I'm a developer, usability professional, and UX architect. I design and code software for the major platforms, including IOS, Windows8, etc. I happen to have devices running all of these major operating systems, and I use them regularly. I've been using IOS7 daily.
One of the subtle aspects of IOS7 that troubles me most is that, frankly speaking, it is just so derivative that it is hard to tell you are using an Apple product. As a matter of fact, when using it, I find it disturbingly easy to think I am using an Android device. It feels like an Android product - it has the same c=kind of unfinished, haphazard, and sloppy feel of Android... which by and large is an operating system lacking in thoughtfullness. And, at a time when IOS7 needs to strongly differentiate from its competitors, the UI layer is becoming much less distinctively different. That's a problem if you are a company that is used to commanding massively higher margins than your competitors, because when your product stops being obviously different in look and feel to its target demographic, it stops being something they will pay more to acquire.
Ive once said that he hates it when he gets the feeling that a designer is wagging their tail in his face. In that comment, he was touching on gratuitous design flare that serves no useful purpose in a UI. But I find that stance ironic when juxtaposed against IOS7, which is imbued with clearly design driven choices that do not make the operating system easier to use. For example, take the fonts used in the UI: the use of very small, very thin fonts... in colors that vary from their backgrounds in insubstantial ways, is virtually everywhere. And this makes the operating system much more difficult to use. I have dozens of screen snaps I have taken over the last few days where fonts essentially blend into the background such that the text cannot be read at all, or with great difficulty.
For another example, consider the icons themselves. They are often so minimal that they completely fail to communicate in a meaningful way. They are desaturated and they have no edge treatment. The result is that they bleed into the visual field and as meaningful points of communication in the UI, they are degraded.
One of the things that irritates me most about IOS7 is the virtual elimination of shadows of any kind. It's like someone said 'get rid of the shadows' and some junior designers went and made it so in an absolutely thoughtless manner. The reality is that shadow is one way of separating figure from ground in a user interface. It is a method of making the important visual stimuli stand out from the nonessential stimuli, so that a user can more easily disambiguate that stimuli in a complex visual field. IOS7 combines small, exceedingly thin fonts with a shadow that is so diffused it provides no edge distinction for the font. The result is that the fonts tend to blend into the background in ways that make text very hard to read. This is true of icons as well. I have tried almost every wallpaper that comes with IOS7, and all have the same problem; I have many screen snaps where icons and text simply disappear. I've seen pundits here argue that the user can change the font size, but no amount of size change will make a white font easily readable against a light grey or cream background. There must be a way of clearly separating the font (foreground) from the wallpaper (background) and because if the interplay of font color and the variable colors of a wallpaper, there needs to be some layer of neutrality in between the two. That's why IOS6 and earlier give fonts an obvious shadow. It is an effective and necessary visual treatment.
In general, the contrast between figure and ground in IOS7 is so narrow that elements of a design simply blend together in ways that make the important control points very difficult or impossible to disembed. That proclivity is made worse by lighting condition; looking at springboard in sunshine is essentially a wasted effort, because the fonts and icons all blend with the wallpaper so badly that it is very difficult to use.
I cannot imagine what thought process went into such a wholesale elimination of the meaningful visual cues in a software UI. Well, actually, I can... but it is one more thing that disturbs me. In Ive's blurb-spot, he talked about harmonizing the elements of the design. And that sounds nifty, really. But actually, it isn't; UI design is not about composition. Not just about it, anyway. The things that make a composition good - like harmony of the elements such that they flow together - are not effective strategies in UI design. UI design is about effective communication, and one of the most important jobs of a software UI is in reinforcing separation both conceptually and logically - the act of grouping, clarifying, and making the differences between logical and operational components obvious. And since a UI is in essence a visual language, it must employ methods of making such distinctions obvious. That's the only way that a user can come to understand a UI.
The thin fonts of IOS7, the lack of shadow, the way that the UI diminishes visual tension between elements... all of these are excellent compositional efforts. But they suck at being effective usability mechanisms; they erode the usability of the operating system rather than improve it.
I wish I could get Ive to read this.
Edited by tt92618 - 6/12/13 at 5:31pm