The hoopla over last week's iPhone introductions may have been misplaced -- it's this week's release from beta of the new Apple mobile operating system that deserves the fanfare.
iOS 7 provides a bigger change to the mobile user experience than M&M's-colored shells or a fingerprint-reading Home button ever can. And uptake of the new OS has been fast and furious: Less than 24 hours after release, it already had a higher adoption rate than Google's latest Android "Jelly Bean" OS, which launched in July.
Those who have yet to make the plunge may want to have a look at the handy list of six key things to do before you tap Download offered by Mike Reed, a solutions engineer at mobile device management vendor MobileIron. And iPhone users who have already upgraded might be surprised by how new their favorite apps look. Galen Gruman warns that "switching to iOS 7 is a shock: It looks really, really different, and some apps -- Photos, especially -- work very differently. ... [But] once you get past the new UI, you should discover some very useful capabilities."
Some analysts have even speculated that iOS 7's new look could act initially to dampen new iPhone sales; people may be tempted to put off a new purchase because the software makes it feel like they already got a new phone.
Features like iTunes Radio and enhancements to the Camera and Photos apps will appeal to consumers, but there are major advances for enterprise users as well, thanks to a raft of new management APIs that focus on application management, notes Gruman, who suggests they're so useful that they should be a model for Microsoft to adopt in Windows.
Computerworld columnist Ryan Faas says the most important new capability is enterprise single sign-on. "This is a game-changer," he writes, "because it means that once a user's identity is verified and trusted, enterprise apps or commercial apps that access enterprise data or services won't require users to repeatedly authenticate with their Active Directory or enterprise credentials. Better yet, Apple is making it relatively easy for developers to implement its single sign-on model."
The new single sign-on model, which no longer forces developers to build support for multiple APIs into their apps, and new APIs that let developers multitask virtually any type of operation, even when the app is not onscreen, will please developers. But other changes present a big challenge for developers, who have been scrambling to rework their apps for iOS 7. The significantly changed user interface -- in particular the "flatter" design that puts content first -- can make existing apps not specifically designed for iOS 7 look out of place.
"The biggest thing [developers] need to worry about is making sure their apps are targeted for iOS 7," advises Ravi Bhatt, CEO of software developer Branchfire. "iOS 7 is an opportunity to make pretty cool transformative changes." And the worst thing an iOS developer could do is "to just treat [the changes] like eye candy," Bhatt said. Both iOS and the Mac's OS X will eventually feel the same, he points out. "That's the direction we're headed. You can see it."
Take a look at a test-drive of the iOS 7 beta, with its new folder behavior, modified search, Control Center, multitasking, and more. Note: In the final version, wallpaper and ringtone choices have been greatly expanded.
This story, "Never mind the iPhone, here's iOS 7," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.