iOS 7 is not good

by Deep Thinker on 16 November, 2013, no comments

I have now spent more than a month with iOS 7, both on my old iPhone 4S as well as recently my new 5S.

So here’s my question. In which world is this:


…in any shape or form better than this:


The original iBooks shelf is a rich, vibrant design, calling in mind old book shelves and dusty libraries, with depth and shadows. It is beautiful, but also, it makes complete sense as a design.

The recently updated iOS 7 iBooks (oh, it was a silent update, so I did not even have choice about installing it) looks like something a housewife whipped up in Windows Paint. Seriously, what is this? It is literally lines of horizontal drop shadows. That’s it. That’s all.

I could have given much more, and maybe better examples, but I do not have the time nor the inclination to go into details. People who do not see the deficiencies will likely not see them even if I point them out.

Apple was heavily criticised for more than a year prior to iOS 7, that their iOS design was “stale”, that “skeumorphic” design was out, and that Android had taken the lead in user interface design, and so on, and so on. But the fact is, Apple is being criticised by the usual suspects all the time – and it usually ignores the noise, and just sticks to its guns.

(And granted, some of the skeuomorphism – e.g. the stitched leather and the green felt – may have indeed been over the top. But in those cases, it was design completely seperate from function, which is not even the definition of skeuomorphism. The design in Garageband for example was a logical consequence of its form. The design in the Find My Friends app was arbitrary.)

But on this occasion, it seems that Apple blinked, and then went completely over the top in the other direction. And not only that, but it did a rush job – something which is so unlike Apple.

Everything is harder to read, harder to see. The text and lines are thin, the symbols look like clipart straight out of Microsoft Word, everything is grey on grey, blurred and smeared.

And worst, every developer feels forced to update their apps to adapt the new look, leading to more completely indistinguishable apps, which lose in functionality and readability.

It’s awful.

I have been amazed by the response to iOS 7 from respectable, and usually intelligent and discerning Macpundits – there has barely been any criticism, and everyone is enamoured by it. I literally cannot follow their thinking here – I have rarely had such an contrasting experience compared with the rest of the Macworld.

I have given it time to get used to it – and I have, but never to the point of liking it. At present, I am mostly tolerating it. I am noticing that I am actually consciously not updating apps like Tweetbot and Fantastical – although they are great apps, and I wish to support the developers -, simply because I do not want to use the new design.

And I am amazed that I seem alone in this. Apple is flaunting the huge adoption rate of iOS 7 – but that does not mean, that people updated because of the new design, or that they like it. Most people I know do not like or, like me, merely tolerate the new look. The only criticism I can see is from the usual suspects – in most cases the same people, who criticised the previous look ad nauseam, or anything Apple ever did or did not do.

The guys, whose opinion I usually trust, or at least, whose opinion I can understand if not agree with – none of them see any problems with the new direction. There are a lot of excuses going on sometimes – the look of Newsstand, which is similar in bareness to iBooks, was initially defended as a placeholder due to rushing out IOS 7 to the market, and future updates would fix things. Well, these excuses are gone now, and now we all simply love the bareness.

A lot of it is US-centric. The “text instead of icons” approach of iOS 7 may work in English, but in other languages the type becomes so small, or needs to be abbreviated in such a manner, that it becomes unusable. But of course, no one outside English-speaking countries even considers this. (Similarly, by the way, to how Maps still sucks outside the US.) And yes, Apple has always been amazing at localising its OS – but even the best would struggle with this current approach.

Jony Ive is a fantastic hardware designer, but he has, as far as I know, no experience as a software designer. I find it strange that people just assumed that different skills sets could just easily translate – it’s like expecting that someone who excels at golf, should just as well be a great race car driver. I am not pulling out the stale “it would have been different under Steve Jobs” argument – no one knows that, and Steve reportedly himself had made some bad design decisions himself in his time. But Steve Jobs was a perfectionist, and it is my unsubstantiated gut feeling, he indeed would not have allowed some of this to pass in this form.

And it’s worrying what will happen to Mac OS X because of this. Mavericks has a lot of evidence of a rush job as well (on the GUI front; many other changes, mostly under the hood, are solid, and the result of long term planning and development) – some apps have been changed just by stripping out things without any thought to design or function, as if in a panic. Some which should have had similar changes have strangely remained the same. I am worried that the iOS 7 design will eventually leap over on the Mac OS X design. I would not like that.

I am hopeful that iOS 8 may dilute some of the changes, or maybe bring back some aesthetics and beauty. But I am worried we will be stuck with the current design language with all its deficiencies and ugliness for many years to come.

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