After Apple fired iOS software chief Scott Forstall in late 2012, its globally-respected lead hardware designer Jonathan Ive became responsible for the look and feel of iOS—one of Apple’s biggest changes in a decade. Defined by his pursuit of elegance, Ive quickly undertook a complete redesign of iOS, focusing both on improving usability and removing “skeuomorphic” (real world) visual elements he deemed unnecessary. Yesterday, Apple debuted Ive’s radically different iOS 7 design, which did away with almost all buttons save for simpler application icons, while prominently emphasizing Helvetica text. There’s no question that iOS 7 makes a clear statement about Apple’s current design philosophy, but it’s not clear that the changes will all appeal to mainstream users. Our editors have strong (but differing) feelings on that topic, so we’re sharing them in today’s multi-editorial.
| Jeremy Horwitz, Editor-in-Chief: In its current form, iOS 7 feels incomplete but promising. Some of the new aesthetic elements are legitimately great—most people will love the dynamic wallpaper, the redesigned Music and Videos applications, and small touches such as new screen fades and font improvements. Unlike prior versions of iOS, it’s obvious within one second of pressing the Sleep/Wake Button that a lot has changed, which will make old devices feel new again. There are also some excellent discoverable improvements, including the hugely useful, always-available Control Center and Notification Center, as well as AirDrop sharing for photos and contacts. Many of these additions will seem either well overdue or incredibly welcome, depending on your perspective (and use of non-Apple devices).
Unfortunately, iOS 7’s biggest problem is one of the first things you see on an iOS 7 device: the new Home Screen icons and folders. They’re being criticized from all corners, and for good reason. Some of them look so cartoonish and poorly balanced that you’ll want to hide them away, but you can’t escape from them—these icons represent the operating system’s core functionality. Apple pundits often claim that “everyone will just get used to” the company’s infrequent design mistakes, but bad Home Screen icons aren’t negotiable. They’re highly visible, and even more glaring in iOS 7, thanks to a jarring new icon-zooming special effect you’ll see on each return to Home. Bear in mind that icons are so key to Apple’s iOS marketing and device packaging that they’ll quickly become ubiquitous reminders of mediocre design unless they’re fixed. If they’re widely disliked, that’s bad news for Apple. Some current iOS users have said that they won’t upgrade to iOS 7 if it looks like this—“this” meaning the Home Screens—and for a company that prides itself on a 95% iOS 6 usage rate, that’s a huge potential issue… if you take the threat of non-adoption seriously. Will Apple fix the Home Screen in time for Fall’s iOS 7 release, wait for iOS 8 in late 2014, or act like nothing’s wrong? Given that the iPad version of iOS 7 hasn’t been shown yet, it looks like Apple is time-crunched, and might make tough decisions in the name of shipping something on time.
It’s also hard to argue at this point that iOS 7 is still a leader in mobile operating systems, at least on the surface level. Even casual users—people with no investment in competing platforms—are noting how many iOS 7 elements seem to have come directly from Windows Mobile, Android, and third-party interfaces, rather than one-upping them. As just one example, Apple’s new Weather app might as well have been the already-released Yahoo Weather app; they’re all but identical in so many ways. Some apps, such as Notes, have actually taken steps back in iOS 7. And other apps (Voice Memos, Nike + iPod) have disappeared, at least for now. My guess is that the iOS team is currently working so hard to redesign its past software that it doesn’t have the time to think about big leaps ahead. I hope that will change in iOS 8.
| Phil Dzikiy, News Editor: After a closer look at the iOS 7 icons, I realized something — I don’t like any of them more than their previous incarnations. Particularly awful to me are the Safari icon, which looks basic and incomplete, and the Game Center icon, which now features … bubbles, for some reason. What’s the connection to games? Who knows? They could have taken the rocket from the previous Game Center icon, blown in up to full icon size, and made it flat. That would have been much better. Whereas my current Home Screens pop with color and shine, iOS 7 causes everything to blend together. My eyes aren’t drawn to anything. I suppose Apple believes that makes for a better overall experience. I just think it’s drab and boring.
But perhaps we’re all getting a bit too wrapped up in the icons — which is excusable, because the Home Screen is a pretty big part of the iOS experience. I do prefer most other parts of the new UI to the current iOS experience. The Lock Screen is much nicer in iOS 7. Though I never had a major problem with skeuomorphism myself, I do prefer the new look of Notes, Calendar, and Calculator. The new Safari tabs are great. And that lovely Weather app — I’m such a sucker for weather apps. There is a part of me that wonders if, after using iOS 7 for a while, a look back at iOS 6 will make the old operating system seem chunky and clunky by comparison.
It goes without saying that iOS 7 will be easier and nicer to actually use, and the new features will be upgrades. And we’re using our devices, aren’t we? We’re not simply staring at the icons for hours at a time. At least, I’m not. So I’ll get over the icons. It’s not like I have a choice.
| Nick Guy, Accessories Editor: We’ve known a “flat” design was coming in iOS 7 for months, but even with all the rumors and speculation, there was no way to prepare for just how jarring the transition would be. Is it a good thing or a bad thing? I’m not sure yet. But as someone who’s used iOS since it was released as iPhone OS on Apple’s original smartphone in 2007, it’s definitely going to take some getting used to. Apple is putting a lot of faith in Jony Ive and his team, allowing them to make drastic visual and UI changes. I believe this is what the company truly wants right now, and other than small tweaks, we’re not going to see any drastic changes before the public release. While I don’t immediately love the look of it all, I think part of that is Apple’s choice of default wallpapers. More traditional background images help temper the appearance, and make the redesigned icons less harsh. Of course they’re different, but they’re really not that bad.
These graphical changes are overshadowing loads of new features being introduced to the operating system, many of which have been requested for years. Control Center, improved Multitasking, iTunes Radio, a redesigned Photos app, AirDrop; these are only some of the features I’m looking forward to using on a daily basis. Functionally, iOS 7 looks like it’ll easily be the best mobile OS Apple has ever released. Cupertino has continued to intelligently integrate features that make the overall experience of using the iPhone better.
I truly believe that come October or November, once iOS 7 has been out for a month or two, and the initial shock has worn off, this discussion will mostly disappear. Whether or not people like the changes, they’re going to get used to them. That’s not to say they don’t matter, but for the most part, it’s what happens when Apple makes big changes. The most interesting thing to see in the meantime will be the reactions of “normal” users, those who don’t necessarily follow the news or watch the keynote address. What are they going to think when they follow the prompt to update their iPhones, and see something completely different once the process is complete? I doubt people will ditch their iPhones because of it, and overall, I don’t see the system being in any danger. It’ll definitely be a discussion for sure, though, and likely a loud one.
| Jesse Hollington, Applications Editor: While it’s interesting to see Apple giving iOS 7 a fresh coat of paint, I’m not sure that I’m impressed with the results that we saw yesterday, both in terms of the general feel of the new user interface as well as the jarring feel of it being “too much, too fast.”
While I’m not entirely sure whether I completely hate the new design or simply haven’t allowed myself to become adjusted to it, I think this is going to be Apple’s biggest issue with making such a sweeping, dramatic change. People like familiarity, and this just “feels” far too different. It doesn’t matter if everything works in the same way as it did before, and every icon is in the same place—I suspect the fact that it “feels” so incredibly different is going to alienate much of Apple’s real consumer base. I’m not talking about bloggers and tech enthusiasts who are always after the next “shiny new toy,” but everyday users who have become comfortable with their iPhones during the six years in which iOS remained largely visually unchanged. Consumers who have been on the fence about remaining with the iPhone may be given an excuse to look elsewhere, and even those loyal to the device are going to feel uncomfortable at best with these changes, and may resist the iOS 7 upgrade, thus creating the sort of fragmentation that Apple likes to proudly tout iOS devices as NOT having.
Readers, we’d love to hear your thoughts on iOS 7. Share your thoughts in the Comments section below!