Tom Maitland

Creates digital things at Agency. WordPress developer. Web designer. Communicates for UN Youth Australia.

Some Thoughts on iOS 7

12 June 2013

Let’s start with the good.

iOS 7 is so different. Apple has changed how intuitive – almost human – the interface feels. iOS 7 is an extremely bizarre contrast of a stripped back, flat interface filled with the tiniest of details. New animations, visual cues, little signals that make the phone feel different.

They start at the lock screen, which by the way is the most beautiful part of the whole phone. Clicking the lock button fades in the backlight, the wallpaper subtly fades in, spreading across the screen with a very slight zoom. It made me want to keep clicking that lock button.

Swiping to unlock brings in the icons in a smooth fall onto the home screen, pushing them down reveals the search (it no longer has its own screen), pulling up from the bottom reveals Control Centre and the top reveals Notification Centre. They’re nice, if a little plain. Control Centre is ridiculously useful.

Opening an app has changed as well. A zoom and spread provides an app with more context within the virtual space of the phone. It’s icon expands but rather than expanding over other icons like iOS 6 and down, those icons spread as the app expands – the difference is remarkable.

These subtle touches continue throughout Apple’s core apps. They create a virtual space for the flat skin of iOS 7 to operate. The 3D tiles in Safari, the slight movement of the wallpaper, the parallax of the icons respective to their tile in the app switcher, the bounce up of Control Centre, the zoom and fade of modals, the way a message drops down and meets it’s bubble.

These animations make iOS 7 fun, and boy does it need a little fun – because that’s where the new operating system falls down. I showed my updated phone to my sister (who is not at all techy). She flicked through a few apps, opened up Calendar, Music, Messages. Her reaction was the same as mine.

Lock screen: “Oh that’s nice”

Interface: “It’s all a bit plain”

Thoughts on the flat design fad aside, when you strip back all the interface and replace it with white broken up by a few thinly drawn icons, it feels very plain. It feels unfinished. It’s not sparse and simple, it doesn’t simplify complexity because the original iOS ‘look’ wasn’t complex. It’s stark, dry, dull.

Good design triggers emotions (which is why my thoughts on this are only as valid as the nexts), white sparse ‘flat’ screens don’t make you feel happy or good. They feel utilitarian and brutally productive. Lets take Calendar as an example. You open the app and see the days of the week in a slightly off-white bar. Below is your day, blocked out, segmented out with thin lines and numbers. Text links mark the navigation at the bottom.

It’s an interface where you want to add your event and get out as quickly as possible. Message’s squished speech bubbles suffer the same fate.

I think there was so much potential for Apple to bring in these lovely interactions but still add a splash of colour, and draw out the starkness of thin text on solid white. The colour scheme iOS 7 introduces is nice, it’s vibrant, fun, youthful. It just needed to go beyond those icons and into their apps.

A day and a half certainly isn’t adequate time to judge the time, care and passion Apple designers have put into this iOS release. I don’t think iOS 7 is a bad release, I just don’t think it’s as nice as it could’ve been and that’s a shame. I also wonder how long until we get bored of flat design. It is extremely restrictive for the looks designers can create, and before too long everything will begin to look too familiar and too similar and we’ll be restless for more. I seriously doubt this iOS experience will last as long as the last.

For now I’ll roll back to iOS 6, the beta is extremely buggy. It will be great to see iOS 7 in all it’s polished glory (with hopefully an iPhone 5S) in September.

(Also, I hope they update they interface to match iOS 7. It’s horrible, slow and could do with some TLC. Those fat buttons also make no sense when you’re not smashing them with a finger).