One of the most oft-spoken stories I've heard since the introduction of iOS 7 is that it was built within seven months. Depending on the circumstance, the cadence and tone of this narrative is either of hushed awe or derisive skepticism.
Some feel the need to apologize for any perceived lapses in iOS 7's design, whilst others feel the need to highlight that it's a rushed and overdue change.
(I tend to think there's merit to both perspectives, but that's beside the point.)
The significance is that the design — a radical departure from the iOS of old — has engendered a polarized and vehement response from all corners of the industry.
What both bleeding heart advocates and opponents of iOS 7's aesthetic seem to miss, however, is that polarization is the hallmark of a disruptive change. Put more simply, it's a fundamentally organic and natural response to the alteration of something intimately familiar.
People are afraid of change. Particularly people — bafflingly — of the technology community.
Although we claim to be a grouping of people with a vested interest in explosive change and innovation, we're also the same people who rely upon fragile productivity hacks, third-party software acting as OS features, and so forth. Our workflows and lifestyles cling to the status quo, whilst our words praise change and the future.
The contradiction and hypocrisy is difficult to miss.
iOS 7 — just like any other new take on an old problem — ought to make you feel uncomfortable. Upon seeing the new icons and Candyland-esque palette, you ought to register an emotional response. That's precisely the goal. Moreover, it's precisely what we've been wanting for years.
Discomfort ought to be appreciated by those in our community.
We've been wanting iOS to be aesthetically revised, we've been wanting a new generation of video games consoles, and we've been wanting new ways to consume media.
And yet, when companies deliver each of these to us, all we can do is wail about change. All we can do is latch onto one or two inconsequential elements of change and hammer out withering dismissals onto our weblogs and Twitter accounts.
Looking at the video games community, the Xbox One promised to fundamentally alter the way we consider digital ownership, whilst also providing a host of innovative routes toward enjoying media. It was a product introduction designed to lay the groundwork for the next eight years.
Somehow, though, we responded with a focus on what's happening today.
People quickly and reductively pronounced Sony the winners of a new generation of video games — one that, incidentally, will not arrive until the end of the year — simply due to the fact that Sony took a far more cautious route with the PlayStation 4. Having been somewhat burnt with the audacity of the PlayStation 3 — amongst a host of other extenuating factors — Sony opted to pander toward the traditional gaming breed.
It's a remarkably intelligent plan to have pursued in the short term. Technologists and video games enthusiasts will invariably tout the benefits of the PlayStation 4 as it does little to further the state of media consumption outside of that space. It is a gaming console built for gamers. But where will these people be in three or four years?
One of the most trite and oft-spoken philosophies in the technology world — originating from hockey's Wayne Gretzky and popularized in our community by Steve Jobs in 2007 — is that companies ought not to skate to wear the puck is, but where it will be. That is what both Apple and Microsoft have sought to do in recent weeks.
We responded, however, with premature dismissals and cries that our technology is changing.
I do not mean to dismiss the PlayStation 4. It's a clear feat of engineering prowess. Moreover, if they are able to deliver upon their promises with Gaikai, it will invariably prove to be the console of choice for the gamers of the world. And that's a wonderful thing.
But Microsoft, on the other hand, is playing an altogether different game. They have a console capable of precisely the same gaming, but Microsoft has simplified the variables in the developmental equation. They've taken a much stronger stance, which, in my eyes, will likely make for a far more interesting and fertile ecosystem over the coming years.
People might wail about Internet connections and an always-connected Kinect, but think of what this means for developers around the world. There is a unified and democratized experience and toolset. There's a robust and forward-thinking philosophy benefiting those that build the content for these devices. And there's versatility and agility for a world in which the proliferation of broadband connections is occuring far quicker than could've been imagined.
Ignoring the changing characteristics of a marketplace simply for the short-term gain of plaudits from a fickle community of enthusiasts is troublesome.
Perhaps Apple could've waited longer for Ive to fully realize his vision for iOS 7 and perhaps Microsoft could've introduced slightly less stringent policies for the Xbox One. But such behavior would not do justice to the relentless pace of innovation, disruption, and change in our industry. Microsoft has a vested interest in making a profitable, powerful, and versatile ecosystem for the coming decade, whilst Apple must meet the perilously high expectations of its consumers. And meeting us where we are now would not facilitate either of those things.
Whenever we decry Google Glass for how it works in its current iteration, how iOS 7 behaves in its second beta, or how the Xbox One would affect us today rather than three years from now, we betray a deep-seated sentiment of fear. We show that we — as the community of thinkers and doers comprising this industry — are afraid of adhering to the very tenets through which we judge others.
If you've ever argued for skating to where the puck will be — with a Jobsian air of confidence no less — only to then itemize concerns for departing from the status quo, then you've demonstrated a hypocritical fear of change.
iOS 7 is different, exciting, and, most of all, it lights a fire under the developers of its hundreds of thousands of apps. The smallest developer is given an opportunity to outdo its greatest competitors later this year. Focusing on the stock icons — icons I doubt any of you would have on your homescreen in the first place — is reductive of what this means for the broader ecosystem. The same goes for the Xbox One, Google Glass, and so on.
Before you adopt a tribal philosophy on one company over another, take a moment to consider where we'll be a year from now. Take a broad look at these players and appreciate all that they are building. Take a moment to consider what the ramifications are of innovation and disruption beyond whether you might have a Kinect on your desk at your house in your games.
Change extends far beyond the bounds of your personal experience and decrying it without acknowledging that fact makes for reductive and needlessly aggressive philosophies. Appreciate change for what it truly is, not what you knee-jerk into believing it might mean for you and you alone.
2013 is the most exciting year in technology in quite some time. Let's try not to mire it in a fear of what that might mean for the immediate future and think more about how it might collectively benefit us — and our community — over the coming years.