June 12, 2013
On iOS 7
Days before the WWDC Keynote, it emerged that all the leaks were wrong about iOS 7, many of which touted a “flat” and, later, a “clean” interface. The design was instead meant to be “polarizing,” or so different that many would love it and many would hate it.
I think that’s exactly what we got.
There are people who are claiming the entire OS was hit with an “ugly stick” or looked like something a child would have thrown up. Harsh words, especially for people who haven’t used it yet.
But, if we’re talking strictly design, screenshots are all we need. Design is really only half of the story, depending on whom you’re talking to, and for our purposes here, screenshots will have to work.
What Apple showed off on Monday looks to be a more functional OS than what we have running on our iPhones right now, but we won’t know for sure until we start using the thing, until we run into use cases where it’d be real nice if we could move this thing to that other thing, or if we could change this thing without navigating away.
I want to talk about the design of iOS 7 for the time being.
In another one of his famous White Background Grey Shirt videos, Sir Ive explained how the OS was built with layers, and boy was he right. It’s been mentioned before by people far smarter than me that the idea of layers is pretty screwed up in current iterations of iOS.
Just try it.
Tap open a folder and you’ll see that linen background (which I love) sitting behind the icons.
Now pull down Notification Center, and you’ll see the same background above the entire screen. Perhaps the entire thing is meant to be cloaked in linen, like it’s wrapped up neatly in a soft fabric to protect your precious apps and photos?
I sincerely doubt it.
iOS 7 is built on three very consistent layers. Let’s start with the background. As it’s been since iOS 4, you’re allowed to choose your own wallpaper. (Remember the dark ages when this was forbidden? My, how things have changed.)
Now this wallpaper sits at the bottom layer of the OS and even determines some of the colors you see on the top layer, but we’ll get there soon enough.
The wallpaper is static. It doesn’t move. It’s just a picture of your family, favorite sports team, beloved model, what have you.
Resting just above it are your apps, and here is one way in which Apple has taken an idea and refined it to work just a little better than the rest. There are some phones, albeit it very few, which attempt to use a 3D screen to make your display pop. They’re ridiculous and ridiculously expensive. It’s a gimmick and, if you have one of these devices, I pity you.
What Apple has done (and this is really clever) is put in a sort of 3D effect which is based on how the phone is moved. That accelerometer and gyroscope resting inside your phone? Now they make the apps move in parallax to everything else, so if you tilt your phone to the left, you get to see a bit more of the wallpaper which was covered up when you looked at it flat. It’s like you can look behind your apps for the first time.
It’s a totally pointless feature except when viewed through the lens of the hierarchy of the OS.
It’s Ive’s way of telling us the apps are the second layer of this delicious iPhone sandwich, that the entire thing isn’t just icons slapped on top of a jpeg.
It’s brilliant. It’s the sort of subtle hint found in the original buttony icons of every other version of iOS. When the iPhone was first launched, Apple needed a way of visually saying, “This is a button. You tap it.”
Ive’s new direction is saying “There are multiple layers to this thing.”
I’ll say it again. It’s brilliant.
Then we get to the top layer, which is where Notification Center and, wonder of wonders, Control Panel live.
Control Panel is a feature we’ve all been asking after for years. With a single swipe up, a panel emerges which lets you turn off the Wi-Fi, play a song, share a file via AirDrop (another long awaited feature) and even take a picture or turn on the flashlight.
It’s almost like Apple wanted to be helpful.
Both of these features are presented on a frosted pane of glass sitting above the other two layers. Therefore, anything you see on the screen, be it an app or your wallpaper, are blurred and effect how these two features look on screen.
There are even a few extras here. The lock screen buttons change color depending on the primary colors found in your wallpaper.
Is your wallpaper a picture of your friend in front of a bright blue wall? You get blue buttons. It’s really great, and a trick I assume they borrowed from iTunes’ lovely album view.
I’ll say it; the icons in the new OS are different. Some (most notably the Game Center icon) are odd. But to my eye (and I’m no designer) they look beautiful border lining on wonderful.
There are some who say the icons and the UI of the entire thing is confusing. They say the text is too small, or the elements are crowded and unclear.
Again, I’m no designer, but I feel my experience with the platform gives me enough credit to
speak on the issue of “Is iOS 7 confusing?”
My answer? Absolutely not.
Based solely on the screenshots, how could it be? It’s just familiar enough to lead you and new enough to keep you interested. It’s got enough fun and whimsy indicative of an Apple product with the added functionality (like AirDrop) that we’ve been asking for.
Even now, as I sit and look at the screenshots on Apple.com, I feel like I understand what everything is meant to do, where every element is located, and what I’m supposed to tap next. I will say that the text looks smallish, but that’s something that can easily be adjusted in the Accessibility Settings if need be.
Joshua Topolsky complained about the new share icon in Safari, saying he didn’t know what it was or what it symbolized.
It’s clearly the share icon, if for no other reason than because it’s in the same spot where the share icon normally sits in Safari.
There’s also the fact that the upwards arrow coming from the box also suggests “this is going out somewhere else.”
In my opinion, that’s just nit-picky.
We’ll never know till we actually use the thing, (and I assume Topolsky’s review of the new iPhone will be as glowing as his others) but for now, based on what we know, I think iOS 7 is the home run Apple needed to hit. They were faced with a number of issues and complaints and needed to step up to the plate in a major way.
Everything from Mavericks to the new Mac Pros to iOS 7 was in answer to the looming question “Can Apple survive without Jobs.”
Clearly they’ve shown that they can, but this solidified it for the more bullheaded in the crowd.
Image Credit: Apple