iOS 7 hands-on

iOS7: the good …

Published 4 years ago · 4 mins read

4 mins read

I want to join the bandwagon of iOS7 reviews and share my impressions with what Apple claim to be “the major redesign of iOS since the initial launch of the iPhone“.

At first impression, when I saw the icons, the lock and the home screen, the typography and the control center I wasn’t very happy. By just looking at the screenshots (first error) I thought that the Apple design team just borrowed inspiration from other products (Android, Windows Phone and WebOS) and put everything together in a kinda-non-polished-way.

However, while the graphics still seems unfinished and the lack of polish is evident (you can know more about it by reading this excellent article) I would like to focus more on the positive things I saw in this redesign, leaving the bad ones (that I mostly agree with) on other blogs.

When I finally saw some live demos of the OS, I suddenly realized that Ive and his team were not just willing to jump on the “Flat UI” bandwagon. Actually:

iOS7 is not just form. It is, above all, function

There are three main aspects of the OS that I especially like and I would like to talk about: first, it’s a content-focused OS. Second, it relies more and more on transitions than on graphics. And last, it provides a better functional hierarchy. Let’s see what it means.

Content-centric OS

The UI literally fades away in iOS7: it’s lighter and removes all the unnecessary realistic elements that were present before. With edge-to-edge content, the real information (the one that matters most) gets the primary stage that it deserves. Like pointed out in this comprehensive article by Matt Gemmell, by comparing side by side iOS6 and 7 screenshots, it’s clear how the new design was a much-neeed breath of fresh air. The interface is secondary and very minimal: content and its direct manipulation is what matters most. The new design is also much brighter than its predecessor, with fewer gradients, shadows and 3D effects.

Contacts on iOS 6 and iOS 7

Contacts app comparison on iOS 6 and iOS 7

Receiving a phone call on iOS 6 and iOS 7

Receiving a phone call on iOS 6 and iOS 7

 

However, this can easily lead to some excesses, like the bare screen of the Reminder app, that remind us of the first Gmail redesign where almost all graphics are removed for the sake of simplicity. Getting to know what is tappable and what is not becomes a bit difficult in this case.

Reminders app on iOS7

Reminders app on iOS7

Does this new direction sacrifice ease of learning? Maybe yes, and the lock screen without the clear left-to-right unlock bar is a clear evidence.

However, we can affirm that the whole system relies less on obvious visual affordances and more on what is covered in next paragraph.

Movement is life

The new OS introduces a much richer set of animations that responds to user actions and even phone movement. The designers seemed to have put a lot more focus on the design of transitions, animations and interaction than on graphics and pixel art.

iOS7 is less graphical and more kinetic.

We can see an example in action in the new Message app, where the message bubbles get a a “bounce” effect during scrolling.

Then, while the graphic seems flatter, the much richer set of animations and visual effects go into the opposite direction: bringing real-world physics into the digital world. For example, the background responds to user movements by providing a parallax effect that gives a sense of depth to the home screen.

iOS7 background parallax effect

iOS7 background parallax effect

Information hierarchy through graphics

In his iOS7 presentation video, Ive talks several times about the use of translucency to give to the user a sense of “context”. While translucency can lead to design errors, due to its unpredictability (the semi-transparent menus can become unreadable with the wrong background color), I think that it becomes very useful to give the impression of different functional layers in the UI.

iOS7 functional layers

iOS7 functional layers

Using a blurred translucent background lets the user understand where it is and what is behind. While computationally expensive, the graphic effect is much more than eye-candy: it’s fully functional for the OS purpose.

By coping it with the parallax effect for the background, the user feels that there are 4 distinct information layers in the OS: the control/notification center, the app screen, the home screen with its icons and the background.

Conclusion

iOS7 is a great step forward and I’m sure that what we’ve seen in WWDC 2013 is only an early beta that will be refined and polished before the fall release. I think (and hope) that all graphic flaws that have been pointed out will be soon fixed.

It’s the major redesign of the OS and it comes few months after Scott Forstall’s departure (the paladin of skeutomorphism and realistic UI) and Ive’s takeover of the software design lead.

iOS7 is a good foundations for the evolution of Apple design language: it’s a great basis to start building something new. The message is: simplicity, more content and do focus on transitions rather than graphics. Is it a good idea? I think so. Far from just copying other vendors, Apple is trying to do something new. And – as somebody said – “new is always better”.