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The dichotomous release of the iPhone 5s and iOS 7

I’ve spent a few weeks with iOS 7 and I’ve had an iPhone 5s for three days. Above anything else, this feels like the most intriguing—and so far successful—convergences of Apple’s two very different approaches to innovation that we’ve seen since the original iPhone.

The iPhone 5s is a shining beacon of Apple’s more common approach to innovation (yes, that’s Apple’s (PRODUCT) RED leather case in some of my photos). Some in the public and press believe that word means Apple has to turn our fundamental way of life inside-out with each new product. Those people don’t understand the blood, sweat, and tears that go into actual innovation.

For the third cycle in a row, Apple released an enhanced, refined version of a predecessor (the 3GS was first, then the 4S). The iPhone 5s is an evolution of the iPhone 5 body with a wildly improved camera, industry-first 64-bit processor, a fingerprint scanner that might actually catch on, and other enhancements. There are major new features under the hood, but packaged in a phone body that has not largely changed from last year’s and, if you ask me, didn’t need to. Overall, it’s Apple’s tried and true method of innovation: release a great product, then make it even better.

iOS 7 sits on the other end of the innovation spectrum from the iPhone 5s. Sure, there are icons and home screens and a home button, just like there have been since 2007. But aside from the basic necessities to get into the ballpark of being an “operating system,” iOS 7 is a nearly a top-to-bottom reboot of Apple’s most important OS. Think about that.

The 700 millionth iOS device is expected to ship in October. With iOS 7, Apple essentially pulled a Windows Vista or Windows 8—it took a wrecking ball to an OS used by well over half a billion customers—and, as far as I can tell from the exhaustive reviews and overall sentiment so far, it did well. Yes, iOS 7 is a foundation. Yes, it’s a 1.0 and there are problems to solve. Yes, that icon you hate might need some time to mature.

If you consider the bigger picture, what is there for iOS 7’s debut is fantastic. New gestures, a simpler interface, and a cohesive design makes far more of the infrastructure and moving parts of iOS feel like they were cut from the same block. Not since the iPad’s introduction, but possibly even iPhone OS 1.0, have Apple’s mobile products been this interesting.

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