Apple CEO Cook: New iOS 7 is the 'biggest change to iOS since the iPhone'

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Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) unveiled its much-anticipated iOS 7 mobile operating system revamp during its annual Worldwide Developer Conference in San Francisco, earning a standing ovation for the platform's radical new look and user interface.

Calling iOS 7 "the biggest change to iOS since the introduction of the iPhone," Apple CEO Tim Cook credited the sleek, flat aesthetic identity to Apple's Senior Vice President of Industrial Design Jony Ive, who appeared in a video demonstrating the new approach. "iOS 7 has a whole new structure that is coherent and applied across the entire system," Ive said. "We see iOS 7 as defining an important new direction, and in many ways defining a new beginning."

Among the biggest changes in iOS 7 is the elimination of skeuomorphism, the longstanding iOS design aesthetic that leverages real-world images and metaphors like linen-textured gray backgrounds, wooden bookshelves and spiral-bound notebooks. Ive instead masterminded a streamlined, minimalist design spanning all facets of the platform. "We tried to create an interface that is unobtrusive and deferential," he said. "Even the simple act of changing wallpaper has a notable effect across the entire iPhone."

iOS 7 also includes redesigned icons for all core system applications, as well as a new lockscreen minus the familiar slider bar and a translucent keyboard that shows all the content behind it. In addition, the UI responds to gyroscopic movement, with the angle and lighting changing in relation to the user's motions.

New iOS 7 features include multitasking for all apps, opportunistic updates that leverage conditions like especially strong cellular or Wi-Fi connections, expanded photo sharing and AirDrop wireless file sharing. Apple's popular Siri voice control is adding a new female voice and a male voice option, as well as integration with Twitter, Wikipedia and Microsoft's (NASDAQ:MSFT) Bing search engine.

iOS 7 additionally brings automatic app updates as well as a new App Store option allowing users to find family-friendly apps based on age ratings. Also new: Apps Near Me, which identifies the most popular apps based on the user's current location.

Apple said a beta version of the new operating system will be available to developers now, and that iOS 7 will be released to consumers this fall. The platform will be available to the iPhone 4 and later, the iPad 2 and later, and the fifth-generation iPod touch. 

Apple has now sold more than 600 million iOS-powered devices, Cook said. "Over 90 percent of iOS users are using the latest version, in stark contrast to [Google's] Android," he said. "This is why we get so excited when we're working on a new version: We know we can positively affect millions of developers and hundreds of millions of consumers."

Reaction to iOS 7 is mixed. "The new iOS design appears flatter and cleaner than the prior version," Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster said in an investors note released late Monday. "We believe iOS 7 is a reason for users to get excited about their iPhones again by giving it a new feel, which is something that we believe has been lacking in the past iOS updates and subsequently device launches, regardless of hardware redesign." Munster added that iPhone users tend to get over hardware tweaks after a few hours, but "the OS is what mesmerizes people longer term."

J.P. Morgan analyst Mark Moskowitz was far less enthusiastic. "We do not expect investors to cheer the latest software and services rollouts at Apple's WWDC 2013," Moskowitz said in another investors note also issued late Monday. "The tech improvements appear to be suitably impressive, but we do not expect them to move the needle in the model in the near to mid term. The new specs reinforce, however, Apple's enhanced user experience, in our view, but the bigger story remains whether or not Apple can jumpstart its revenue growth profile."

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