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The iPhone’s new core: slick software that imitates Android, RIM

Craig Federighi, senior vice president of software engineering at Apple, left, greets Apple CEO Tim Cook after the introduction of iOS 7 during the keynote address of the AppleWorldwide Developers Conference, Monday, June 10, 2013, in San Francisco.

Eric Risberg/AP Photo

With rivals making big gains, Apple Inc. released a slew of software upgrades to try to get the buzz back for the iPhone.

The world's largest technology company unveiled a complete overhaul to the operating system that runs all iPhone and iPads tablet computers. The software, called iOS7, looks different from all previous versions and is the most audacious redesign since the iPhone was introduced in 2007. That change is largely due to the fact that the rebuilding of iOS software was led by Jonathan Ive, Apple's design guru and the man responsible for designing the iPhone and iPad.

The changes, which were released at Apple's annual WorldWide Developers Conference in San Francisco on Monday, highlight the intense competitive pressure the company feels from competitors such as Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. and Google Inc., which have released new mobile hardware and software products that match – and in some cases exceed – the capabilities of its offerings.

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The perception that Apple has ceded ground to others in the race to make the hottest wireless gadgets has weighed heavily on the company's stock price, which has fallen 37 per cent since hitting a record high of more than $700 (U.S.) last September. It closed Monday at $438.89, down 0.7 per cent.

In what was at times a feisty affair, Apple executives also pulled back the curtain on a brand new, cylinder-shaped desktop computer called the Mac Pro – part of an attempt by the company to counter criticism that its most innovative days are behind it.

"Can't innovate any more, my ass," said Apple marketing vice-president Phil Schiller.

The new version of iOS does away with the concept of skeuomorphism, whereby digital interfaces are designed to look like real-world counterparts (for example, the iBooks bookshelf, which was designed to look like a wooden shelf). Instead, the software has a more consistent, vibrant feel that immediately distinguishes it from previous iterations.

"The new version is almost unrecognizable, which will make it polarizing," said Jan Dawson, chief telecom analyst at Ovum. "Some people will love that their phone feels new and different, while others will be disoriented by the newness. On the other hand, this is a clear statement from Apple that it acknowledges the need to refresh the user interface and is willing to do something pretty dramatic."

The changes also illustrate the growing convergence of the mobile industry. Many of the new features represent the company's take on what most other competitors in the mobile industry are also developing, such as Internet radio station services and wireless data sharing.

Among the many upgrades are two features called Control Center and Notification Center, which mimic some of the services found on BlackBerry Hub. The tools essentially collect all of the user's notifications and the phone's most frequently used settings in a convenient central location. Perhaps most significantly, iOS7 now allows the user to keep many applications open at the same time, something Research In Motion Ltd. has long touted as a BlackBerry advantage. Apple's new AirDrop feature, which allows users to share content between phones without the use of an external network, is similar to a feature introduced on many devices from chief Apple rival Samsung, among other manufacturers.

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In previous years, Apple's competitors nervously waited to see how their products would stack up against upcoming Apple offerings. Now, it is Apple that will wait to see what new products hit the market between now and when consumers get their hands on iOS7 in the fall (at which point, a new iPhone will also likely be announced). Apple's developer conference takes place just one month after Google's similar "I/O" event, and it is likely that Google will release one or more updates to its Android operating system, before iOS7 arrives.

"Apple continues to focus on serving the individual who uses Apple products extremely well within a well-defined envelope," said Forrester analyst Frank Gillett. "Apple compared well to the Google I/O May announcements, satisfying its developers with next generation OS improvements – but leaving trend watchers hungry for the special event that marks Apple's reveal of a ground-breaking innovation."

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