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What can the release of iOS 7 teach designers?

One thing Apple is good at is getting iPhone and iPad users to install their latest operating systems. After only five days since its launch, more than 200 million devices were upgraded to the latest iOS 7 operating system—an achievement few, if any, smartphone makers on the market today could claim.

How do they pull this off? By consistently designing operating systems that keep enough of what works and change enough of what doesn't, all while placing a special emphasis on appearance.

In the most recent update, Apple's lead designer, Jonathan Ive, did away with the systems traditional reliance on skeuomorphism and created something with a more modern feel. "The result is an OS that feels alive, responsive, and modern," writes Harvard Business Review contributor Sean Madden.

What can we learn about new product design from Ive's choices? Actually, quite a bit, especially when compared to the history of the company.

First, the new software demonstrates the importance of taking risks. Apps on iOS 7 look radically different from their previous versions, which shared the same basic look since the iPhone was first released in 2007. In releasing iOS 7, Apple was trusting its loyal customers to stick with the company as it tried something new.

Of course, it had little choice. There was nothing resembling the iPhone when it first came out five years ago, but now phones running Google's Android operating system run neck-and-neck with the device. Apple had to take a big step forward to avoid being surpassed by Android's design.

It has not been an entirely smooth ride, which leads us to the second big lesson about design. It's sometimes important to take that step, even if the end result is not perfect. And few users would call iOS 7 perfect. It's still buggy, as all new software is, but it also includes some questionable choices. Some aspects are not near as customizable as those on other phones. Some users have called the overall design ugly, and too close to that which Android is using.

Sozo Design knows all about taking risks when it comes to style. One of its recent projects, the Kangatek Go, is meant to offer a convenient holder for personal items. There are many ways for such a product to turn out awkward and inadequate in its look and fit, but the Go is sleek, lightweight, and fashion forward for a fresh take on a carry pack, or bag.

Innovators everywhere should know this: It will get better. Like all software releases before it, iOS 7 will undergo a number of small and not-so-small changes in the coming days as Apple squashes bugs and refines some of its rougher edges. And that's the final lesson to learn from this release: Don't be afraid to change what you've already finished.

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