Apple have announced the “biggest software revamp since the iPhone” for its mobile operating system, found across iPhones, iPads and iPods. It is the first time renowned hardware designer Jonathon Ive, has taken an active role in the design of Apple’s software as he seeks to marry his stunning hardware designs with the software to match. Apple have faced criticism in recent years for its lack of innovation in the mobile space that it changed so dramatically back in 2007 with many observers complaining iOS had become stale, boring and outdated.
Ive was rumoured to have waged a war on the skeuomorphic principles prevalent throughout the previous iterations of the operating system, and this is the most noticeable change, with the faux wood, felt and leather textures removed completely. In its place comes a new ‘flat’ design that is a radical departure from their previous iterations and is hailed as “a stunning new user interface” by CEO Tim Cook. The first thing iOS7 users will notice is a Windows Phone style ‘slide to unlock’ lock-screen which unfortunately leads to the same static grid of icons given a fresh coat of paint more information. Apple have avoided making these icons ‘live’ like Microsoft’s or Androids home-screen widgets. Apple seems content to continue to ignore the benefits of glanceable information making finding basic information, such as the current weather a more difficult task.
The home-screen icons have been redesigned, but it feels confused, with some being incredibly plain (date and Safari), some retaining skeuomorphic elements (video and camera) and others seemingly bearing no relation to the application they are designed for (the bizarre game centre). They are lacking the consistency for which Apple is renowned. Elsewhere, Apple has added layers for notifications and other contextual menus, pulling down over the top of the current screen with a transparent blur that takes us back to 2007 and Windows Vista era ‘Aero’ styling. Again it feels out of place and inconsistent with the rest of the Operating System. It feels as though Apple have looked at the competition and tried to mash the best bits with their current offering and while some aspects look great (the new font in particular) others aspects look confused and tied to the past.
The new Control Center, accessed with a quick swipe up from the bottom of the screen, seems like a good idea giving the user access to some quick controls, but again the choices behind the design and organisation are a bit strange to say the least. Access to now playing music is welcome but, how often are people changing the brightness, the clock or accessing the flashlight application? It does in fact look a bit busy thanks to the addition of these infrequently used utilities and Apple would be much better focussing on those that are of the utmost importance.
As mentioned previously the new font Apple have implemented into iOS7 does look fantastic. It’s called Helvetica Neue Ultra Thin, and it’s a tall, narrow, modern font that adds a lot to the clean, minimalistic feel of certain aspects of the operating system. Helvetica Neue Ultra Thin is most noticeable on the Lock Screen, Siri and the new Weather app, however, some observers will point to the similarities between this and Microsofts use of typography in Windows Phone. Nevertheless, this is by no means a bad thing as Windows Phones design and usability is top notch.
Overall, iOS7 shows that Apple is capable of adapting, borrowing, and tweaking ideas from the competition, however, while it looks great in some places, in others it falls a little flat. There is of course plenty of time to make changes in the coming months but many will have been hoping for a solid redesign that would help keep the green menace of Google’s Android at bay. It remains to be seen whether iOS7 is good enough for that, but the choices made by the designers and engineers in Cupertino will have some scratching their heads while others stating this is the beginning of their demise post Steve Jobs.