For the moment I'm writing this article, it is 4 hours since iOS 7 is released to public and web is already full of reviews and opinions. This one is not going to be yet another review; all of them are good and have all the information you need to know. Instead I'll try to explore and think about Apple's new
It seems someone in Apple had an idea to create OS which revolves fully around content. If you think about it, this is great idea indeed. Because, all you need while looking at screen of your phone is to get information form it; and if chrome around it doesn't help you — it's useless, thus it has to go. This brings me to two interesting topics to explore: use of skeuomorphic elements and stitched leather.
We all know to this day that fake stitched leather will never guide or help us to read information from screen easier. In pre-iOS 7 versions it existed purely for ornamentation sake. In some cases absolutely out of context. I can understand leather in Notes app as a hint to old leather notebooks, but in Find My Friends?..
But. Fundamentally all of our computers use some kind of skeuomorphic graphic elements: desktops, trash cans, buttons, sliders, etc. Those artificial highlights and shadows help us identify on-screen buttons, which help us identify what is interactive (clickable or tappable) and what is just text labels. In iOS 7 thought: you have to know that bold tinted text is a button. I know that, because I have muscle memory for back button after using every single iOS version. Not sure about my Mom, though. I'm also not sure about letterpress effect in new Notes and Reminded app. How should it help me with my notes and todos? It's just a visual noise, just like stitched leather.
Apart from those, I love every single thing about new OS. Clarity is what every medium has to provide and iOS 7 delivers.
Information Design Over Graphic Design
After using iOS 7 for few days after beta 1 release, I thought to myself: “I can cheat on graphics design and really concentrate on information and experience”. All the energy I was spending on endlessly tweaking this shadow and that highlight on tiny button, now I could spend thinking more how to make app even better.
There was another thought too: “All of those useful but pig-ugly apps I dumped because of the looks, now will look very okay”. Granted, there are not much people who care so much about perfect icons on home screen and UI of every single app they use. In case of iOS though, icons are easy and user interfaces look “new” and “refreshing”.
Those two are best things about iOS 7 for me.
I will never understand people using term “girly” referring to all colors except for black.
Colors have their duty: to organize, group and identify elements on screen. They do their job.
Plus, colors are fun.
iOS 7 is not flat. Moreover it does not look like Windows Phone 7/8 no matter how much Microsoft fans want it to. Metro was a brilliant idea executed with questionable quality. iOS is not two-dimensional as is Metro for sake of flatness.
Parallax effects may be a visual treatment (and even make some dizzy), but semi-transparency with blur does re-introduce depth to user interfaces. Depth is important. It helps organize information on different layers based on priorities and/or context. Before same was achieved using shadows, reducing usable space on already small screen for content in which we are interested in first place.
“Looks like Metro” my ass.
I believe reason iOS 7 is mainly cosmetic rather than feature-dense update is pace, pace which users can follow. It would be too much to ask from people receiving brand new experience in one day after using previous one for nearly six years.
iOS 7 has its flaws for the moment, but I think it's tremendous achievement for Apple to push such philosophy of into the field. All information and interface designers know that content is important, but barely people do right thing about it.
I have nothing against seriously talented graphics designers in iOS culture today. I always admired their work, and kept best of them on my home screen (in case it was useful). But, fundamentally it's not about insanely detailed ice crystals on thermometer, it's about knowing weather forecast. It's not about stitched leather, it's about knowing when event takes place.
And if skeuomorphic elements make sense, so let them be. Passbook in iOS 6 was brilliant example of such.
iOS 7 pushes whole community of talented designers and developers to focus on content and experience, not ornamentation sake of eye-candy-ness.
P.S. I'm really interested what apple will do with GarageBand. From day one, audio software was very imitative on any platform.