A lot has been said about the new design for iOS 7, and there have definitely been a great variety of strong reactions. From people criticising the visual design to applauding it, from pointing out similarities to other OS’s in regards to functionality or features, it seems like pretty much everyone in the tech and design realms has an opinion about it and have passed on their first impressions of iOS 7 beta, so here I go!
The Visual Side
As for visual design, I would say that I really like the overall impression of the new iOS. Although I might not necessarily agree with the colour palette used in the version shown at WWDC or some of the icon design, I think that it is a base that can easily be built upon. The previous versions of iOS appeared to be a bit of a dead-end visually and were getting quite long in the tooth. Although I can see elements of Android and Metro in there, I do not think the design is so much about copying them as it is about breaking away from the previous conceptions that iOS had been operating under. I am sure that with this new look as a base, refinement and gradual development of a new style can progress much more easily that it previously has. After all, by dumping a lot of the skeuomorphic baggage iOS can embrace a new symbology that can be comfortable for users and yet not try to imitate non-digital analogues. Don’t get me wrong, I love the textures that we find in the real world: the grain of wood, the texture of fabric, endless fields of green felt. But I can enjoy those things in the real world more than I ever have in the digital realm. I want functional digital design to express a certain simple aesthetic and utility that makes it a wonderful tool and allows it to evolve along its own lines over time. And besides, simplicity is part of the elegance of Apple hardware and having that reflected in iOS is not necessarily inappropriate.
That is not to say that I think all digital design needs to be flat and overly simplistic. I believe that digital design should always push to innovate and stretch the limits of technology while challenging the world artistically. Modern technology can do so many beautiful things when in the hands of a skilled designer. I just tend to think that simulating the real world has its place but is not a necessity for digital design. iOS making a break from imitating the real world could allow it to go in a new and interesting direction that might not previously have been considered. Wouldn’t that be nice!
The Functional Side
On a functional design side, it appears that Apple has done quite a good job of creating something that appears to be a big departure and yet should still be easily accessible and familiar for most users. I think this is a big and important step in transitioning forward that has perhaps been missed by some others (ahem, Windows 8). As for the observation that there are features included from such rivals as Android and WebOS, I think that people tend to forget a really important thing: design is a constant dialogue of imitation, refinement and innovation. As long as patents aren’t violated I am not sure why people react so strongly when such dialogue happens. Just because Volvo first incorporated the modern seat belt as standard equipment in its cars in 1959, does that mean that people should have been outraged when other manufactures took up the practice and copied Volvo? If a feature or design has good utility and can enhance the experience of the user of a product, shouldn’t other competing products also adopt it and work to gradually refine it as a conversation in design between rivals?
I think that this kind of adoption and refinement is what makes things better for the end-user and should not be controversial or disappointing. Would it not be more of an oddity if Apple did not adopt a logical element of functional design simply because someone did it once before? In iOS 7, Apple has introduced Control Center which has a strong analogue in Android, but would iOS users really be happier if they avoided introducing that type of feature simply because Android had it earlier. Besides, it is not as if a quick settings menu was even innovative when Android did it. It has been seen in many versions in many pieces of software over the years. This can be said for several of the features in iOS 7 that have been introduced and criticized. Maybe the angry Droids should remember that ‘imitation is the sincerest form of flattery’ (as long as it doesn’t involve a patent dispute). I think that too much energy is wasted on such arguments and criticisms that could be spent productively.
Although there has been a certain amount of borrowing involved in putting together iOS 7 there has also been some innovation as well and I think that the design team at Apple has made a very good start on breaking away from legacy iOS baggage while taking iOS into a more open future. It would seem that people are getting confused and a bit too focussed on skeuomorphism vs minimal modernism and are overestimating it as a factor in Jony Ive’s design choices. Although he and Jobs had different preferences regarding those aspects of design, they both have expressed that there has to be a function behind the design. I think that Ive has focussed on function as well as the design changes and is trying to make it a comprehensive package. Sure, there still appear to be a few features missing that I would like (and there would no doubt be more controversy about as some of those are already on Android) but I have to say that I am quite excited to see (and use) the final product when it is released in the fall!