One of the perks of having an Apple Developer account is that I can download and install beta versions of Apple's latest software. A buddy and I decided to give iOS 7 a try.
Apple deserves some leeway right now. iOS 7 is in beta right now after all. Additionally, this version is, unlike previous versions, not just an improvement on the predecessor, but a major redesign.
It's easy to be critical of something as widely used and scrutinized as Apple's iOS. With millions of users an almost as many critics, words don't count for much. It takes time for the effects of such changes to be truly realized in the lives of the users. I decided to spend a day using what Apple has built so far in iOS 7 in order to give some thoughts on the most prevalent features and changes.
The most obvious change in iOS is a shift in design style. Some say it's a move in the direction of Android, others that it's a betrayal of "the Apple way." I argue that it's a move closer to Apple's tried and true principals.
Apple owes a lot of what they have achieved to minimalistic principals. They shaved away extraneous elements from their products, honing and perfecting the core that remained.
Visually, this feels like the heart behind the design changes. Anything that wasn't absolutely neccessary has been omitted. This leaves a canvas where every pixel serves a purpose. An opportunity is here to design an interface which is even more beautiful and functional that its predecessors. Whether iOS 7 is a complete realization of that remains to be seen.
A first glance at the icons and colors makes give me the feel that I'm using the product of a lesser company. Apple has made me come to expect the best. A Tumblr blog called Jony Ive Redesigns Things makes a parody of Apple's latest design style. It's hilarious. Check it out.
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The current iOS 7 design is a flawed execution. The spirit behind it, however, is pure Apple.
A lot of us are thinking it, but few are saying it. Could the passing of Steve Jobs be catching up with the company? He did, after all, prove in his lifetime that he had enough drive for himself and an army of others. That can't be easy to replace.
The lackluster design became clearer to me when I saw this retweet from Dave Rupert a few weeks ago. It mentions a link to a Dribble where a designer, Leo Drapeau, created a much improved, unfortunately noncommissioned, set of icons for iOS 7. It shows how simple things are missing the mark right now. If an independent designer can so clearly top Apple's current design, it shows that they aren't reaching the level of quality we expect.
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I've been wishing for this since I got my first iPhone back on iOS 3. Now there is a quick and accessible way to toggle airplane mode, WiFi, Bluetooth, DND and orientation lock. Controls here include a few other things that have been consolidated like brightness, volume, media controls, and camera. We also have new icons for a quickly opening a flashlight, camera, calculator or timer.
The notification center looks different with the new design. I find it easier to read. The real improvement here is that quick notifications such as messages are tweets are less invasive now that when they appear you can swipe them away instantly.
Multitasking (and new transitions)
The improvement here became clear as a big one after a day or two of use. Now that you can see the whole app you begin to forget that you've entered a different mode at all. This is also where my opinion of the new transitions formed. At first I felt like there was too much motion and too much time involved. It didn't feel minimal. I also thought that it was possible the transitions were buying time for hardware, which is also a big disappointment if true. Now I've found that during the transition I can already see the content so my brain starts to process it. After a while the transitions begin to fade into the background. Fast, abrupt changes of screen content are almost completely avoided. My brain is already reaping the benefits.
Closing apps en masse also used to be a hassle. Now a quick swipe up on the app and it's gone.
The camera app is more responsive now. Even on the current iPhone 5 hardware it takes pictures one after another in fast succession. Additional square mode and filters give you an Instagram-like capability without the need for other apps.
Mail is the same old mail with a new face. A few things like action icons in messages have moved around. I don't see the purpose behind repositioning such things as it will just cause confusions for users.
A major gripe I have is that swiping only works in one direction now. It just so happens that my muscle memory goes in the wrong direction.
I have also found that if you want to swipe and archive in fast succession, you won't get the results you expect. I believe the reason for this is that the icons cannot be clicked until the transition has completed.
This causes me a lot of frustration when using the Mail app.
My conclusion is that the release of iOS 7 is going to be polarizing for Apple users. People are either going to love it or hate it. I am both pleased and disappointed with this release. It has some convenience features that are keeping me from rolling back to iOS 6. I do, however, consider the design to be less than up to the standard of what I expect from Apple.
It's going to be a while before we see it, but I'm excited for iOS 8. The concept iOS 7 establishes for Apple is something they can built upon. Maybe if they execute a redesign on the same concept they'll be able to come up with something more pleasing to the eye.