than 22 per cent in the past six months, has been called into question after seeming to put off its next major products and services until 2014.

Will iOS 7’s design and functionality be enough to drive more sales of its phones and tablets?

According to Brett Park, the president of Regina-based Shiverware Interactive who was on in attendance at the WWDC keynote, all the excitement around iOS 7’s redesigned icons, colour palette, translucency and animation may be somewhat short-lived.

“I don't think it matters much. User interface design constantly evolves in the computer world. When OS X was released over a decade ago, Steve Jobs commented it looked so good he could lick it,” Park pointed out. “Since then we have seen a constant evolution of interface design. Flat UIs have seen a large amount of uptake in the Windows Phone and Android interfaces (already).”

Instead, Park said he would rather see more substance under the hood of iOS 7, like an easier way to integrate data from web servers into applications. There are a number of third-party services that are available but they all require the integration of custom software, he said, like Parse, which was recently bought by Facebook. “The ability for a developer to quickly integrate with a client’s data would be priceless.”

For Brian Coleman, a senior iOS developer at Rogers Communications who also makes his own apps on the side, other iOS 7 nice-to-haves Apple should have considered include an open application programming interface (API) so that third-party firms could add voice control commands from the iPhone’s automated assistant Siri to other apps. If the company were willing to do the same thing with its rumored Apple TV device, it would make it easier for him to create new apps for Rogers programs like CityTV, he added.

“I think in the end, though, you’ll see them stick more stuff in iOS 8,” he said. “It’s somewhat like iOS 6. It almost seemed like a point release.”

Apple did throw a few extras in iOS 7 that should please corporate users, like a control centre for easily changing settings and added support for apps that will improve battery life, but overall this felt like an exercise in appearances. In that respect, Apple’s smartphone platform has never looked better. Its long-term position as one of world’s most valuable companies may be another matter.

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