The iOS 7 Game Changers

by Brian S Hall   |   June 24th, 2013

iOS 7 is a big deal, really big – the biggest change to iOS since the original iPhone. Indeed, it’s hard to prepare long-time users for how significantly different iOS 7 is compared to its predecessors.

Though still in beta, there are three new features that I think will be “game changers” – each will have a significant and lasting impact on users, developers, competitors and Apple’s bottom-line.

iTunes Radio

shared_controlcenter_lastframe_2xRadio is built right in to the Music app which is built right in to the OS. This is a key benefit of controlling your ecosystem, and here it pays off handsomely for users. “Radio” is simple to use, works well, is free, setting up new channels is a snap, and the selection is nearly endless. Not coincidentally for Apple, Radio’s clever design beckons users to spend even more money in iTunes.

Analysts have noted that while iTunes revenues continue to grow in the aggregate, per-user spend has dropped rather significantly. This at a time when Apple makes its hardware products almost fully dependent on iTunes. I can’t say this new service will help stem that tide. I do know, however, that iTunes Radio will be a smash hit.

For those hundreds of millions who have not yet settled on a streaming music service, iTunes Radio is the obvious choice. For those that have, the ease of use and superior integration of Radio may lead them away from their current provider. If you have an iPhone or iPod Touch, for example, it will be hard to justify getting your (free) music anywhere else.

Biggest Impact: The music industry. Think of iTunes Radio less as a Pandora killer and more as a FM-radio killer.

Auto-updates

Never again visit the App Store to update your apps. It seems like such a small thing, I know, but auto-updates makes life with an iPhone much nicer, and more delightful. Updates and bug fixes occur behind the scenes now, and there’s no annoying red badge demanding your attention.

While better for the users, and likely to make fragmentation even less of an issue for Apple, there is a obvious downside: auto-updates alter how developers market their commitment to their app.

Though there are some minor visual cues in iOS 7 that alert users when an app has been updated, I suspect most users will no longer be consciously aware of the many new features and fixes in their (updated) app. If I am correct, allowing users to bypass the App Store “update” screen means app developers will lose a critical opportunity to highlight their work and deny them a rare chance to get directly in front of the user.

Biggest Impact: App developers.

But, wait. There’s more. Consider the possible implications of this seemingly minor new feature:

Apple, long just a hardware company, may soon become the only company on the planet, across any industry, able to reliably push to a billion (iOS) users the exact content of their choice. That’s unprecedented market power.

Biggest Impact: Cable television industry and content providers, to start.

AirDrop

index_airdrop_posterframe_2xAccessed from the control center, AirDrop allows users to quickly send files to other (nearby) iPhone user(s). It’s hard to overstate the potential of AirDrop. Truthfully, I’m not entirely sure how this feature will be used out in the world, or if carriers may attempt to impede it’s usefulness, or what the full security ramifications are. I just know it’s huge.

In fact, I predict AirDrop will have a paradigm-shifting impact on content sharing – which means it should have a paradigm-shifting impact on social sharing sites, particularly Instagram, Facebook, YouTube and LinkedIn. Again: unprecedented market power.

It might be great fun to share a Vine with your followers, for example, but it may be far more impactful to instantly share a video with a small group of friends who are physically nearby.

To “airdrop” a video from my iPhone to yours, for example, or enable real-time multi-player gaming, which this does, or transfer information one-to-many (iPhone-to-iPhone-to-iPhone) could make AirDrop the single most important iOS 7 feature of all. As Apple notes, “anything from any app with a Share button” can be shared over AirDrop.

Biggest Impact: Social Media platforms. (Hint: Plus, the advertising industry.)

Bonus: Take heed, Silicon Valley, of that Apple phrase: “a Share button.” To not have your service listed as a Share button inside iPhone may permanently marginalize your platform.

The World Is Not Enough

iOS 7 contains many new features, new gestures and a rather jarring new visual language – with fully re-designed colors, iconography, and fonts. There is the very clever (and long overdue) Control Center panel and more robust notification options. Peer deeper, however, and you discover far more has changed than the visual presentation layer.

Focus instead on how all the files, photos, videos, URLs, contacts, music and everything else remain inside the tightly controlled Apple ecosystem. Map out the linkages between your iOS device, your content, and all the world wide web has to offer, and you see this clearly: more data than ever before flows through and within your iPhone.

Whether iPhone-to-iPhone(s), iPhone-to-iCloud, iPhone-to-iTunes, or iPhone to sanctioned services, such as Facebook and Vimeo, Apple manages the channel – and its a channel miles deep and miles wide, and nearing a billion users.

As the Apple user base expands outward with each new sale, Apple’s designers have pulled each user even deeper insider the Apple ecosystem.

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Brian S Hall

Brian S Hall writes about technology and greatness. His work has appeared in Techpinions, ReadWrite, Macworld, the Wall Street Journal, LinkedIn, and others. His latest novel is Love in the Time of Caller ID.
  • FalKirk

    Very nice article, Brian. Couldn’t agree with you more. iOS 7 is really going to stir the pot.

    • Defendor

      Stir things up since this will likely be the most contentious iOS release ever. A year from now, we won’t see 90+ percent of devices running iOS 7.

      Opinion online seems quite split on the “jarring new visual language”, but friends I have asked seem to universally loathe it.

      IMO Jony Ive should have stuck with HW. HW design experience doesn’t qualify him to design SW UIs.

      • Glaurung-Quena

        I know that thanks to a couple of apps that were ruined by the latest update (one game acquired the dread freemium disease, and another app were we don’t like the new UI), we won’t be updating to 7 unless the auto update of apps feature can be turned off.

        • DarwinPhish

          There is a setting in iOS 7 to turn off auto-updates. It’s system wide, but maybe one day it will be app-specific.

          Also, look at this issue from a developers point of view. They know their apps will get updated automatically, which means they get more users onto the latest version more quickly. That should mean more feedback if there is a problem and knowledge that the next update will get installed.

      • FalKirk

        “A year from now, we won’t see 90+ percent of devices running iOS 7″ – Defendor

        I think you are going to be proven very, very wrong about this.

        Judging iOS 7 by its icons is like judging the art in an art museum by the look of the museum while it is being remodeled.

        • Defendor

          I am not judging by the icons. I am judging by the direction.

          The direction is one that they are giving to App developers. Buttons and contrasting interface is out. White web page look with text is in. That is extremely unlikely to change.

          • Alhamdu Yaro

            You’re forgetting that most developers actually love the 1500+ APIs that was released with iOS 7.
            The outcry against the UI of iOS 7 has been coming mostly from Designers, understandably so…
            I would argue that if anything should be an indicator of iOS 7′s success with the devs, it’s APIs. That’s going to set the direction for iOS 7, and from all account this release has gone leaps and bounds in empowering developers… (Wait till the next wave of apps begin popping up on the Appstore)

          • Travis Yunis

            I am a mobile UX and UI designer and work along side over thirty developers. Everyone, designers and developers alike, hates the beta versions we are testing. Some things are nice, but Mr. Ive has destroyed what could have been the next step forward.

            Usability is shoddy, the Bar Button Icons, are hard to read, using text instead of icons for the Navigation Bar is counter intuitive and goes against basic usability principles, and so on.

            Everyone is talking about getting the new Samsung or HTC device. And Why not… it looks like Apple has basically coping Android and horrid Windows UI elements.

          • Defendor

            That is also how my circle of friends feel as well. Ive went way too far in trying to erase any hint of his predecessors work. The web page aesthetic falls completely flat for me.

            For myself I have shelved plans to get a new iPad Mini, and will look for an Android tablet instead.

          • http://www.brianshall.com/ Brian S Hall

            Interesting. Let’s see how this plays out in the months following its official release.

      • benbajarin

        Whether or not this trend of the overwhelming majority adopting the new OS quickly, is perhaps on of the most intriguing things for me to watch end of year.

        Apple has chosen to chart things this way, which means they must be very confident that this will continue. If it does, it will lead to some pretty powerful observations about the strength of the Apple ecosystem and its customer bases trust in Apple’s direction.

        Fascinating times, indeed.

        • Space Gorilla

          It’s interesting to consider when iOS hits a billion users, if 90 percent or more are running the latest version of the OS, that will be 900 million users, all on a unified platform with the same OS for developers to target. A billion users on Android is likely to look very different. If we take the current numbers from Google, 33 percent are running the latest version, so that would be 330 million users on the same OS. But even that 330 million isn’t all stock Android, so the ‘unified chunk’ for developers to target is even smaller. It should be no surprise then that developers are choosing to target iOS. And no surprise that engagement and network effects are very different on the two platforms.

          • http://www.brianshall.com/ Brian S Hall

            Great point. I see almost nothing stopping Apple from hitting 1 billion iOS devices in use worldwide. I would expect, at worst, 500 million on the latest version. Stunning market power.

          • Space Gorilla

            Has anyone figured out at what point Apple’s customer base becomes self-sustaining? I would think a billion would have to be enough, but maybe the number is lower. The point at which if a normal customer buys a new device every X years, the pool of satisfied customers is large enough that Apple never runs out of customers, existing customers become new customers, continually.

          • http://www.brianshall.com/ Brian S Hall

            The company survived for many years with a 3% PC market share.

          • Space Gorilla

            Good point. So perhaps Apple’s mobile device business is already self-sustaining? I’m talking about the point at which they no longer need new customers or growth in new markets or product categories, etc. I doubt Apple would ever ‘rest on its laurels’ like that, but I think mathematically there comes a point where the ‘Apple is doomed unless it does X, Y, Z new thing’ mentality is pure idiocy, a point where Apple has such a large customer base that they could essentially coast for a couple decades.

          • benbajarin

            I don’t know a single person who has been in the industry long enough to have been around the block a few times who thinks Apple is doomed. This is just ignorant press who chase page views for money. None of it is sound analysis or journalism.

            We unfortunately have to fight that stupid on a regular basis.

          • http://www.tumblr.com/blog/his-divine-shadow His Shadow

            We unfortunately have to fight that stupid on a regular basis.

            Worse, when you challenge posters who make uninformed claims and unsupportable assertions, they then accuse you of being overly concerned or a “fanboi”. I have also seen several commenters in the last two years defend the most offensively stupid, flat out wrong assertions regarding Apple with the retort that it’s their “opinion”, as if the fact that it’s an opinion means it can be a complete and utter falsehood, and attempting to correct them is stifling their freedom.

          • Chaka10

            I thought it might be interesting to do some basic modeling on the point where current sales levels of iOS devices can be sustained by pure replacement demand from the existing installed base. The math is basic algebra, and using some assumptions (including zero net churn advantage for iOS), it implies that an installed base of 250 mm iPhones would be necessary to sustain iPhone sales at fiscal 2012 levels purely from replacement demand. I’ve seen estimates that we are already close, if not already there. I note again, this assumes zero net churn advantage for iPhone.

            To further put this in perspective, Apple sold 47 mm iPhones in the holiday quarter last year (iPhone 5 launch). If you (simplistically) think of the iPhone sales from corresponding 2 year prior quarter as potential replacement demand that supported those sales, that was 16 mm iPhones (holiday quarter 2010). In comparison, iPhone sales in holiday 2011, that can be seen on the same simplistic (but illustrative) basis as potential replacement support for the coming 5S were 37 mm (more than 2x the replacement support for the iPhone 5.

            The math is as follows:

            If we use “I” to represent the installed base, and “R” to represent the average replacement cycle (in years), then the number of replacement buyers in any year can be calculated as I/R.

            [NB: the foregoing assumes for easier math that the installed base are evenly spread out in the replacement cycle. Also, I use a year for convenience, though the basic math is the same other periods.]

            The raw number of replacement buyers, however, should be adjusted for churn, since not all iOS replacement buyers will necessarily buy an iOS replacement device and there may be Android replacement buyers who switch to iOS. So the formula comes to

            Sales = I/R + Cnet

            where Cnet is the net churn (number of users switching to iOS from another platform minus the number of the reverse).

            So the level of installed base at which pure replacement demand (adjusted for net churn) equals current sales levels can be calculated as:

            I = (Sales – Cnet) * R

            Since the average replacement cycle (R) may be different for iPhone vs iPad, the calculation needs to be done separately for each type of iOS device.

            Plugging in some numbers for illustration, a 2 year average smartphone replacement cycle (which I’ve seen estimated) means that half the installed base will come up for replacement in any year — yes, that seems large, but that’s what’s implied by a 2 year average replacement cycle. Let’s for convenience that net churn is zero (i.e., switching between iOS and Android cancel out, though studies suggest iOS has an advantage). Apple sold approx 125 million iPhones in its fiscal 2012. The above formula would suggest that the installed base of iPhone units needed for pure replacement demand to support that same sales levels (again, with no growth) is 250 mm iPhones.

            To do a bit more basic algebra on churn:

            If the actual number of iOS users who switch to Android is calculated as Ci * I, where Ci is the churn rate of iPhone users who switch to Android.

            If the actual number of Android users who switch to iOS is similarly calculated as Ca * A, where Ca is the churn rate of Android users who switch to iOS and A is the Android installed base.

            Then I would note the following observations:

            since A is bigger than I right now (more Android than iOS users), there is net more users switching from Android to iOS even if the churn rates are the same!

            assuming no growth in total users (i.e., no new users coming into the system, only replacement buyers), then “equilibrium” is reached when the number of iOS users who switch to Android is equal to the number of Android users who switch to iOS, which is represented by the formula Ci * I = Ca * A. The relative share of the installed base held by iOS and Android (I/A) can thus be calculated as Ca/Ci, ie., is inversely proportional to the relative churn rates. In other words, if Android users are twice as likely to switch to iOS than the other way around, net churn flow will continue until there are twice as many iOS users are Android users.

      • http://www.tumblr.com/blog/his-divine-shadow His Shadow

        A year from now, we won’t see 90+ percent of devices running iOS 7.

        I think it’s a given that the figures will hold true for iOS adoption rates, and the biggest reason is because the overwhelming majority of iOS users don’t give a tinker’s cuss about the histrionics of a collection of self-appointed armchair style consultants. The painfully maudlin whining about the new UI elements will not amount to a hill of beans with regular users of iOS devices.

    • Rich

      iOS 7 is as impressive in its own way as the Mac Pro is, in its way. They’re both amazing.

      All the people who said Apple couldn’t innovate anymore, have very short memories. They forgot that when the company hasn’t shown anything to grab your attention for awhile, they’re quietly working in the labs and at some point they’ll introduce new products that’ll blow the doors off the competition.

      In the AllThingsD D11 interview, Cook said that Apple has a “grand vision” for TV. I take that as a warning to everyone. Just when everybody’s counted Apple out of the TV space, they’ll do something shocking.

  • rvoje

    I don’t consider the new iOS a game changer for mobile industry, it’s more game changer inside Apple ecosystem.

    • http://www.brianshall.com/ Brian S Hall

      Perhaps – but as I note above, that ecosystem is closing in a billion users.

  • Tesla

    You have really improved with time Brian

    • Tesla

      You used to be so abusive and blunt on brianshall.com. Kudos.

      • http://www.brianshall.com/ Brian S Hall

        Pretty sure that’s a compliment. Thanks!

  • unhinged

    I remain to be convinced of the usefulness of AirDrop for anything larger than 1 MB filesize. The battery cost and time to transmit will just be too high – exactly what doomed the Zune for that feature. Individual photos, perhaps, but I suspect videos will be out of reach for at least the next five years.

    • Rich

      2-3 MB is a pretty small file in 2013. It will almost fit on a floppy! When you refer to the Zune you’re talking about 5 year old tech and that’s practically ancient. I don’t think Apple would be introducing AirDrop (which uses modern Wi-Fi and Bluetooth) unless it will work well for their typical user.

      Videos out of reach for at least the next 5 years? You’re forgetting that Apple pushes technology and I think you’re due for a big surprise.

    • http://www.brianshall.com/ Brian S Hall

      Excellent point.
      Zune had so few users so the feature couldn’t work. But, I now need to find out the file size of the typical Instagram-like video.

  • Space Gorilla

    It occurs to me how well the multiple layers of iOS 7 will work on larger screen devices, side by side. Also, something you could dig into, how many ‘high end’ Android devices are there, devices we could define by capability and usage as being part of a computing platform (perhaps Jelly Bean, which is 33 percent of devices?), and how does that compare to the number of iOS devices that we could define as being part of a computing platform. I suspect the iOS number is actually much larger, which would explain a lot of the engagement difference.

  • Rich

    “I’m not entirely sure how AirDrop will be used out in the world, or if carriers may attempt to impede it’s usefulness, or what the full security ramifications are.”

    Brian, I’m not sure how carriers will be able to impede Wi-Fi and Bluetooth and as far as security goes, AirDrop is encrypted. But I’ll agree that AirDrop is probably huge.

    • http://www.brianshall.com/ Brian S Hall

      That WiFi comes from carriers – I would not be shocked if they started messing with it. Not expecting this, just wouldn’t be surprised. I just wanted to add that small caveat before noting how huge I think iPhone AirDrop will be.

      • qka

        WiFi DOES NOT come from carriers.

  • As

    So airdrop is apparently only available on the iPhone 5 (when it comes to phone). So let’s say I want to share a file with airdrop with a friend’s phone. They must have an iPhone 5 running iOS 7 (not any other phone), be registered to iCloud… Do they have to be registered in my friends list or sth? They must be close physically (bluetooth distance).. And the transfer occurs via wifi, or bluetooth?
    What happened to regular bluetooth transfer to any phone (any OS) that has bluetooth? Can’t u do that with an iPhone already?

    • http://www.brianshall.com/ Brian S Hall

      According to Apple, the latest hardware (e.g. iPhone 5 or iPad 4) running on iOS 7 is required. You can send files to these devices and they don’t have to be your friends/contacts.

    • Travis Yunis

      Or you can use the BUMP app… which is pretty cool.

      • http://www.brianshall.com/ Brian S Hall

        I have yet to see anyone actually use the Bump app. Ever. Besides, it’s not one-to-many.

  • uximalik