Our Thoughts on iOS 7: Personality and Final Thoughts

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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 clarityefficiency, 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, the first chapter in the series, where we reviewed the redesign’s success with clarity, the second chapter, which discussed efficiency, and the third chapter, which looked at organization. This is the final chapter, reviewing the personality of iOS 7 and our final thoughts.

When thinking about the summary for this series and our overall feelings of the new version of iOS, it felt that only speaking to the attributes of “clarity”, “efficiency”, and “organization” left out something fundamental.

We’re calling it personality but it’s really the factors of aesthetics (color, audio, motion and more) that add up to an emotional quality. It can be summed up pretty quickly.

Skeuomorphism is out, but the toy remains

The main components of the skeuomorphic sensibility are out (softer, neutral colors with textured gradients and bevels), but the toy-like fetishism of iOS is maintained with the introduction of a preschool-esque pallet of saturated colors and flat, simplistic shapes.

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Yes, its still a plaything, but a more sophisticated plaything.

Transitions that treat digital UI like physical objects (curling an edge, shredding to pieces) are replaced by transitions that better connect the experience to the real physicality of the hardware. Using the device’s accelerometer to affect UI parallax and trigger events helps merge the software and hardware aspects of the phone into a single unified “thing” to be played with.

Softer and more distinguished audible cues, a more refined Siri (although the feature still struggles with server congestion and voice recognition), and improved location services allow for more integrated, calmer, more contextually relevant experiences.

Struggle of fun and sophisticated

For many, the playful “loudness” of the home screen experience is contrasted with the minimalistic mid-century personality of the applications and OS-level features themselves.

2_summaryIt’s a tension that doesn’t feel entirely successful. It’s like opening colorful, playful packaging and getting a sparse, minimalist Dieter Rams’ product. There’s a experiential disconnect in the transition that creates a noticeable friction in the experience.

It makes us wonder if iOS 7 is actually Jony Ive’s transitional version of the platform:  a candy-coated entrance experience that still has a foot in the older, playful aesthetic, while simultaneously stepping into the Functionalist’s world of more minimal gorgeous practicality (currently seen in many of the iOS 7 native apps).

If there is going to be a continued transition along this path, it raises the question of how a more tightly controlled OS-level experience will accommodate the cacophony of 3rd party app icons (some that are using the new icon design guidelines, many that are not). It’s that lack of control at the home screen level that makes it understandable that iOS 7’s “personality” may not be as strongly felt there, as it needed to be intentionally flexible to accommodate the 900,000+ apps currently in the App Store.

Final Thoughts

A change was needed
We know change can be scary, but it really needed to happen.

The iOS design system was becoming a victim of its own success. The candy-like UI language of the previous OS had gone from “revolutionary” and “exciting” to “expected” and, dare I say it, “traditional.” Apple does not create “same ‘ol” products. They had to make a change, if only to keep pushing for the next big thing. And like it or not, iOS 7 is a significant change.

Living up to the hype

Does it feel new? Yes! iOS 7 has done a fantastic job of making an existing piece of hardware feel like a new product. As we mentioned in previous posts, the underlying structure of the experience remains the same (which was disappointing to some who wanted a more radical change), but the emotional impact of using the iPhone after updating from iOS 6 to iOS 7 feels fundamentally different.

Are the changes successful?

Absolutely!… in places. As detailed in our posts, there are areas in iOS 7 where the execution is beautiful. In other places, not so much.

And the same can be said for iOS 6, iOS 5, and so on.

The challenge with every version of iOS is the massive scope of what it’s been asked to provide. It’s easy to think of the iPhone as a phone or a pocket-sized computer. It’s neither. It is one of the most complex multifunctional tools ever created, displacing dozens of existing products and enabling the creation of wholly new categories.

The challenge to create an experience language that can seamlessly and successfully support such disparate experiences (the Compass app, the Game Center app, the iTunes store app and scores of others) without compromise or hiccup is the very definition of a wicked problem. Previous versions of iOS were not entirely successful, despite having less functionality to deal with. (AND they had Steve Jobs, so let’s tone down the “this wouldn’t have happened if Steve were here” rhetoric.)

iOS 7 has many triumphant moments, and some awkward failings.

What iOS7 doesn’t have is a fresh, innocent audience that hasn’t already been through one of the single greatest revolutions in personal computing.

And at the end of the day, that’s what we think the more knee-jerk critics were looking for with iOS 7. To feel the same mind-blowing, turn-your-world-on-its-head feeling that you had with the first iOS. If you want to see that face-melting amazement that you felt 7 years ago when you first held an iPhone, give one of the newer models to someone who has never held an iPhone before. You will be looking into the mirror of your past self and realize Apple has delivered an amazing experience yet again.

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