A very interesting thing is happening in fall 2013 - three out of four of the most popular operating systems in the US market are getting significant revisions (only Google's Android is relatively quiet). iOS 7, OS X Mavericks, and Windows 8.1 are all important releases, but for very different reasons. One of the few things they share is that many of the new devices that will debut a four-month window that starts with the early fall and ends with CES 2014 in early January will rely on these three new operating systems.
Apple's iOS 7 is definitely the most significant interface change to iOS since its initial release. I believe we often forget how comfortable the iOS interface has become: a user time traveling from June 2007 and iOS 1.0 would easily recognize today's iOS 6.1. This will no longer be true with iOS 7. iOS 7 shows the strong influence of (Sir) Jonathan Ive: icons are flattened and interface elements are simplified. Apple states that "the interface is purposely unobtrusive" but we believe that the changes will be jarring to many users.
An important new feature is Control Center, which allows swipe-up to gain quick control of functions such as Airplane Mode, Bluetooth, and Do Not Disturb. AirDrop also comes to iOS after debuting in OS X version 10.7 Lion a little over two years ago - it works over Bluetooth or WiFi.
Several of the built-in applications have been substantially updated or rewritten. Safari has been redesigned to allocate as much space as possible to web pages themselves, eliminating buttons and bars when possible. The Camera and Photo applications both show changes in emphasis toward a more "social" world where the smartphone is often the camera of choice. Even the Phone application has a new look.
As of mid-August, iOS 7 is currently in beta 6. Most industry observers expect iOS 7 to release with various new iOS based devices starting in early September, perhaps on September 10th. It is possible that Apple will release iOS 7 to current devices (iPhone 4 and above, iPod Touch 5, iPad 2 and above, iPad mini) up to a week before.
OS X version 10.9 Mavericks
Apple's next version of OS X is also the first not named or codenamed after a cat - Mavericks is a famous surfing location in Northern California near Half Moon Bay. With that out of the way we can get to the significant changes, the first of which is the adoption of much of the interface look and feel of iOS 7 in many of the included applications such as Calendar and Contacts.
There are additions: under substantial competitive pressure from Amazon, iBooks has come to OS X after several years of being iOS-only. The much-maligned Maps app also now makes an appearance as an OS X application. iCloud Keychain stores and syncs website user names and passwords with 256-bit AES encryption on approved devices.
There's a new version of Safari (7), which allows easy viewing of links from Twitter and LinkedIn and hopes to improve browser performance. Notifications (which debuted in OS X Mountain Lion) has been improved to not just notify but allow further interaction, such as replying to a message or deleting an email.
The OS X Finder gets some attention with OS X Mavericks. Multiple displays support is substantially improved: there’s no longer the late-1980s concept of primary and secondary displays and the Dock is available on all screens. Tabbed windows come from Safari to the Finder. Finally, Tags give users another option to mark and associate different kinds of files.
As of mid-August, OS X Mavericks is in beta 5. Most industry observers expect OS X Mavericks to release with revised OS X based computers such as the re-imagined Mac Pro professional desktop and (almost certainly) new Haswell-based MacBook Pro notebooks in the fall, perhaps in late September or early October.
Microsoft's Windows 8.1 is at least partially in response to many complaints and concerns about the initial release version Windows 8, which arrived in October 2012. In this way, Windows 8.1 is much like service packs used to be: a combination of functionality updates and security fixes. There's now a Start button in the "Classic" interface (though it doesn't work like the one in Windows 7 and prior versions) and there's twice the flexibility in tile size in the "Modern" tiled interface. There are more options for users who have high-resolution displays (those that are Full HD or above) and the Snap app window manager is notably more useful and flexible.
Windows 8.1 also has better support for upcoming 7-inch and 8-inch tablets that will follow Acer's Iconia Tab W3 - something that was not part of the initial release. Search is improved by integrating three categories into one. SkyDrive integration is improved and the Mail app has been updated yet again. Windows 8.1 also includes improved support for Mobile Device Management (MDM), so Microsoft devices can now be more easily managed along with iOS and Android devices. Finally, there's a new version of Internet Explorer: we're now all the way up to 11.
As of mid-August, Windows 8.1 remains in the public "Preview" cycle that was announced in June 2013. Microsoft announced last week that Windows 8.1 will be released as a free upgrade for Window 8 users on October 18th, 2013 and many hardware vendors have made it clear that they are waiting for 8.1 to release new hardware.
John Mulhern III, Posted 8/18/13
For more information on Apple's iOS 7 visit: www.apple.com/ios/ios7/
For more information on Apple's OS X Mavericks visit: www.apple.com/osx/preview/
For more information on Microsoft's Windows 8.1 visit: windows.microsoft.com/en-us/windows-8/preview