Investors and Apple fans have been clamouring for some breakthrough Apple products for months, but after the company’s big reveal on Monday in San Francisco there was an unusual sense of disappointment in the air.
The parade of new products was led by a re-imagining of the company’s once trend-setting operating system iOS, which was first introduced with the iPhone in 2007 but has seen few fundamental changes since.
As Apple CEO Tim Cook and software chief Craig Federighi led the crowd of developers through the software’s new features there was lots of applause and cheering and even a standing ovation or two.
But it was a far cry from the ecstasy that used to greet every new Apple product introduced by Steve Jobs, the visionary leader of Apple who died in October 2011. Seasoned observers noted that the reaction was also more muted than when Mr. Cook introduced the iPad mini last year.
Part of the shortfall can be attributed to the fact that people still get more excited about playing with a shiny and tangible new toy than swiping around with a new operating system.
Yet the bigger reason could be that for a company that built its brand on an ability to out-innovate all competitors, it seemed Apple was merely playing catch-up to what other mobile operating systems had long been offering their users. “Watching the iOS 7 debut I couldn’t help but notice design cues from Android, HTC, Microsoft and even Palm,” noted Kevin C Tofel, a writer on the tech blog GigaOm.
Writers on blogs dedicated to Android could barely hide their glee at the number of iOS features they identified as originating in operating systems made by Google and other Apple rivals.
The trumpeted “flat design” which replaced the faux 3-D nature of the previous iOS iterations was first introduced in Windows Phone in 2010 and refined in the latest Android versions, while the multitasking feature allowing users to see open app windows was reminiscent of the new defunct Palm OS.
As for using a flick from the bottom of the screen to bring up a control centre, Android has been using that system since last year.
Another key announcement - the introduction of an iTunes Radio streaming media service - was pioneered by games console Pandora, while a feature enabling users to see notifications in their lock screen has been helping out HTC users for years. “iOS 7’s new look is almost the same minimal user interface Android users have been enjoying since Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich debuted back in 2011,” crowed the website Phandroid.com.
Androidcentral.com took a more benevolent approach. “Some ideas are so good they should be shared,” said the site’s Jerry Hildenbrand. “While you’re reading through the lists of what Apple ‘stole’ and who they stole it from, try to remember that in this business everybody steals from everybody else. And in the end, that means we all get to benefit from a universal set of great features.” Still, Apple’s latest actions may smack of hypocrisy given its zealous patent pursuit of rivals for allegedly copying iOS. It’s true that as Tofel points out Apple remains the master of integrating all these features into one tightly bundled, neatly designed package. But Apple fans and investors - who sent the shares tumbling after the announcement - may have expected a bit more pizzazz from a company that prides itself on integrating software and hardware better than anyone else.