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10 April 20140 Comments by Jon M

#3: iOS 7 & the new iPhone 5S and iPhone 5C

We’ve been working on a recap of the biggest stories in mobile and tech from last year. With our good friend Scottie Ladeaux we’re going to bring you a new post looking back on our picks from 2013 every Thursday.

Working on this series have flown by are we’re already down to #3 in the countdown. What were your top ten tech stories from last year and what do you think is still left to cover?

Right now, we’re looking at a big event from 2013 and that’s Apple’s new mobile releases: iOS 7 & the new iPhone 5S and iPhone 5C. We going into a bit of detail into the background behind the design decisions that went into iOS 7 as well as ways to hack the Touch ID fingerprint sensor on the iPhone 5S.

iOS 7 is the new version of Apple’s mobile OS and we first got a look at it on June 10, 2013 at the Worldwide Developers Conference. It has been hailed as the most revolutionary iteration yet but to understand why, we need to back up a bit and revisit some Apple history.

In case you don’t remember, there was a huge backlash from users when Apple replaced Google Maps with their own app in iOS 6. It was an inferior app but was also rushed out and riddled with glitches and errors.

These ranged from the humorous – such Dublin zoo being positioned in London – to the downright dangerous after Australian police released an official warning than some errors were potentially life-threatening.

Following this fiasco Scott Forstall was dismissed from his post and Jony Ive was put in charge of the interface. Forstall and Steve Jobs have long been proponents of a design philosophy called skeuomorphism and were responsible for all the realistic user interface elements in iOS such as the the plasticy 3D buttons in the calculator and the yellow lined paper in the Notes app. iCal’s leather-stitching effect was apparently based on a texture Steve Job’s private jet!

In contrast, Ive thinks this produces an inconsistent look and feel between different apps and is a proponent of flat design. He was supported by senior Apple UI designers see skeuomorphic design as unnecessary “visual masturbation” and said “skeuomorphism was getting totally out of hand, particularly where the UI metaphor started limiting functionality”.

After Ive took over, the look of iOS7’s interface is strikingly different. Gone are cluttered wood grains and paper textures, and instead you get minimalist icons and a clear, bold palette.

This turned out to be rather controversial as many professionals criticised iOS 7 as too childish and generally badly designed. There were also usability concerns as many clickable regions were now just plain sans serif text and no longer look like buttons which seemed to go against Apple’s easy-to-use ethos.

As a result, new features were rather forgotten. But, while there was barely any functionality added to core apps, iOS 7 did pack in many enhancements such as finally introducing a usable Control Centre, tweaking the camera app, improving the multitasking ability, and adding more notifications as well as a nifty faux 3D parallax effect. The Safari web browser also gained the ability to open more than 8 tabs, thank goodness.

But iOS 7 was just the beginning – Apple’s biggest news was the new handsets. Unfortunately for tech fanatics, by the time they were officially announced on the 10th September there wasn’t anything new or unexpected for Apple diehards.

Predictions based on leaked photos and Apple’s Apple’s £225 million acquisition of mobile security firm AuthenTec turned out to be correct and the iPhone 5S sported a new fingerprint sensor. The other news was that the it had a phenomenally-powerful 64-bit A7 CPU as well as an integrated M7 motion co-processor that would continuously monitor data from the accelerometer, compass, and gyroscope.

There were also slight improvements to the camera hardware but what seemed to get people most excited was the new gold (or champagne) colour option.

The other “new” handset was the iPhone 5C which was effectively a rebranded iPhone 5 with a new plastic shell. It seemed aimed at shaking off the top-end reputation of the iPhone brand to be more appealing in emerging markets. However, the price still seemed high at £469 or $549 for the 16GB version and an even steeper £549 or $649 for the 32GB version. Analysts were disappointed that it didn’t make the £300 price point especially as we know from the parts list that Apple makes about 100% profit just on the hardware.

Both phones were released on the 20th September last year with the official public release of iOS 7 two days earlier on the 18th. Unfortunately, within days of the release, the highly-touted Touch ID fingerprint scanner was cracked by the Chaos Computer Club, a German hacking collective.

They’ve since refined the method but to start with they simply photographed the fingerprint at 2400 dpi, digitally cleaned up the image, and then laser printed it at half that resolution onto a transparent sheet using as thick toner as the printer was able to produce. By applying a layer of standard PVA glue, the toner left an indent producing a fake fingerprint that just needs some damp breath applied to break into an iPhone 5S.

Of course, despite this, the sales figures of both phones has been very impressive– within just days of the launch in September, Apple had shifted almost ten million iPhones landing them a new sales record. So another iPhone launch and another massive success for Apple.

The only downside would be the relatively poor sales of the 5C so far. Despite Apple artificially-constricting the supply of the 5S , the 5C is selling three times slower. Nevertheless, there’s evidence it’s making inroads into its target markets and even seems be winning over new customers with about half its buyers switching from competing brands.

What’s your thoughts on iOS 7 and do you own an iPhone 5C or 5S? What do you think is going to take the top two spots in our countdown from last year? Please do drop comments on this story and your predictions for what’s coming next.

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