THE BLOG
09/24/2013 03:53 pm ET | Updated Nov 24, 2013

Is Apple's iOS7 the Harbinger of Stumbles to Come?

Apple's iOS7 is its first major stumble in the PJE (Post-Jobs Era). Its Android-esque "me too" interface is fraught with design flaws. Hackers have already exposed the weaknesses in its fingerprint entry system. Most of all, millions of customers are expressing the most dangerous thing to Apple's bottom line: uncharacteristic frustration.

Those of us who came from different walks of life to evangelize Apple product in the 1990s, in the "gap" between Mr. Jobs' tenure at the helm of the company that he and Steve Wozniak launched in their garage, know that frustration all too well.

"If the hardware is the brain, the sinew of our products, the software in them is their soul," Steve Jobs told his final World-Wide Developer Conference in his keynote remarks in 2011.

You almost hate to correct one of the great product geniuses of the modern age, but respectfully I disagree: Mr. Jobs was the soul of the the machine.

The soulless effort released as iOS7 is rife with things that Mr. Jobs would find unacceptable. Little things, like:

  • The unchangeable "backplates" to groups of apps whose colors generally blend and bleed with the backgrounds making it hard to see where they start and end;
  • The bright green and white call-in-progress bar running while you use other apps that makes the fine white letters less readable;
  • The changes to moving around from app to app without a shred of tutorial, particularly for older users who are less tech savvy;
  • Removing the right-swipe to delete items in lists and phone messages, and the completely awkward new voicemail system

Mr. Jobs inspired legions of engineers of hardware and software, but he also knew how to humanize their aspirations. Much like the buttons that he mocked on the BlackBerry at the iPhone launch at Macworld in 2007, the culture of complexity which created inelegant "practical" solutions for those first-gen "smart" phones has crept into his iPhone product in iOS 7.

The imprimatur who made the first Mac engineers tie their hands behind their backs and use the machine with a pencil in their mouth, as someone with a spinal injury might do, or invent a way for the hearing-impaired to know that the computer was "beeping" at them, by flash-inverting the upper pull-down menu bar, was a humanist first, and a technocrat second.

What is missing in iOS7 is that humanity. That understanding of programming to an audience, not to the sense of style of an engineer or a designer. Balancing the enthusiasm of young users with the cautious dread of older users who came to Apple because their devices didn't "bite" as badly as their Windows counterparts.

There are some good ideas, as always, but without some basic tutorial on the new rules of the road, like swiping up to get to your key settings like WiFi, bluetooth, etc., or swiping up on an app that's open to close it when you double-press the bottom button rather than hit the little "X" on the right of the vibrating icon, many users will experience frustration that was not part of the Jobs-era lexicon.

Innovation to Mr. Jobs was leap-frogging over your competition and making them follow you, not trying to "me-too" the interface of the Android system, which also is ground that Microsoft decided to tread.

In saying that, though, one must have total sympathy for Tim Cook, Apple's CEO. He is not a visionary. He's a corporate CEO. He's accountable to shareholders, and, like most of his kind, following what works seems to avoid taking big chances and screwing up epically.

The iOS7 release points out what we've known about titans of mass communications and entertainment like P.T. Barnum, Adolph Zukor, Walt Disney, and Mr. Jobs. Finding another wünderkind to replace them is impossible.

Most of their companies remain powerful for decades after, tops in their industry, but they never really attain that level of excitement, of the limitless potential of the possible, because the people running them are businessmen, not world-reshaping visionaries.

If the Sculley-Spindler-Amelio days of Apple, its last helming by "normal" CEOs, are a harbinger of what is to come, the missteps and miscues will continue. The engineers will follow both their best and worst instincts without that Jobsian filter, and Apple will become a pretty good technology maker that exists, like the other genius-spawned firms, in the haunting shadow of the question: What would Steve do? WWSD?

It's a question that Mr. Cook and his team should be asking now to quickly revise iOS7 to the humanist standards set forth as part of Apple's credo.

My shiny two.