The speed of the internet can be exhausting. Patience has become something of a lost art as we almost symbiotically go from event to event draining the life out of each and leaving it’s carcass on the side of the road. There’s a pressure to be involved in the discussion even if we have little to add to it. We’ll make sweeping assumptions based on surface level information, not giving ourselves enough time to actually think about why or what we’re saying. Contrary to popular belief, there are things that demand more than 5 minutes to digest. Some times things require you to physically use it before you can truly appreciate it.
The unveiling of Apple’s new iPhone operating system, iOS 7 is a prime example of people forming strong opinions on something that isn’t even finished or they haven’t used. The drum beating about Apple’s mobile OS beginning to show it’s age has continually increased for over a year now. With Google’s Android finally reaching some consistency and polish in it’s design, Windows Phone 8 live tiles getting praise for being dynamic, and even Blackberry 10’s gestures getting some love, the push for Apple to refresh the ‘oldest’ mobile OS on the market started to become deafening. So after 8 months since releasing iOS 6, Apple has released a somewhat completely redesigned operating system.
But change is always hard, especially when designing for such a large and diverse group of users. Apple had to change the OS enough to make it meaningful but not too much as to alienate users. Being a nearly impossible task to complete I think Apple walked the line fairly well.
Textures & Buttons
The first obvious difference is the removal of all of the signature Apple texturing within apps that usually mimicked their real life counterpart. The term is called skeuomorphism and it’s been given the axe in iOS 7, at least in the traditional sense. Gone are the gaudy textures and attempt to make them look like real world objects. Instead we have a minimalist approach to most of the apps. Lots of white space, the removal of button boarders and translucency that attempt to get out of the way as much as possible. Gone are the chrome and pinstripe blue background. Now the app goes all the way to the top of the phone, even changing the color of the status bar. The traditional bottom buttons are now mostly translucent with button colors that match the app. When apps update to iOS 7 everything should look a lot cleaner and less cluttered.
In the introduction video of iOS 7, head designer, Jony Ive talked about creating “distinct, functional layers to help establish hierarchy and order”. You don’t really grasp the meaning of that until you begin to use the operating system. The background image plays a big part on the aesthetic of the OS when not in apps. Since the layers (Notification Center, Control Center) that slide on top of the home screen are translucent, the colors in the background bleed through to the foreground, including app icons. This is part of the reason for some of the outcry that iOS 7 was too “bright” or “childish”. The color palette of the icons are indeed a bit brighter add the rainbow colored background and it could be a bit much. Apple probably should’ve chosen a more neutral background or shown examples with different background colors to show how adaptive the OS becomes.
It’s worth mentioning both the Notification and Control Center generate their transparency in real time over whatever is currently on the screen. Both menus can be accessed anywhere within the OS.
The 3D parallax effect that makes the app icons appear to float above the background gives the entire operating system depth. The parallax effect is also present inside app folders, the lock screen and Safari tabs.
Even the new animations when selecting apps make the OS feel alive and give the feeling of traveling through the OS. When an app is selected the screen zooms into the location of the app and zooms back out to the home screen when finished. All of these features together give iOS more depth and fluidity than ever before adding up to a wonderful, somewhat whimsical experience to use.
That has been the magic of iOS from the beginning, creating a user interface that is both intuitive and fun to use. iOS 7 is as unobtrusive as ever, removing the back button and relying on a swiping gesture from the side edge of the phone to go backwards and forwards. In Safari the address bar and navigation buttons automatically disappear when scrolling down and will reappear when the user scrolls up. This type of subtle yet elegant attention to detail is what separate iOS from other mobile operating systems.
However there are some rough spots which a lot of the tech press have seemed infatuated with, the icons. A lot of the icons feel a bit disjointed and inconsistent from the rest of the experience and in some cases feel almost like placeholder images ( I’m talking to you Safari icon). Of course this is a Beta and enough hand wringing has been done about them that I’m sure they’ll be tweaked by release.
If you only look at iOS 7 through screenshots you’ll miss the subtle charm of the operating system that is evident when you use it. With that said, using the OS also makes it incredibly clear that Apple was under pressure to get a working Beta out the door as entire apps aren’t even functional. There is still a lot of work to be done, but the foundation of iOS 7 is a great start. Unfortunately most of the discussion regarding the OS has been surface deep knit picking from tech reporters and some designers that seem to have more of a problem with Ive designing software as they do with software itself. With over 1500 new API’s hopefully going forward we can raise the level of discourse a little higher than what color the freaking icons are.