iOS7: three game-changers hidden in plain sight

Yes, iOS7 looks different and has caught up to 2013. The faux textures are gone and importantly, without the need for images of woodgrain to be sized resolution-perfect for apps, different screen sizes become a real possibility. The new operating system makes a year-old iPhone feel brand new. There’s no disputing that Apple needed the clean break.

But, hidden in the new OS are a number of features and technologies that are going to fundamentally change the way people use their phones. These aren’t buried deep in code, waiting for a switch to be flipped. We’re already using (most) of them.

iTunes Radio

This is the most obvious of the three… The free streaming service baked into iTunes (or Apple’s ‘Music’ app to be more accurate) is going to change the way we consume music. This is about taking Pandora and Spotify into the mainstream. In the handful of days since iOS7 has been available, I’ve seen every friend of mine (with an iPhone) wowed by the service. Listening to music via iTunes Radio is now the default. What this means for the future of Pandora, Spotify, Simfy and hundreds of similar services remains to be seen.

What this means for the future of Pandora, Spotify, Simfy and hundreds of similar services remains to be seen. Apple says in its first week, iTunes Radio picked up 11 million listeners. Pandora, by comparison, had 72.1 million listeners in August. Founder Tim Westergren told Bloomberg he expects a “modest impact” from iTunes Radio.

AirDrop

There’s a steeper hurdle for this feature, and its going to need a user to actually share something once via AirDrop before they understand it. Gone is the convoluted sharing of photos or links or anything, really via WhatsApp or e-mail. AirDrop needs zero configuration. Its localised, system-level peer-to-peer that just works. It made its debut on the desktop in OSX Lion. But its integration in iOS7 changes the rules. Analyst Benedict Evans sums it up nicely:

…Apply a little imagination, and you can see all sorts of things you could use this for. Anything you can turn into a file or link can be handed to a friend as you chat to them. Magazine articles, property or restaurant listings, game levels, in-game currency…

…As so often, Apple has taken an existing concept and ‘productised’ it – turned it into something normal people might use without any trouble or fuss.

This is going to be difficult for Android to copy. Yes, Android Beam exists (so does S-Beam), but its quite a stretch to imagine the process being as frictionless on Android because of fragmentation. In a year’s time, we won’t be able to remember a time before AirDrop.

And NFC? Yeah, that’s dead in the water.

iBeacon

This feature is the most difficult to comprehend, especially because of its nascence. This is how Tidbits described Apple’s iBeacon launch at WWDC:

Think of an iBeacon as a tiny radio you can put almost anywhere. When your iPhone or other iOS device gets within range (a few dozen feet or so), it detects the iBeacon and can estimate how far away it is. Each iBeacon has its own identifier, too, so if your iPhone is within range of more than one iBeacon, it can tell them apart.

Right now, consumers would be hard-pressed to comprehend how this would be usable. This is blank canvas-type stuff. App developer Dave Addey suggests a few applications of iBeacons:A checkout till that displays a customers’ online order receipt as they approach the collection till, and informs them about special offers at that specific store

A train travel app that knows which train you are on, and automatically starts tracking your train’s live progress as you board

An indoor location app for a museum that knows which gallery you are in, and provides information about the exhibits in that gallery as you move around

A conference management system that tracks which sessions you attend as you enter each session, and automatically downloads the session videos to your device once they are publishedAnything that supports Bluetooth Low Energy can be turned into an iBeacon – that obviously includes any number of iOS devices, but also extends to third-party hardware. iBeacons are going to fundamentally change the way ‘location’ works.

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