updated 05:20 am EDT, Wed June 12, 2013
Sir Jony Ive remakes iOS with a new design language, features
Back in February this year I wrote, "A new design and look for iOS will be nice (as will the banishment of skeuomorphism), buy in many ways it is not essential from the perspective of pure functionality." It would seem that this is indeed the approach that Sir Jony Ive and the design and software engineering teams have taken with the new iOS 7 beta. With iOS 7, the iPhone still functions in fundamentally the same way that it always has - apps will still take center stage. iOS 7 is not a fundamental rethink of how iOS works, but it does bring some long-sought after feature enhancements to Apple's latest mobile operating system along with a gorgeous new look.
Following Apple's WWDC Keynote, I have had an opportunity to play with Apple's latest mobile operating system. I can report that Apple CEO Tim Cook's decision to put Sir Jony Ive in charge of software design, in addition to his duties as Apple's hardware design maestro has been a masterstroke. While reaction to the new, flatter and more minimalistic design has been mixed, I am in the camp that absolutely loves the new design. At the same time, however, I still believe that Apple has more to do before it can again be considered the overall leader in mobile software - even if it has reclaimed the mantle as the most beautiful mobile OS on the planet.
So what has Apple got right with the new UI? For starters, the new, flatter UI is much more consistent across the device, from the system interface through to the way the built-in applications look and work. It really feels unified and cohesive in a way that it may have been previously lacking. Transitions and animations are incredibly fluent, creating a seamless, elegant user experience. The new 'layers' of UI also makes for a much more sophisticated experience. The approach is very much consistent with Apple's hardware design aesthetic, but now applied to its software - if you had thought that Apple's software and hardware were well-integrated in the past, the whole experience has never been better integrated than it is now.
Changes abound in iOS 7. The only sign of skeuomorphism that remains is a very subtle allusion to parchment in the Notes and Reminders applications, which look very attractive. Gone, however, is the impression of torn pages from a notepad, any sign of leather, faux stitching or linen. Safari now has a unified search and URL window, while tabbed browsing has been improved with a new animation effect that looks like a cross between Cover Flow and the Windows Vista switcher. Swiping to the left of the home screen no longer activates a system-wide search; instead it is activated by holding the screen just below the top of the display and then dragging from the top down. A swipe downwards, however, reveals a much cleaner and minimalistic Notification Center. A swipe from the bottom up reveals the new Control Center, which is a long-awaited addition to iOS, bringing with it much faster access to frequently used controls, switches and utilities.
Also new are dynamic wallpapers, which have long been a feature of Android. In fact, along with the new Android-like Control Center, there a several enhancements to iOS 7 that have been present in Android for some time including the look of the revamped and animated Weather app. Other new features in iOS 7 that resemble features in other mobile operating systems include the new multitasking function that now also includes a screenshot from open/suspended/background apps that looks similar to both Windows Phone 8 and Web OS. While Safari has new tabbed browsing arrangement, users can now also peak between two open webpages, which is reminiscent of the Peak function in BlackBerry OS 10, although it is implemented differently. Not to mention the new 'flat' design look that follows a similar aesthetic to Windows Phone. None of the new inclusions seems bolted on, however, but integrated quite organically into a new, vibrant, whole that is Apple iOS 7.
There are still some functions that Apple has not implemented this time around, although quite frankly, it has done much more with iOS 7 than I would have thought possible in such as short time frame. Perhaps in future versions of iOS we will finally see the introduction of live widgets that can be placed on the home screen. While Calendar has always shown the correct day of the week, the only new 'live' icon is the Clock app, which even shows a moving second hand if you look closely enough. Others would still like Apple to introduce a mobile version of a file manager to iOS, multi-user accounts (although this could still appear in the yet to be released version of iOS 7 for the iPad), and further user customization of the UI - for example, users still can't place an app to any position on the home screen without iOS arranging it for you. I would also like to see Swype by Nuance pre-installed as an alternative keyboard.
When iOS 7 is released in its final form, Electronista/MacNN will revisit it with a more comprehensive review. In the meantime, it can be safely said that (after a long and unnerving period of silence) Apple has emerged from its self-imposed exile raring to go. If iOS 7 is the first real taste of Apple without the late great Steve Jobs, then it leaves a very pleasant aftertaste. Steve Jobs once commented that one of the design goals for OS X's original Aqua UI was that "when you saw it you wanted to lick it." I think that Steve would have wanted to lick iOS 7 too.
By Sanjiv Sathiah