It’s hard to count the number of jaws that hit the floor after the last Apple Worldwide Developers Conference. When Apple revealed the new look of iOS 7, it met and exceeded everyone’s expectations. Sir Jonathan Ive did not only remove the skeuomorphic elements from Apple’s mobile operating system, he cleaned them out with the flamethrower from Aliens.
We were fortunate enough to know someone tech-savvy who installed iOS 7 Beta 1 on his iPhone 4. He generously agreed to let us use the phone for a day to get a feel for the changes in the system. While this is not enough time for a comprehensive review, we wrote up a few initial impressions with the system.
Take all this with a grain of salt, as anything can change between now and when iOS 7 leaves beta. With that said, here’s what’s coming to your iPhone this fall.
A New Day
The new version of iOS makes up for the lack of change in its predecessor. iOS 7 has thrown out the standard Apple playbook in favor of some bold new designs.
This is the iPhone as you’ve never seen it. The system looks completely, utterly, radically different. The OS that refused to change has been redone, revamped, re-polished, and re-everythinged into something remarkable.
Apple had better start advertising and warning people about the change. The average user will likely be confused this fall when every part of their phone changes.
Nothing looks the same. The design language features new buttons, navigation elements, and even adopts the Android three-bar overflow icon.
Seriously, we cannot emphasize enough just how different iOS 7 feels. It runs like a whole different system. Were it not on the iPhone it could pass as something else entirely.
For the last year or so tech journalists and backseat drivers have criticized Apple for relying heavily upon skeuomorphic elements. The designers at Cupertino liked to make their apps look like real-world analogs, sometimes without purpose or at the cost of good taste.
One need only look at the old Calendar app to see what happens when you try to incorporate virtual leather stitches into a digital interface. Tacky would be an understatement.
In the new iOS, the default apps have been (almost) stripped of skeuomorphism. The apps and system feature flat colors, square edges, no textures, and not a gradient in sight.
The worst offender of firmwares past, Calendar, looks amazing. Its red and white coloring stands out and demands attention from the user. Game Center is also stripped of its horrific felt table interface into more aesthetically pleasing bubbles.
Weirdly, Find My Friends seems to have survived the deskeuomorphizing of iOS, leather stitches and all. We don’t expect this to make it into the final release. Cupertino will likely fix it in a later beta.
In general, the new interface looks amazing. iOS looks fresh and new, a sentence we thought we’d never type. It’s good to finally get that out.
Making the Best Interface in the Business Better
iOS 7 is all about putting in all the features Apple users have been asking for since forever. After adding almost nothing of value in 6, 7 is packed with the stuff we wanted.
First there’s the new Control Panel. Swipe up from the bottom of the screen anywhere and you’ll bring up a set of quick toggles for airplane mode, wifi, Bluetooth, Do Not Disturb, and rotation. The music controls have also been moved there.
Control Panel is a sorely needed addition. Quick toggles are so much more convenient than digging through the settings. Once you’ve started using them, it’s hard to go back.
We also liked the addition of a new and improved multitasking interface. Instead of static icons, open apps are displayed with previews of their state. Beneath each preview is an icon label.
Longtime users will recognize the interface from Backgrounder, the old Cydia multitasking tweak that was popular back in iOS 3.1.3. It was inspired by WebOS, thus creating a human centipede (or centiPad) of multitasking. You’re welcome for that image.
Of course, Apple’s implementation is much smoother than Backgrounder ever was. Swiping between apps is simple and appealing. The app labels help you keep track of what’s what too.
When New Isn’t Better
However, the new version of iOS isn’t all sunshine and flat textures. For all its impressive colors and slick new aesthetic, Apple has made a few missteps that darken its bright interface.
For one, the interface is too bright. In a few apps like Messages and Music, the flat whites seem too flat. They lack interesting elements and seem anemic rather than minimalistic. The lack of color can get annoying.
There is another problem that is even more subjective. iOS 7 looks amazing, but it feels less friendly than its former self. The old interface may have been several years out of date, but it worked.
Lastly, a large chunk of the iPhone user base is, to put it delicately, technology-impaired. It remains to be seen how they will react to a completely new interface with little to no familiar sights.
Overall, we like iOS 7. It’s really, really good. Apple finally cleaned out the crap and produced a world-class interface worthy of gracing the millions of iPhones worldwide.
The first beta version has some issues, but that’s not a surprise. Apple has all summer to clean up and perfect their product. Let us hope everyone is ready when they do.