In June, I wrote a scathing post about iOS 7, just days after its announcement. Many of the opinions expressed were initial, from the gut thoughts that I expected to change by the time iOS 7 was released to the general public. They didn’t. In fact, in September, when everyone else was updating, I felt just as angry as I had the moment I first saw iOS 7’s new icon set.
About a month ago, I reached a tipping point where I realized that I could no longer continue using iOS 6, as much as I wanted to. After updating my phone, the software looked even WORSE than I remembered, having used it extensively throughout some of the beta period. In the week or so that followed, however, something changed. Day by day, I gradually realized I really did like iOS 7. At first I tried to suppress the thoughts. Then I tried not to express them on Twitter. Eventually, I realized there was no turning back. I loved iOS 7. Today, I’m still not exactly sure why I suddenly started to see the software in a different light. iOS 7 barely looks any different than it did in the first betas, and its functionality is about the same as well. Regardless, I’ve almost totally embraced Apple’s new design aesthetic. Almost. Here’s some of the reasoning that caused me to change my mind.
1. iOS 7 Is Memorable.
Good design can be described as being instantly memorable. The visual structure of logos, iconography, and anything meant to represent another concept or instruction should be simple enough in design that’s its instantly recognizable at a glance. Take, for example, the McDonalds logo. It doesn’t take more than a split second to identify the golden arches with the McDonalds brand. The same is true with most good logos and signs.
Some famous designs and logos that embrace simple color schemes, flat designs, and plain typography.
I realized after I started using iOS 7 full-time again that it has a similar structure. Icons are simple and defined. Each one has a unique structure, but (in most cases) fits with the others. Many of the glyphs used throughout the system have been thought out in a way that makes it obvious what the icon is for at a glance. I’ve also found that many of the icons buried 3 or more levels deep within the settings app, or icons perhaps used only once in some obscure part of the operating system look much better than the icons on the homescreen itself. I’m still not sure why this is.
Some of my favorite designs in iOS 7.
While I certainly appreciated the detailed icons iOS 6 offered, I’m not sure they were appropriate in the settings they were used. Many icons, like Passbook for example, were more like scaled down works of art than icons. They looked like they belonged as header images on a website, rather than tiny tap targets on the homescreen. It’s the visual interest of these icons that made them perhaps less iconic and instantly recognizable than their iOS 7 counterparts.
That said, iOS 7 still has a long way to go. While there’s quite a few icons I like, many others are completely trash- so bad that I’d actually have to think about how to design them worse. One opinion that’s stayed constant since my original post is that iOS 7 is just too rushed, and for no good reason. Nobody expected that Jony Ive’s leadership would result in a completely redesigned operating system in less than a year, which gave Apple the opportunity to work on design revisions all the way up until June of 2014 before showing anything off. I’d be glad Apple managed to push the timetable ahead, except for the fact that I’m not anywhere near confident Apple will iterate on their design fast enough. Apple is known to put forth a ton of effort for a “1.0” release, only to let the product suffer for months, or even years afterward with no additional progress. The UI progress I’ve seen from beta 1 all the way up through 7.1 beta 2 hasn’t been uplifting.
2. iOS 7 Is A Blank Slate
Of course, there’s more to iOS than the icons it uses. As I began to update my apps -something I was totally against- to take advantage of the new design language, I realized how much creative freedom iOS 7 has given developers. Using Tweetbot 3 extensively, I’m astonished at how much character it has, without all the baggage of the previous version. Apple’s updates to iPhoto, iMovie, and Garageband have also been eye opening in terms of the flexibility of the new user interface. There’s a lot of room to grow here. I didn’t realize how defined and locked down iOS had gotten until I saw what replaced it.
For the first time in a few years, I’m truly excited for the future of the iOS platform again.
3. iOS 7 Is Clean
After becoming comfortable with the design concepts in iOS 7, I began to be struck by just how vividly clean looking iOS 7 can be. From the stark black and white contrast in the Compass app to the crazy live animations in the Weather app, iOS 7 conveys a lot more information with much less user interface than iOS 6 could. In fact, after testing out iMovie for iOS 7, I sat down at Final Cut on my Mac and began thinking “if only that gradient wasn’t there”, or “I wish that icon was a little thinner.” There’s a lot to like about less.
I’m still far from convinced Apple has made all the right decisions here. iOS 7 still feels too stylized to me. It’s not very timeless. There’s a balance between timeless design and trendy design that walks a very fine line. I think Apple might have slipped. I always come back to the Leica camera analogy Steve Jobs made when he introduced the iPhone 4. There’s a lot of design coming out of Apple lately that doesn’t feel that classy.
It was a difficult conclusion to come to when I realized I liked iOS 7. I devoted most of the last half of 2013 to berating Apple for their thoughtless software. In the process I realize I alienated myself from a large part of the Apple community. I must say, it was somewhat embarrassing to admit how wrong I was in front of the same audience of people that had put up with my whining for months on end. At the same time, it was like a huge, first-world weight had been lifted off my chest, the conclusion of something that had eaten up far too much of my time for far too long. Looking back, I see now how cringe-worthy many of my comments were. It’s a situation I’d like to forget entirely. The best course of action is to charge forward into 2014 with a new outlook, and that’s what I intend to do.