Does the conversion of the new iOS 7 have anything to do with the iWatch?

When Apple CEO Tim Cook takes the stage next Monday, June 10th in San Francisco to open its own in-house exhibition, WWDC, he will – most likely – also have the new iOS 7 in his luggage. The new operating system for iPhone, iPad and iPods should bring fundamental design changes with it. Design guru Jony Ive has been responsible for this since the end of last year, replacing long-time iOS boss Scott Forstall. It is astonishing that the new look and feel is rumored to be much less bulky than the current surface. Instead of bright colors and real-looking textures such as leather, velvet or felt, black and white and flat surfaces should be used.

It’s not as if black and white weren’t always popular Apple colors – if “colors” is the right term in this case. After all, the company only offers its iPhone and iPad series in these tones, and not in squeaky pink or Chernobyl green.

Nevertheless, such a paradigm shift in terms of user interface is surprising. After all, such a blatant design change harbors enough dangers: Customers can sometimes be extremely critical when there are far-reaching changes in user guidance or design. Microsoft, for example, has been feeling this effect again and again since the introduction of Windows 8 due to the missing start button.

So why are Apple and Jony Ive taking such a risk and apparently making such serious changes? There is at least a good chance that this is not only due to the fact that the iOS design is now getting on in the days and the competition is listlessly lagging behind. The minimalist design – quite a trademark of Ive – could also have something to do with the fact that Apple is preparing itself for new device classes that have to get by with significantly less energy than smartphones or tablets. Like an iWatch, for example …

Tim Cook recently emphasized in an interview that wearable computing and the “wrist” would be an interesting option for his company, but that it was important to be able to convince customers with them. Even if Cook did not specifically name the watch or the iWatch, his comments strongly suggest such a gadget.

And so that Apple can convince its customers, in addition to exceptional functionality and design, a long battery life is essential. A clock doesn’t offer much space. So that the device can be supplied with power for a few days in the best case without having to be plugged into a socket, a sensible combination of display technology and user interface is necessary.

E-Ink displays, such as those used in many eBook readers, but also in the Yota phone, have a decisive advantage: They only consume energy when the image changes, but not to display it. The picture is practically “drawn” on the display and even a small battery can power such a screen for weeks – as long as the screen content does not change often. The big catch of such a display: It cannot handle colors.

Will the smartwatch then get an e-ink display? Rather not. Apple can’t do without color either. Rather, an OLED display could be used. Other alternatives such as LCD and Mirasol are ruled out: LCDs require a comparatively large amount of electricity, even if they only have to display little information, and Mirasol displays require lighting – otherwise the content cannot be seen in the dark.

OLEDs can also be used with little or no light. The individual pixels only use electricity when they are lit, so dark elements do not use any electricity at all. And thanks to new developments, white pixels, which until recently still sucked a lot of power, also use significantly less energy: In addition to the subpixels in red, green and blue, the manufacturers are now also placing one in white.

So next Monday will Apple unpack iWatch in addition to iOS 7? Maybe. The new version of the mobile operating system could be the harbinger of new device classes. Like no other company, Apple attaches great importance to intuitive user guidance and uniformity across all of its devices. So there are some arguments against the Californian company reducing its user interface for just one watch. The fact that Jony Ive is also in control of the design shows the importance of the project.

It’s probably about a lot more than just a little color – it’s about innovation and about saving electricity.

Credits: Sascha Gilly Berlin (for inspiration); Daniel (for the technical brainstorming)

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