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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.

New look: Craig Federighi introduces iOS 7.
New look: Craig Federighi introduces iOS 7. Photo: Reuters

Most of the time, not really. While iOS 7 does introduce several new and useful features - like an immersive new app switcher, a handy finger-swipe gesture to go back to a previous screen, a superfast camera app, and a universal search and address bar in Safari - few of these feel like organic outgrowths of the new aesthetic. The app switcher, back swipe, and faster camera would have been possible and just as useful in the old iOS.

Yes, there are places where the new design does pay off - in the Calendar and Photos app, the lighter type and buttons allow you to see more of your appointments and pictures. Thanks to new transition animations, switching in and out of apps from the home screen feels faster and more fluid. But these improvements are offset by other areas where the lighter design leaves too little of the interface exposed. In a few places, the new touch targets are too small to hit accurately. And while I welcomed the removal of some of the "skeuomorphic" real-world textures that gummed up the old iOS - like green felt and stitched leather - the one-dimensional, line-drawn icons in iOS 7 are sometimes too inscrutable to give you an intuitive sense of what's going on.

A lot of the redesign feels like aesthetics for aesthetics' sake - the reflection of design chief Jony Ive's personal taste for minimalism rather than an effort to improve how the software works. Or, as Jobs might say, it's just veneer.

Take one of the biggest design innovations in iOS 7, the use of translucent interface "layers" that pile on top of one another. When you look at the home screen, you'll see two different planes - a layer of app icons on top, and beneath that a layer of wallpaper. You don't know they're two layers until you angle your phone; when you do, you'll notice the top layer of icons shift against the bottom layer of wallpaper, creating the effect of parallax. Then swipe down from the top of the screen to bring down iOS's Notification Centre. In old iOS, this pane was opaque, carrying the texture of faux linen; all such textures have been removed in iOS 7. Now the Notification Centre is another translucent plane - just behind it, you can see your app icons, like you've brought down a piece of frosted glass over your home screen.

 

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