Apple's new direction for iOS 7 leverages technology to impress

Posted:
in iPhone edited January 2014
"Our goal at Apple is to make great products that our customers love," Apple's chief executive Tim Cook stated at the end of the WWDC keynote. Happening upon what customers love is a bit more complicated than it sounds, however.

iOS 7


Prior to the unveiling of iOS 7, it was widely rumored that Apple would strip the "skeuomorphic" aspects of its appearance, details like faux "Corinthian leather" in the Calendar app and the virtual green felt of Game Center.

Less obvious was the actual overall look Apple would target, and particularly how it would going about arriving at a given overall appearance. However, the company has been dropping hints at its design direction for months.

The web pages for iPhone 5 and iPad mini introduced the delicate use of Helvetica Nueue Ultra Light, and apps ranging from last fall's iTunes 11 to the WWDC app itself (below) hinted at a path toward a lighter, cleaner, flatter design.


iphone 4s


via Garee's Blog

Leveraging technology in design

There's also the general progression of Apple's core technologies. In 2001, Mac OS X introduced "Quartz" as a new compositing graphics engine that enabled real transparency and shadowing effects. Initially, Apple used this to reflect the translucent white plastics of the then new iMac.

It took Microsoft more than half a decade to bring similar advanced graphics compositing to Windows in Vista, giving Apple a design lead advanced through technology.

When the iPhone arrived in 2007, it built upon OS X's advance graphics foundation to deliver hardware accelerated animations throughout the interface that reflected its new multitouch interface, a pair of modern concepts that instantly made the existing crop of button and thumbwheel driven smartphones look ancient.

Similar to Microsoft's Vista, Google's Android smartphones didn't gain similar graphics capabilities until version 4.0 arrived at the end of 2011 (and most Android phones still don't run this version of the software), again about a half decade after Apple unveiled its original iOS product.

Were Apple to simply give iOS 7 a revamped "skin," it would be much easier for Samsung and other Android licensees to duplicate it. But the new release leverages a series of technologies that designed to keep iOS 7 an original product.

Emphasis on simple

iOS 7 clearly aims at delivering simplicity. But as Apple notes, "simplicity is quite complicated."

The company's design overview of iOS 7 states, "Simplicity is often equated with minimalism. Yet true simplicity is so much more than just the absence of clutter or the removal of decoration. It?s about offering up the right things, in the right place, right when you need them. It?s about bringing order to complexity. And it?s about making something that always seems to 'just work.' When you pick something up for the first time and already know how to do the things you want to do, that?s simplicity."

There are plenty of simple Android apps that aren't designed well, don't 'just work,' and aren't intuitive to use. Delivering good simple design isn't just about being simple.

Contrast Apple's first major revision to the appearance of iOS with revamps delivered by Google (Android Holo, in version 3.0 for tablets and 4.0 for smartphones, below top) and Microsoft (Windows Phone 8 "Metro," borrowed from the Zune, below bottom). Apple says iOS 7 "brings clarity to the entire experience," and says "conspicuous ornamentation has been stripped away [?] there?s greater focus on what matters most: your content."

Android Holo

Windows Phone


Google's Android Holo appearance is all about the chrome, introducing angular "droid" themed controls. Windows Phone focuses attention on its whimsical typography, tiled boxes design and navigation through OS-centric concepts such as Hubs.

There are certainly elements of iOS 7 that can be linked to portions of Android, WebOS, WP8 or other existing products. But the direction Apple took isn't just a refreshed layer of appearance to bring it into line with the latest design trends.

Further, as Apple notes of its revamping of iOS 7, it has "refined the experience to make it even more effortless and useful. So the everyday things you need to do are the everyday things you want to do. And iOS 7 lets you work in ways that are instantly familiar, so there?s no need to relearn everything."

That's a shot at both Microsoft's radically different Windows Phone / Windows 8 and the inconsistent appearance of devices that make use of Android.

On the corner of technology and Liberal Arts

The layered design approach in iOS 7 exemplifies the leveraging of Apple's compositing graphics prowess that propelled it five years ahead of the status quo twice in the past decade.

In addition to the technical aspects of layering views on top of each other, Apple has also codified a design language to describe how layers should behave. "Distinct and functional layers help create depth and establish hierarchy and order," the company notes.

iOS 7 layers


"The use of translucency provides a sense of context and place. And new approaches to animation and motion make even the simplest tasks more engaging."

Part of this "new approach" is a motion controlled parallax effect that allows you to tilt the device and see an apparent shift between layers.

The company also notes other examples of making iOS 7 more cohesive. While many apps in iOS 6 have the original glossy highlight introduced on the first iPhone (apart from a variety of new apps that don't, such as Maps and Notes), and make use of inconsistent styles and colors, iOS 7 works to bring icon designs into focus.

Apple has been "redrawing every icon around a new grid system" for consistency, "and sticking to a precise color palette" to make the overall OS 7 experience cohesive. "They all work together to create a more harmonious relationship between individual elements," the company states.

Transparent panels for notifications, controls, Siri

Another applied use of layering via the compositing graphics engine in iOS 7 is the use of transparency to reinforce the modality of features like Notification Center (swiped in from the top), Control Center (swiped up from the bottom) and the enhanced new Siri (invoked by double tapping the Home button).

iOS 7 Notification Center

iOS 7 Control Center

iOS 7 Siri


In all three, the use of a translucent background makes it clear you are interacting with a temporary foreground element. All three features were first introduced by other mobile platforms or apps, but Apple integrates and refines them to look and work similarly in iOS 7.

Similar use of transparency to establish a "sense of place" and modality are used in the new iTunes app, such as when editing an iTunes Radio station (below)

iOS 7 iTunes Radio edit

Photos to impress

One last example of the graphics technology Apple is leveraging in iOS 7 is in Photos. In 2007, the original iPhone's ability to display hundreds of rows of photos and quickly zip through the list with a finger swipe was an impressive feat.

Android and other devices long had trouble navigating similar lists smoothly, resulting in the stuttering "lag" that users complain about. Apple addressed the issue with advanced hardware acceleration techniques used throughout the interface to provide an instantly responsive experience.

Now, six years later, Apple has added a new layer of sophistication to the design of Photos that builds upon this concept and the increased graphics capabilities of modern mobile devices. Now, Photos are automatically organized into "Moments" by their date and GPS location metadata.

iOS 7 photos


Further, iOS will back out into a year mode that packs hundreds of photos into the screen. By simply scrubbing over the mini-thumbnails with a touch, you can preview and open specific shots taken months ago. That's as impressive as the original iPhone's photo capabilities were when they debuted.

Google hasn't focused on delivering similar functionality for Android users because there's no ad revenue tied to displaying a user's own personal photos. But on top, Apple also has sophisticated media handling technology associated with its iLife and Pro Apps it can use.

Overall, the design cues of iOS 7 reflect not just an interest in creating an attractive, usable interface, but also the sophistication of the technology Apple now leads in many respects, and which it employs to drive the look and feel of iOS 7's new design.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 34
    ealvarezealvarez Posts: 88member
    Indeed :)
  • Reply 2 of 34
    Thanks Apple!
  • Reply 3 of 34
    blackbookblackbook Posts: 1,361member


    The OS is very elegant and I believe it will look even better once in your hand.


     


    I see why the icons had to be made flat in order to represent the new glass-like layers of the OS better. Only icon that could use improvement is Safari, but at the same time I don't know what they could do with it?


     


    Anyway it's funny how Jony Ive and others downed skeuomorphism of past iOSs that made some of the graphical elements look like real life things. Jony Ive essentially made his own skeuomorphic design that make the graphical elements look like layered panes of glass.

  • Reply 4 of 34
    blackbookblackbook Posts: 1,361member


    Another quick note.


     


    Who else thinks that the new "Slide to Unlock" is going to confuse a lot of first time users and older people?

  • Reply 5 of 34
    jessijessi Posts: 302member
    This is the first time I've seen something this significant from Apple and felt let down.

    However, that's an emotional reaction to how it *looks*. The visual design is less important than the way it works, and it looks like everywhere it works better than the past.

    Just like the name "Mavericks" it often is the case that you "just don't get it" when you first see something really new from Apple-- how many people didn't get the iPod, the iPhone or the iPad? A hell of a lot of them. (in fact they're still complaining about them, but at least they aren't claiming they will be failures.)

    I was a fan of "Sea Lion" as a name, and Mavericks will certainly take awhile. I figure the same is the case for iOS 7.

    As a developer, I could install the developer preview but I'm busy working on apps that need to run on iOS 6 and I'm not going to mess with it now.

    Still, it looks like it works great... I just don't think I like the looks.
  • Reply 6 of 34
    nchianchia Posts: 124member
    Nice write up, DED. I think it would make the point however even if you didn't give so much airtime to WP and Android. You know, focus on simplicity. ;
  • Reply 7 of 34
    applegreenapplegreen Posts: 421member

    Quote:

    Originally Posted by Jessi View Post



    This is the first time I've seen something this significant from Apple and felt let down.



     


     


    +1

  • Reply 8 of 34


    Looks like Apple pulled off another surprise. With the world expecting a "flat" new look for iOS7, Ive delivers a 3D UI instead, or rather 2.5D. 

  • Reply 9 of 34
    alfiejralfiejr Posts: 1,524member
    most of iOS 7 can be seen as a 'catch up' with the most useful features of Android, Windows Phone, some "skins," third party apps, and even the bygone Web OS.

    but ... then Apple repackages them into its own "just works" smooth UI frameworks and ecosystem. of course we really have to try OS 7 out to know if Apple has pulled it off.

    if they did, OS 7 will be the state of the art - not the art of gimmicky bells and whistles, but the art of user satisfaction.
  • Reply 10 of 34


    Let's face it. A new look will attract some and disappoint others. No style will please everyone. But today is the revelation of a new beginning. Ive is unquestionably the new arbiter of design. And he delivers the way a master designer does - define the design criteria, the constraints, the rules and the process first. Then design the parts and the whole to meet the criteria, within the constraints, using the process and the rules. The design grid for the icons is an example of how this works. Never mind the chatter about flat icons. He first laid down rules in the form of a grid for their design. Like great websites, brochure layouts and other designs, a grid is one of the key foundations for a clean, uniform look.


     


    Revisit the history of Apple's hardware and retrace how Ive mastered the use of first plastic and then aluminum with each generation of Macs, iPods and iPhones. Look at how he stuck to the same design language across the entire product line, refining the rounded rectangle to be progressively thinner and lighter. Imagine how he will do this with the UI.


     


    The introduction of a unified design language will not only give iOS a true signature look, one that is consistent across core apps, it is also a harbinger for an even more unified future. Imagine how hardware and software will come together in 2014, when Ive will have been working together with Federighi on iOS8 and iPhone 6 for over a year. (Clearly, I don't think there has been enough time for the true integration to be reflected in iPhone 5S and iOS7.) The real advantage of Apple as an integrated system design company will emerge once again. This is how iOS will better Android and the rest, because there will never be the same level of integrated design anywhere else.


     


    Like some others, I had doubts when Cook first appointed Ive to oversee the UI. It is clear now that was a stroke of management genius. In less than a year, Ive has not just redesigned the look of iOS, he has more importantly redefined the design process. The foundation is set to evolve the same way his hardware design has evolved. From now on, we have more to look forward to with each iteration of iOS than just new features.

  • Reply 11 of 34
    My total guess is that future iPhones and iPads and the itv will be three d without glasses. The Multi plane patents they hold will allow this when they need it and demand slows in the future.

    Pull a new rabbit out of a new hat. Sooner or later it will happen. They are starting to show parts of this with OS7.

    An iPhone 6 with 3d would be fun. Especially if their other products could show it without glasses.
  • Reply 12 of 34

    Quote:

    Originally Posted by Robert Hulka View Post



    My total guess is that future iPhones and iPads and the itv will be three d without glasses. The Multi plane patents they hold will allow this when they need it and demand slows in the future.



    Pull a new rabbit out of a new hat. Sooner or later it will happen. They are starting to show parts of this with OS7.



    An iPhone 6 with 3d would be fun. Especially if their other products could show it without glasses.


    No. Remember what simplicity is about.

  • Reply 13 of 34
    yojimbo007yojimbo007 Posts: 1,149member
    Props to the review!
    I loved what i saw.... And once it hits the market and people actually experience it.. It will blow some socks off!

    Congrats Tim, Jhonny , Craig and the apple team.. Awesome !
  • Reply 14 of 34
    simtubsimtub Posts: 277member


    Looks like the clock icon may be dynamic this time around

  • Reply 15 of 34


    honestly, this UI look like the Chinese version of XiaoMi android.

  • Reply 16 of 34
    I like Apple, I like iPhone - but it's all copied from other devices. When will they REALLY release something new?!

  • Reply 17 of 34
    stelligentstelligent Posts: 2,680member

    Quote:

    Originally Posted by StruckPaper View Post


    Let's face it. A new look will attract some and disappoint others. No style will please everyone. But today is the revelation of a new beginning. Ive is unquestionably the new arbiter of design. And he delivers the way a master designer does - define the design criteria, the constraints, the rules and the process first. Then design the parts and the whole to meet the criteria, within the constraints, using the process and the rules. The design grid for the icons is an example of how this works. Never mind the chatter about flat icons. He first laid down rules in the form of a grid for their design. Like great websites, brochure layouts and other designs, a grid is one of the key foundations for a clean, uniform look.


     


    Revisit the history of Apple's hardware and retrace how Ive mastered the use of first plastic and then aluminum with each generation of Macs, iPods and iPhones. Look at how he stuck to the same design language across the entire product line, refining the rounded rectangle to be progressively thinner and lighter. Imagine how he will do this with the UI.


     


    The introduction of a unified design language will not only give iOS a true signature look, one that is consistent across core apps, it is also a harbinger for an even more unified future. Imagine how hardware and software will come together in 2014, when Ive will have been working together with Federighi on iOS8 and iPhone 6 for over a year. (Clearly, I don't think there has been enough time for the true integration to be reflected in iPhone 5S and iOS7.) The real advantage of Apple as an integrated system design company will emerge once again. This is how iOS will better Android and the rest, because there will never be the same level of integrated design anywhere else.


     


    Like some others, I had doubts when Cook first appointed Ive to oversee the UI. It is clear now that was a stroke of management genius. In less than a year, Ive has not just redesigned the look of iOS, he has more importantly redefined the design process. The foundation is set to evolve the same way his hardware design has evolved. From now on, we have more to look forward to with each iteration of iOS than just new features.



     


    The foundation is fine and well, and may actually pay off in the future. Currently, iOS7 doesn't have the unification and consistency you are talking about.


     


    My first impression was very positive. I was swayed by the presentation. Everyone was so happy, funny and cocksure. And frankly, I wanted to like the new design. But I've been playing with iOS7 since then, and am quite surprised by the seemingly unfinished design. I am referring specifically to the icons. Some of them look like they were put together on Sunday night. Hell, the camera icon is different in different places. What's with the icon for Game Center? Maybe it follows the grid, but it does not follow any unified theme used in the design of others. What is the common design language between the icons for iMessage, Game Center, Camera, Photos and Music? Is there a common color scheme? Did the designer of the Newstand icon not talk to the others? Did the designer of the Weather icon actually open up and use the app? Did Ive or anyone else have a chance to look at the home screen before Monday morning?


     


    I agree that it *looks* have laid a strong foundation. I agree Ive has not fallen flat on his face (but only if you think carefully about how little time he has had). I like where they are going but they sure aren't there yet. Man, they have lots of work left to do. This confirms all the rumors about iOS7 running *behind*. The fact that they do not have beta versions for iPad yet is further proof of this.


     


    I hope and believe this will look different by the time they ship iPhone 5S.

  • Reply 18 of 34
    realisticrealistic Posts: 1,154member

    Quote:

    Originally Posted by werdnanotroh View Post



    I like Apple, I like iPhone - but it's all copied from other devices. When will they REALLY release something new?!

     


    You either forgot the sarcasm tag or you just don't get it, The article clearly states a lot of the pieces aren't new but are put together in such a way that things are consistent and 'just work' together better.

  • Reply 19 of 34
    And the prize for some of the longest sentences in history goes to%u2026 an English teacher would have a field day here.
  • Reply 20 of 34
    philboogiephilboogie Posts: 7,671member
    I like Apple, I like iPhone - but it's all copied from other devices. When will they REALLY release something new?!

    -1

    Oh, this fall, in case you didn't know.
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