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iOS 7: a bold step sideways

Farhad Manjoo (via Slate/ SMH) | June 24, 2013
I’ve spent a week with iOS 7 and I’m already bored.

iOS 7: Many new and even hidden features.
iOS 7: Many new and even hidden features.

The first time you turn on your phone after installing iOS 7, you'll feel like Charlie Bucket landing in Willy Wonka's chocolate factory. Those colours! Those icons! So much neon! You've fallen into a world of pure imagination, a place where everything familiar and solid has been flattened, slimmed down, spray painted, and made translucent - but now you're feeling some regret. Was that golden ticket worth it after all?

When old things are made new, it's natural to feel both lost and nostalgic, and it's usually wise to push through your immediate sense of disorientation. Give iOS 7 a few days. Become comfortable with its technicolour aesthetic, lighter type, and spare graphics. Do this and you'll notice, around Day 3 or 4, that your initial shock has given way to a new emotion: familiarity. Soon that feeling becomes so powerful that you may have trouble remembering what the old iOS looked like.

And then, surprisingly, a new question pops into your head: Wait, is that all there is?

Familiar? Apple's iOS 7.
Familiar? Apple's iOS 7.

That's where I am now. It's been almost a week since I installed Apple's new mobile operating system on my iPhone 5. (You can get iOS 7 if you're an iOS developer, or if a kind developer registers your iPhone with Apple. Beware: The OS is still in beta phase, so it's annoyingly buggy.) Because the software is clearly a work in progress, I've tried to give it every benefit of the doubt, and I expect that a lot of it will be improved by the time it's launched publicly later this year. At this point, though, I'm puzzled by iOS 7.

For a redesign that's so immediately jarring and radical, it comes to feel strangely superficial over time. As I used iOS 7, I kept thinking of something Steve Jobs once said: "Most people make the mistake of thinking design is what it looks like," he told the New York Times Magazine in 2003. "People think it's this veneer - that the designers are handed this box and told, 'Make it look good!' That's not what we think design is. It's not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works."

Yet once I got used to the new icons and typography in iOS 7, there was no next step - no clear payoff for braving the dislocation the new design had caused. What's this design in service of? How does it improve your phone? Does it make it faster, easier to use, more enjoyable, less annoying? In other words, does iOS 7 change how your device works, rather than just how it looks?


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