Apple’s iOS 7 is coming soon, most likely by mid September. Is your app ready? iOS 7 is a ground-up redesign featuring a completely reimagined interface, new APIs, a slew of fresh features plus additional methods to control the device. Unless you want to appear as outdated as a flip phone, you should be updating your iOS 6 app this very minute.

Popular blogger and app developer Marco Arment has already urged fellow iOS developers to take quick, decisive action: “iOS 7 is different. It isn’t just a new skin: it introduces entirely new navigational and structural standards far beyond the extent of any previous UI changes.” So like he said, get to it.

Change is good

Jony Ive’s influence on iOS 7 is unmistakable. Just look at the minimalist design, new iconography, brighter colors, emphasis on white space and textual elements. The visual changes, however, only hint at how different iOS 7 is from iOS 6. Despite the Internet’s cries of anguish, many of the updates are quite sound.

Developers and designers alike should consider the following platform enhancements:

  • Dynamic Type – allows users to change the size of text in their applications, across all screen sizes.
  • Text Kit – helps create interactive text layouts, giving developers the ability to present text that flows around images and shapes, and supports highlighting and word search by tapping on characters.
  • Notification Center – incorporates calendars, reminders and app notifications, among other alerts. And now, iOS users can quickly access the information from their lock screen.
  • Motion – the iOS 7 UI Kit brings animation to apps, from the homepage icon to the menu bar, creating a more immersive and compelling user experience.
  • AirDrop – supports sharing of photos, documents, URLs and app data with nearby devices. The potential for sharing information within a physical space via a standardized platform now becomes possible for millions of users.
  • Multitasking APIs – enables app developers to update content in the background. This could create new modes of content delivery. For example, a developer can now have their app “wake up” to process data at designated intervals.
  • Game Center – improves contests, generates more excitement over leaderboards and encourages more gaming with distant friends.
  • Game Controller Support – offers support for some third-party game controllers, leading to a host of new gaming peripherals for both iPhone and iPad.
  • Camera APIs – includes enhanced interfaces for pictures and video, as well as new photo filters and methods of arranging pictures and albums.
  • iBeacons – low-power transmitters that can deliver relevant and timely information to nearby iOS 7 users, helping you add externalized, location-sensitive data to your app.
  • Inter-App Audio – makes iOS much more flexible as an audio workstation platform.
  • Map Kit – provides in-app directions, along with 3D maps and flyovers.
  • iOS in the Car – auto manufacturers can integrate Apple’s OS with in-dash screens and leverage Siri to support eyes-free usage.
  • Control Center – offers quick access to the flashlight, camera and clock, wireless controls such as Airplane Mode, and the user’s music with a swipe up from any screen.

As you can see, this is the most seismic shift in iOS since its introduction. No doubt designers and developers will have a great deal of work to do to ensure their app is optimized for iOS 7. But there really is no alternative as iOS 6 apps will look and feel archaic by comparison.

iOS 6 to iOS 7 will happen fast

If you’re considering waiting to make the transition, don’t. There are more than 600 million iOS devices in operation and a staggering 93% are on iOS 6. You should assume that the majority of iPhone and iPad users will quickly transition from iOS 6 to iOS 7. When iOS 6 was released last year, 60% of iPhone users and 40% of iPad users upgraded to the latest offering within the first week of release.

Advice from developers

After spending significant time with iOS 7, several top developers have provided advice on how to make the transition from iOS 6 to iOS 7. At minimum:

  • Confirm your existing app runs properly in the new environment.
  • Ensure your content should extend to the very edges of the screen.
  • Avoid heavy gradients and buttons.
  • Incorporate white space wherever possible.
  • Use the iOS 7 system fonts, as they make the text easy to read and appealing across all screen sizes.
  • Be aware that the new iOS places a great deal of emphasis on text and users reading information vs. presenting it with graphs and colors.

As with its product designs, Apple has stripped away superfluous visual distractions in iOS 7 and created an entirely new set of challenges: motion, animation and layering are all now critical. To put it bluntly, designers and developers can’t merely add decorative elements or clever UI movements to showcase their content. To succeed, apps must fully embrace the capabilities of the underlying hardware.

One iOS developer, who wished to remain anonymous, claimed the “big emphasis on motion and interaction” that runs through nearly every strand of iOS 7 represents the “future direction of the iOS platform.” Those making apps, and the businesses they support, will need to respond accordingly.

With iOS 7, apps will no longer look like they did before, and the distinction between app and web will almost certainly become greater. Successful apps on iPhone and iPad will now be much more interactive, more immersive and will take full advantage of Apple hardware and APIs. Done right, iOS 7 apps will be much closer to the end vision developers have long hoped for.