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Article: Judging an OS By Its Cover

by on June 13, 2013

When I first saw the screenshots of iOS 7, I got a bit upset. I’m not doubting that Jonathan Ive is a talented individual, nor am I saying that iOS 7 doesn’t have a number of welcome new features. What we’ve seen of iOS 7 is a very early beta, and so my knee-jerk reaction was probably inappropriate and foolish.

That being said, I think iOS 7 shows a lot of promise in modernizing iOS for the future, and the screen shots don’t do it justice. I was astonished that everything appearance-wise that made iOS what it was had been thrown out the window in favor of something pastel, plain, and minimalist. I think there’s a time and a place for minimalism, and was actually pretty happy with iOS 6’s current appearance—unlike all those who felt that Apple was “falling behind” the competition. Gone were the well-detailed icons, widgets that matched their Mac counterparts, and bit of playfulness that you just don’t see in Android’s overall cold appearance or Windows Phone’s symbol-based appearance. In some ways, I almost felt that iOS 7 looked like a jailbreak theme that was trying to be more like Android or Windows Phone.

Right now my biggest problems with iOS 7 are that it has less contrast in some contexts than its predecessor and that Helvetica Neue Ultra Light is harder to read than its bolder variants, again in some contexts.

As far as some of my favorite bits of the iOS 6 interface, gone are the little volume slider whose reflection changes when you tilt your phone, the faux-road signs for navigation, and the metal button for Siri. Sure, the anti-skeumorphism movement gained momentum and even took some liberties with the term skeumorphism, but the iOS I had grown to love is going to be gone. Never before had I actually hated the position Apple had put me in—I wanted the features, but didn’t like the looks. I even quipped that iOS 7 could probably be rendered on computer from the mid-1990s. Maybe that was a bit much, although I’m tempted to break out a Power Mac 7500 to see (on-the-fly blurring may struggle a bit).

As I mentioned earlier, the screen shots don’t do iOS 7 justice. A quick search on Twitter and Vine demonstrated some of the gorgeous animations, the fluidity, and the simple blurs and illusion of depth. In true Ive style, it is true to itself. The most jarring thing is its icons, which range from slightly-better-than-mediocre to downright awful—I liked how many of the iOS counterparts for Mac apps had a rounded-square version of the icon. Put the new icons next to some detailed, photorealistic icons and it’s even more apparent. With interface elements losing rounded corners, or even edges at all, it’s also jarring and feels less like a pocket Mac. Despite this, I think the look will grow on people, and some of my favorite iOS apps actually could convert to the iOS 7-style look without much effort.

I’m surprised that Apple didn’t shift the appearance of OS X Mavericks to match, especially since some OS X apps started to take on the appearance of iOS (iPhoto and iTunes using Helvetica, Notes and Reminders), and now we have a few different interface styles between iOS and Mac. Besides that, certain things that brought consistency, like the share button were just gaining momentum, and now iOS 7 introduces a new icon that some may need to relearn.

In some ways, the Apple TV interface feels even more like the odd one, since it shares attributes with both OS X and iOS 6, but also features a very flat interface of its own.

Maybe iOS isn’t supposed to be a Mac that you can fit in your pocket. Maybe iOS 7 is more like a child that always looked up to its parents for guidance and direction and is finally maturing and trying things on its own—making mistakes, being rebellious, and living a life on its own. It still has some similar DNA, and plays nicely with other members of the family, but has blossomed into its own entity. If that is the case, I’m willing to give iOS 7 a chance, and will wait until the finished release before being critical.

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