I’ve been playing with the iOS 7 beta release for the last few days, and want to share a few thoughts on the changes to the User Interface and User Experience (UI/UX). I think the UI/UX changes are much more interesting than the colour scheme, which is what everyone seems to be focussing on.
Lately, a lot of what I do as Product Manager at App Annie has been focussed on UI/UX as we’re working to upgrade a few products and release some new features. At App Annie, I’ve had many debates with our UI/UX Designer about making things intuitive and trying to handle complex user cases with simple, logical interfaces.
Apple is often the company that we look to & reference when we’re trying to make design decisions. I can’t recall the number of times that when faced with a tricky situation, I’ve immediate thought “how would they design this at Apple?”
However, with the release of iOS 7, we have a new reference point – there are some big changes and in trying to decide if they’re bad or good, I thought it would be best to share my thinking and then let there be debate. So in no particular order:
1. iOS 7 relies heavily on user familiarity with gestures
It feels like Apple has decided that everyone is now sufficiently familiar with slide and swipe gestures, that they can now take away the visual guides. It seems akin to taking off the training wheels on a bike.
The biggest example of this is the lock screen. Gone is the unlock slider, and instead there is just the words “slide to unlock”. At first I thought this was a slide up gesture, because of the ^ icon underneath it. But its actually a slide right, just as it always has been. The icon underneath the words really confused me and I kept on trying to swipe up to unlock and it took me about 10 seconds to work out what was going on before I could actually unlock the phone. Not a great start.
Similarly, I was stumped when I needed to force close an app. Previously this was done by:
Access task switch by double clicking the home key, make the icons wiggle by tap and holding an icon, then kill the app by tapping the – in the top left.
With the new task switcher, gone is the tap and hold, and it’s been replaced by a swipe up, which I think is much better (it reminds me of closing a tab in the Google Chrome app), but it took me a while to find this.
The power off slider is also gone – and it’s been replaced by a flat panel, which is activated by sliding left or right – the same action, but with much less visual feedback.
Basically, with iOS7, whenever I find that a common action’s visual indicator has disappeared (like the sliders), and I think there’s a control I need to activate, I start sliding and swiping like a mad man, trying to find the control & work out what’s going on. The sliders on iOS6 felt much more precise.
2. We now have an Android style control panel
I’ve spent a fair bit of time with a Nexus 7, Motorola XT910 and Samsung Galaxy S3. The “pull down from top” control panel is an action that I love on Android because I can quickly get to wifi, brightness, and airplane mode.
So the new control panel, accessed by swiping up from the bottom on iOS7, is really cool, especially as I use the Do Not Disturb mode a lot and before I always had to go into settings.
My issue here is that it feels too like Android – they’ve included the bad bits as well. Typically, Android tends to rely more on pictogram icons than iOS. And even though the Android control panel is convenient, it feels cluttered and in some implementations the icons don’t have labels. I don’t use every function frequently enough to build a strong association with each icon. Which means that it takes an extra 1/2 a second for me to see the icons, process their possible meanings, and then activate the right one. Sometimes I get it wrong, which is frustrating.
At App Annie, we’ve had lots of debates about icons and text labels, and we’ve chosen to include text labels wherever possible for this very reason.
iOS7′s control panel’s use of icons is a whole step above Android. And I think it’s a mistake. The control panel is overloaded and is ridiculously icon heavy. Even after a few days, my brain’s initial reaction is to reel in terror when I open it. “Wtf do I click on?! Which is the button I want?”
There’s 16 different functions on this screen and all but 2 are represented solely by pictograms. 1 of which is even wrong! The timer pictogram actually takes you to the alarm clock, not the timer. Why they chose not to use the alarm clock icon beats me.
3. Bigger fonts, more spacing, clean feel
The new flat design has dumped all the gradients, backgrounds and drop shadows, and the result is everything feels lighter, cleaner and simpler. The mailboxes screen in mail is a good example of being much improved because of this. Gone are the backgrounds on the number of messages, and gone are the heavy buttons.
I really really like this. One of the biggest challenges I have with design in my own work is trying to fight against a feeling of clutter, I’m definitely going to be referencing this flat styling and simplified controls.
4. Information on the notifications screen is not “glance-able”
If you read a few of the iOS7 review articles, a word that keeps coming up is “glance-able”. Allegedly, iOS7 has made it easier to quickly glance at your phone to see the pieces of information you need. I think the new notification screen actually does the exact opposite.
The current temperature and weather information is written in sentence form, which means you actually need to read the sentence to know what’s going on outside, where as before you just had the temperature, in a big font, and picture to indicate sunny / raining / etc.
Similarly, iOS7 tries to get clever by “reading” your schedule and settings and writing in sentence form how many appointments you have tomorrow and what time your alarm is set. Don’t get me wrong, this information is useful, but as it’s written in sentence form it’s less accessible.
5. Inconsistent controls – some things are tappable, some aren’t
While we’re on the notification screen, you might notice that the 6 day weather outlook has disappeared. Kind of a bummer and it was a feature I used quite a bit. But no matter, it’s still in the weather app, which you can access from the notification screen but tapping the weather description.
But! If the weather description is tappable, surely by tapping on the calendar event, or the info about tomorrow, or the alarm description, I’ll be taken to my calendar events or alarm settings, right?
Ahhh no. Actually these aren’t tappable – which is odd. At first I thought that maybe I needed to swipe or slide or double tap or tap and hold or two finger tap etc. But after trying every gesture I could think of, I realised they’re just not controls. I hope this will change.
6. The illusion of depth
The way the background image on the lock and home-screen is dynamically positioned based on the accelerometer to create the illusion of depth is really cool – I’ve been playing with this all day, moving my phone around and watching the image move.
This is a great example of using flat design, but still achieving depth. Designers go to all sorts of trouble to achieve a sense of depth by adding layers, and shading, and blurring – basically every possible trick to mimic the way the real, 3 dimensional world works, within a 2 dimensional canvas. I think the only way to make this even better would be to use the front-facing camera to track my eyes and then produce a full 3-D effect based on the angel which I’m looking at the screen. There’s probably an app for this.
7. The death of flashlight apps
While this isn’t really related to UI/UX, it’s something I find quite amusing.
One of my common searches to demonstrate similar apps is to search for “flashlight”. There are hundreds of these apps, all of which are basically identical.
As Apple has now included a flashlight hotkey directly into the control panel, I can only think that the days of publishing flashlight apps in the app store are numbered.
I’m really interested to see how Apple continues to develop iOS7, as I think there are quite a few good ideas here, even if a few things potentially need a rethink. There’s already umpteen posts about how iOS7 is the most amazing masterpiece ever produced, and an equally impressive number of articles about how horrible it is. But most seem to focus on the colour scheme and icon design, rather than getting into the guts.
What does the rest of the world think?