Despite the caution voiced by many, I have taken the plunge. For the past five days, I have been running iOS 7 Beta 1 on my personal phone. No safety nets or back-up plan. And although it is a very unfinished product, the entire tech sector has already erupted with comment on Apple’s drastically changed mobile operating system.
Some have chartered iOS 7 as a launching pad for the post-Jobs Apple. Others have viewed Apple’s next iteration of iOS more as a miscalculation. The Verge rather bluntly labeled iOS 7 as “shockingly basic, and more childish than elegant.” Indeed, the drastic changes in iOS 7′s visual appearance almost beg for this kind of polarizing discourse.
I personally see many great intentions behind the redesign of iOS 7. While the substance of these differences affect the visual experience, others add new functionality to Apple’s mobile system. For one, despite the “flat” design moniker, iOS 7 adds a striking amount of visual depth.
Together, the use of transparency and parallax craft a three-dimensional perception of the OS. Overall, there is a sense of order and logic to the organization of iOS 7, one which John Gruber has labeled an ambitious application of physical design constraints to software.
Moreover, iOS 7 has answered many–if not all–of common user complaints Apple has received over the years. The new Control Center is a carbon copy of SBSettings, the praised Cydia app. Multitasking now reveals a full view of apps in addition to a more interactive swipe-to-close feature.
But, the execution…
…is mediocre at best. Apple does not get a free pass for great ideas alone. iOS 7 is filled with inconsistencies and annoyance. The stock icons seem childish and are jarringly disparate–the whole pallet looks thrown together. The transitions are now overstated and drawn out, while adding nothing to the user experience except increased wait time. The entire experience is exactly what one would expect when the marketing team and visual designers work isolated from one another on different features.
Moreover, iOS 7 leads me to seriously question the identity of iOS as a whole. Up until this point, Apple had established a well understood philosophy behind iOS 7. Some have simplified this collection of rules and principles with the label “skeumorphism.” But the inarguable truth is that the design of many iOS apps will soon be rendered obsolete. These drastic changes will most certainly cause hiccups as developers scramble to update their apps and the industry attempts to grasp for meaning behind the new iOS.
The Larger Picture
Right now, iOS 7 feels like using an unfinished prototype. And this is exactly how any beta 1 should feel! We must remember that iOS 7 is an unfinished product. Reports already indicate that most of the criticisms I offer here are already being addressed by Apple engineers and designers. I sincerely hope that iOS 7 sees major refinement before its fall release.
Beyond reiteration, there is also the larger story of iOS 7. I could write an entire article speculating about how OS X will reflect the design changes of iOS 7. In addition, it is fairly clear that many of the core visual changes to iOS have come directly from competitors such as Android and the ill-fated WebOS.
But these new incorporations should not come as a surprise. Famously quoting Picasso, the late Steve Jobs unabashedly proclaimed that “good artists copy, great artists steal.” The question come fall is thus: will Apple play the expert thief or lazy copycat?