iOS 7: a UX designer’s perspective

Blogs Paul Cooper 15:12, 12 Jun 2013

Is iOS 7’s dramatic redesign all its cracked up to be?

I watched the WWDC Keynote live online and waited breathlessly through Tim Cook's propaganda – sorry, ‘presentation’ – for the new flat design that everyone had been expecting since news first broke of Ive’s involvement in the overhaul late last year. 

I had just spent the last 6 months designing flatter apps for iPad and iPhone, such was the expectation that Apple's new mobile operating system was going to be without bevels, gloss and gradient – in a word skeuomorphic-less. 

And for that reason I wasn't disappointed, I'd grown bored of looking at the dated looking beveled buttons, Game Center fake green felt card table, painfully predictable stitching and digital cow killing faux leather.

Had this release been announced 3 months ago when I owned an iPhone, the following review might’ve been a little kinder, but as it is, Apple took way too long to release this update – like a year-and-a-half too long.

Just a few months ago I'd evened things up in our app development team and bought a Nexus 4 (we are now 50/50 split over iPhone and Android), so this whole keynote turned into a chance for me to fully justify my Android purchase. 

So where should I start with my critique? It would make sense to start with a quick design round up, beginning with the overall look. I can't help thinking that it looks a bit immature, and that the UI wouldn't look out of place on a Fisher Price or V-tech toy.

The new colour pallete used for the Apple app icons isn't particularly classy or elegant and give the while phone the feel of a child's toy as you can see from this screenshot.

The flat design everyone was so excited about seeing is a little underwhelming and feels unfinished (which it is, it's not actually due for release till Autumn, so I'll cut Apple some slack on this count). 

At first glance it's also not quite as elegant or beautiful as Windows 8 either. It feels like a wireframe design, which is great for me because it'll save me loads of work – but for users I think it will generate confusion and on the whole it sort of makes iOS 7 look cheap. 

The translucence that Ive considers so beautiful was first seen in a user interface about 5 years ago, you might have heard of Windows Vista? I think the choice of typeface is interesting: the lighter font is very pretty and has long been used by designers to illustrate a level of sophistication and quiet confidence.

The problem is that whilst this works very well in print, this spidery type weight can lose its legibility on screen, especially in bright sunlight. Combine this with the new translucent backgrounds and the lack of form to any of the buttons and Apple has instantly created a usability problem.

Let's not be too critical though, I do think the new design is an improvement. It feels more modern and light. I like the way the wallpaper moves as you tilt the phone, I'm just not sure how this will make my life any better.

I also like the changes to the Photo app: the ability to view different collections – and by year – is handy, especially if you're as snap happy and as lazy as me when it comes to clearing shots from your phone. 

Airdrop is pretty cool too, and the Apple boys were quick to point out that their users don't have to bump phones to do it, but to be honest, how often will you use it? And what's wrong with bumping phones anyway? 

I've already seen Vines from Apple Devs at WWDC who are having trouble with the new swipe up to unlock. After 5 years of swiping right, how frustrated will iPhone users be when they have to change a habit which must now be ingrained into their muscle memory.

What about some of the other improvements?

Mobile Safari is much better, I love being able to swipe through open tabs on Android Chrome, and iOS users will benefit greatly from this new feature. I like the edge-to-edge design and the ability to hide the browser chrome, when space is a premium I want to see as much of a website as possible – so well done on that count, Apple. 

The Camera app improvements aren't to be sniffed at either, being able to swipe from video camera to still camera to panorama camera is a great way to switch modes quickly and the new filters are fun too, but haven't we got Instagram for that?

Control Center has been a long time coming, for too long we had to tap twice to get to that brightness setting, thank the 7 Gods of Cupertino that I now only have to tap once. But wait what's this, Apple hasn’t finished the Control Center design, they haven't coloured it in – maybe I could lend them my designer's crayons?

Another plus is that app icons in folders can now scroll horizontally within the folder, that's pretty handy because I can now store more apps in a folder, which is great.

Newsstand has received a major facelift, with a new icon, which launches an app containing all your magazines and newspapers. It no longer uses the wooden shelf design, but still retains the horizontal rails.

The background is now translucent so the whole look and feel will hinge on whatever wallpapers you choose.

I'm not sure that's such a good idea. As you can see from the screenshot it's not exactly the most interesting UI, the covers look too small, the text is hard to read and the store button doesn't look like a button. 

Buttons that don't look like buttons seem to be a prevailing theme in iOS7, the new Mail app is very sparse and the Cancel and Send buttons at the top of the screen could easily be confused as part of the subject line. I expect my buttons to look like buttons!

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