This is a continuation of a series about Sequence’s POV on the recently released iOS 7. When Jony Ive introduced iOS 7, he stated that the redesign focused on clarity, efficiency, and organization. We’re using those criteria, and the overarching attribute of personality, as our structure for this review series.
Past articles include the series introduction where we established our review criteria, and the first post in the series, where we reviewed the redesign’s success with clarity. This is the second post, which reviews efficiency.
One of Apple’s greatest design accomplishments is its success at making customers feel that its products (especially mobile products) are easy to master.
The first time we turn on an Apple device or start an application, we are presented with an experience that immediately feels easy and intuitive to use. And while in practice we are sometimes met with moments of confusion and hesitation, our lasting impression is usually of the product’s simplicity, thoughtfulness and efficiency, which overcomes initial cognitive friction and leads to successful adoption.
When reviewing iOS 7 in terms of its ability to be efficient, two attributes emerge: economy and purpose.
For an experience to feel simple and efficient, most of the time less is more. The fewest gestures to complete a task. The smallest amount of sensory input to parse. The shortest path to arrive at a destination. These are all ways we could measure economy within a user-centered experience.
Less UI can be less efficient
In the previous post about clarity, we covered iOS 7’s anti-skeuomorphic shift, removing affordances like button borders, gradations and shadows, and instead focusing on typography to establish a minimalist, streamlined aesthetic. It’s a strong direction that, in some instances, can come with a cost of understandability. That lack of understanding can create additional work to complete a task, which, in turn means a drop in efficiency.
But then we realized that a measure of interactive confusion has always been the case with iOS (and Apple’s general design language), but hasn’t impeded its unprecedented adoption. When on-screen affordances are minimized but the same functionality is maintained, you are by definition hiding things from the user. Ideally, the simplified design has made it intuitive to understand what functions have been removed and where they can be uncovered, but often when a user is looking for a function that isn’t readily visible, they start a trial-and-error search process. The difficulty of trying to find expected functionality is exacerbated when the experience is being delivered on a new platform with UX best practices still in flux, such as a touch gesture/voice-activated/motion-sensitive device like the iPhone and iPad. As a result, first-time users of iDevices usually waste taps, swipes and other interactions as they attempt to understand what is actionable, what is static, and what has additional elements hidden out of view.
So if we define efficiency as the “minimal effort to achieve tasks,” iOS 7 has some strikes against it. The trick is (and, again, Apple is very good at this) making the overall experience so pleasurable, you don’t mind the extra actions.
So if iOS 7 has reduced understandability, has there been an increase in a pleasurable experience to offset the increased cognitive friction? We have been hard-pressed to say yes. Since there isn’t a mathematical grading system to measure aesthetics versus usability (it would be pretty awesome if there was), we are left with just our gut feelings. After prolonged use of the new OS, we feel that, when one takes into account the existing complexity in the iPhone/iPad experience, plus the new functionality that was added with iOS7, the aesthetic pleasure of the new experience hasn’t offset the feelings of frustration that has come with the reduced affordances and hidden functionality.
Control Center = Useful Junk Drawer
The premise for the new Control Center UI is to allow users to easily access common settings and functions that were previously buried under layers of menu choices and separate areas of the OS. At its core, Control Center wants to make the completion of common tasks more efficient.
And it does.
The loudest reaction to this screen is that the Control Center is a confusing jumble of functions.
And it is.
A single menu contains functionality as diverse as Bluetooth and WiFi settings, flashlight functionality, screen brightness, and media controls. But the reason the Control Center feels like a junk drawer filled with disparate items is more a reflection of the breadth of things iOS does than of poor UI design. If you feel like the Control Center is a random grab bag of functionality, that’s because a single iPhone/iPad serves hundreds of very different uses, and the common tasks that users want immediate access to are equally as varied,
We admit it’s an experience that takes getting used to, but we cannot imagine a better solution to providing convenient access to the top functions of a multi-tool like the iPhone/iPad.
Efficiency also translates to “purpose”. There needs to be a reason why something is being shown. In past versions of iOS, some UI elements were included for the sole purpose of creating emotional engagement and delight. The allowance of such flourishes is greatly reduced with iOS 7’s stated objective of usefulness. We’ve already covered the well-worn subject of removing skeuomorphic elements from the UI, but one experience element that often goes unnoticed is transitions.
The following are some examples of how iOS 7 is removing the extraneous transitions that relied heavily on analog metaphors because, from a task support perspective, they did not fit the iOS 7 design objectives.
One of the most egregious superfluous transitions was unique to one application, the Passbook.
But more widespread transitions that were part of the original SDK framework are also getting retired (or greatly suppressed): the page curl and the card flip.
Native apps like Map and Notepad used a stock transition of the curl. The transition treated the screen like an analog piece of paper that curled to reveal controls underneath. Ostensibly, this was to encourage the user to relate more easily to the UI, but there’s nothing in our collective experience that tells us that controls hidden behind a piece of paper should affect what’s on the paper. The transition’s lack of adoption in 3rd party apps speaks to the limited effectiveness of it.
The treatment of UI containers as cards that can be flipped over to reveal deeper information has been toned down as well. In iOS 6, the Weather and Stock apps famously showcased the flip transition, which, unlike the aforementioned page curl, was a very popular transition for 3rd party developers.
iOS 7 seems to be pulling away from treating digital UI as physical objects that can be rotated or distorted in 3D space. There is still a sense of X/Y/Z axis but strictly to move flat 2D screens left-right, up-down, and forward-back.
Retiring the flip transition makes sense for iOS 7’s new design language, but considering how popular the transition was with developers, it puts pressure on those who want to update their apps to figure out new ways of unpacking information in the UI.
So from an efficiency standpoint, iOS 7 did move the needle in the right direction.
1. The new UI does reduce understandability, which translates into wasted effort, but that is nothing new, and arguably unavoidable with these new experiences.
2. iOS 7 successfully allows users to access top functions in a quicker method, and its awkwardness was made up for by convenience.
3. Apple also stripped away some of the largely extraneous “UI flourishes” that weren’t serving a purpose.
That’s it for this post. Be sure to tune in for the next post when we’ll address “organization.”