Is iOS7 really taking us back to the future?

(Image Source: www.Gizmodo.com)

(Image Source: http://www.Gizmodo.com)

As is the case with most things Apple, last week’s iOS7 launch led to polarizing reactions from the tech world at large – and whether you loved the new operating system to bits or hated its guts, you will likely find it hard to ignore all the ado. Apart from the fact that it was launched by Apple in their widely-followed annual Worldwide Developer Conference week; the key reason behind all the negative / positive hullabaloo is that this is not just any visual revamp – this is an intentional, and paradigm shift in design philosophy made by a company that is synonymous with great design and one that can rightfully be referred to as a pioneer that introduced aesthetics to the world of technology.

I do believe that Apple introduced the concept of design to everybody from the top to the bottom of the value chain in technology. Apple made consumers realize that Hey, a gadget can actually not be clunky and cumbersome and can actually look good – something that had never occurred to us as an option earlier. And most importantly, like the famous Steve Jobs quote goes – Apple taught us that Design wasn’t merely the way a product lookedbut it was the way a product worked.

Having said that, I must confess – I am not an iAddict, nor am I anti-Apple. I’m fairly Apple-agnostic and choose to rely on the trio of innovation, user experience and actual value as my yardsticks for assessing new technologies and tech products. As a technophile marketer, I may look at the brand name to marvel / frown at how far the brand has come (or not) in terms of Innovation, and as a consumer, I may look at the brand name as a mark of reliability before actually investing in the product. But I do try to not let the brand name stop me from calling a spade a spade.

Which brings me to my thoughts on iOS7, and Apple’s determined step away from the design philosophy they swore by up until now – Digital Skeuomorphism. Apple’s design strategy was developed with an astute awareness of the nascence of the touch-screen smartphone industry. Apple in its strategic brilliance was aware that with the iPhone, they also had to take upon themselves the task of ensuring audiences got comfortable with all the new icons on the display screen in their hands, and could easily find their way around on their devices without the technology getting in the way (Another quote from Jobs). While a very valid albeit challenging goal to meet at the time – it was what birthed Apple’s strategy to go with digital skeuomorphism; which essentially involved designing icons that were easy to decipher and looked exactly like the real-world, physical objects they were meant to replace. (For instance, the ‘Notes’ App icon looked exactly like a Notepad, and so on.) The skeuomorphed icons added a dash of familiarity to an otherwise alien interface.

And this proved to be a uber-successful choice for Apple then, one that not only made adoption of the iPhone easier for technophiles and technophobes alike, but also introduced a new dimension (and color!) to what had been accepted as a two-dimensional visual landscape. iOS creator Scott Forstall as well as the late Steve Jobs himself were known to be passionate proponents of Skeuomorphism.

But is there a chance Jobs and Forstall went too far in their pet project of visual renderings of real-life objects? Probably yes. After all, there were some designs in the Apple skeuomorphic suite that did stick out like sore thumbs in the Apple scheme of simplicity and elegance; on account of being a little too elaborate and rich (and borderline cheesy!). I mean, just look at the icon for the Game Center – green felt and lacquered wood? Really?!

As a contrast, iOS7 aims to get back to the basics with flat designs and revamped icons. Between iOS6 and 7, the design differences are easily noticeable and the texture differences are definitely stark. The figure below features a great comparison tool, from the desk of Belgium-based design student Niel (Twitter: @pawsupforu), via Time Magazine’s Techland.

Is iOS7 an earth-shattering development? I’m not sure it is. While I don’t hate the new iOS7 look, the Fisher-Pricey scheme of things stops me from liking it too much. There, I said it. Heck, my two-year old nephew has a toy phone that could pass off as the inspiration behind iOS7 – not kidding. The bright, fuschiously vibrant color scheme has sparked off many an internet meme, the most entertaining one being this one. That said, I’m not a designer, so I don’t want to sound like I’m biting off more than I can chew – but here’s a professional opinion specifically on the design elements of iOS7. Yes, design is a subjective thing and everyone is entitled to their own opinions; but if you go strictly by Steve Job’s own definition of it (see Para 2 above) – iOS7 leaves a lot to be desired.

Sure, it has cool interface improvements like a parallax view of the home screen (which lets a background image move around slightly while icons remain in place above it), swooshing transition animations, intuitive lock screens and transparent overlays. But unfortunately (for Apple) – there are other phones that have been doing that stuff (and more) for a while now. So does that mean that WWDCs are henceforth going to be only about tactics to level the playing field disrupted by some other player? Since when did Apple stop being the disrupter themselves?

Before I come across as a certified iRanter, let me state the key thing I want from the next iOS, in advance: All I want from the next iOS is more control. Maybe I’d like a search widget on my phone home screen. Maybe, a real-time RSS feed from Twitter. Maybe I’d like to change the static dock to feature the apps I actually access more often. Maybe I’d like the ability to choose my own default browser. Or maybe, I’d really like using a Swype keyboard on my phone (allowing me to swype through the keyboard as opposed to punching one key at a time). I’d like to at least have the option to make those tweaks, whether I exercise it or not. It is MY phone after all. I want it to “think different”, and be more of me, than of Apple. Too tall an order? Shouldn’t be so, right?

I’ve loved my iDevices for the sleek hardware and reliable software – I still sorta do. But from a competitive strategy perspective, both those competencies are now the stuff that is anyway expected of any smart device worth its salt. They’re necessary for succeeding in the market, but not sufficient anymore. Agreed, it was very much an Apple core competency to get the magical hardware + software combination right, but other players have started getting it right too.

Proponents of iOS7 and hardcore iFans have welcomed the end of skeuomorphism by saying it was redundant as it was the solution to a problem that Apple no longer has. While that may be true (and while I’m aware iOS7 is not just about skeuomorphism and also aims at providing a new user experience), I do tend to believe that the irony of iOS7 in turn is dual: A. It fails to address the problem(/s?) Apple actually has; and B. The bottle may have changed and become prettier (debatable adjective, perhaps!) – but the wine is sadly more or less the same.

About Gayatri Shukla

I'm a marketer by occupation and choice. I like ruining objects in the name of art. I'm navigationally dyslexic (Yes, I may have invented this term), and I sometimes watch TV shows only for the commercials.

Posted on June 19, 2013, in Design, Technology and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 96 Comments.

  1. Reblogged this on A CATORCE HORAS DE AQUI…! and commented:
    iOS 7 y su idea del futuro!

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  2. Interesting article – but I have to admit I like the new icons (finally photos and weather are not so confusingly similar anymore).

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    • Thanks for commenting! Interesting you say that about the Photos and Weather icons – I totally see how they can be confusing. But I reckon that in iOS7, the Photos and the Game Center icons are strangely similar (and potentially as confusing) too. 🙂

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      • True, but I stored the game icon in a folder and never use it. Now, if they would only allow me to do the same with Newsstand…

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      • Yeah, if only the iSandbox were a more open field instead! I feel the same way about Safari, for instance. Wish I could remove it from the static App dock and from my phone altogether!

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      • Interesting – I’m ok with Safari. Which browser are you using? What is better about it?

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      • I was using Safari and Firefox until a few months ago, when I (re)discovered Chrome. Unlimited tabs, multi-device syncing to help you pick up from where you left off (iDevices, non-iDevices included), incognito browsing, loading speed (don’t know if this is an anomaly, but I’ve never had a problem with that so far), shortcuts to most visited websites and voice search are the things I find most useful about it. I also love the offline bookmarks and omnibox search features – but those are more or less available in Safari as well.

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  3. Really interesting and nice article. Well done 😀

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  4. Looking at my iphone, i realized I haven’t updated the software in a while…now part of me doesn’t want to. Great write up.

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    • I hear ya! But thankfully, the iOS7 upgrade is still a few months away – I believe they’re pushing it out only around October. So we have some time to prepare ourselves and deal with the change, or switch sides! 😉 Thanks for the comment, btw!

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  5. Reblogged this on BlueWater Communications and commented:
    A great write up on ios7! Is it revolutionary or a copy cat?

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  6. Reblogged this on rby4love and commented:
    I found this very interesting and I thought you should see it too.

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  7. I really do not like the new iOS 7 but the worst thing is that they are selling it like the latest innovation, the future and well let’s be honest that’s a race where they have been long gone :|, I’m a designer myself and I ain’t a bit impress of their new icons and I found hilarious your Fisher Price description, completely accurate! Thanks for the post!

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    • Thanks for the comment! I’m not sure I find the continued ecstatic tone with which iOS7 was launched justifiable either – not just because of the lack of visual appeal (IMHO, and bolstered by your professional opinion :)), but also because of the actual Innovation quotient there. Glad you enjoyed the post, thanks a bunch for reading!

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  8. Personally I think iOS 7 looks completely washed out. Everything is duller and less bold. The font is terrible, thin and difficult to read IMO.

    I had every iteration of the iPhone since it launched. About six months ago I sold my iPhone 5 and picked up a Galaxy Note 2. I really liked the Android on it. When the Galaxy S4 launched I sold the Note 2 and got the S4. I love it. You couldn’t pay me to go back to iPhone right now. Apple needs to be thinking outside the box to keep up with other manufactures and they are miles away from that right now.

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    • Thanks for commenting, James! It’s interesting that you switched to the S4 despite having been a steadfast iPhone user – what made you switch over?

      Also makes me wonder if every S4 user feels the same way about the iPhone now – and if they do, Apple might just be getting in big trouble.

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      • No problem, great post.

        After I got the iPhone 5 and had it for a few months I realized that nothing had really improved. The same basic phone in a slightly different package each time and still no real customization. So I decided to give Android a shot.

        I loved it. I can download different launchers from the Play store and customize the look and feel. I can choose different icons to use if I’d like. I have three or four quality keyboards to choose from depending on what fits my needs. The list goes on and on.

        I don’t know anyone that’s gone from a high end Android phone and made the switch to iPhone. I see people everyday though abandoning iPhone for a new android device.

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      • You make a great point – and to come to think of it, I haven’t seen any high-end android phone user go back to the iPhone either. Now I can sorta see why. I echo your disappointment with iPhone 5 – I didn’t see value enough to upgrade to it ( Yes, in spite of the Retina display) and I don’t regret that decision at all! The lack of control / customization on my iPhone is fast becoming a pain point for me as well, and must admit, the other side does seem lush green from where I stand!

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      • It’s always worth a try. Most carriers have a 14 day return policy. If you don’t like it you can always take it back.

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      • You’re right, it’s worth a shot. I’d used an android phone (A Samsung Nexus S4G) for a brief bit and had loved how fluid the system was, and how I could completely customize the phone per my preferences and usage. But then, it also had major clinks, and kept crashing irrevocably for inexplicable reasons (esp after the ICS upgrade), and had to keep exchanging the handset. It was pretty frustrating. The battery life was also terrible, and I had to keep a charger handy all the time – not fun at all! I told myself the new-found control I had over my device was worth these pains; but honestly, be it Apple or Android – if a phone starts proving to be such a pain, it’s so not worth the trouble. So I bid goodbye to my Android.

        In contrast, I really did find the iPhone the more dependable alternative. And I still think it’s a great phone, and a perfectly good one to have if you’re looking for a smartphone that does its job well and a phone that won’t let you down. But the problem begins when one starts hoping for more from the OS. There is only so much you can do with an iPhone.

        On the other hand, Samsung seems to have finally fixed the glitches in their OS, and they’re coming up with some solid innovations. It’s like there are two distinct eras here: Pre and Post Galaxy S. I’m hearing only positive feedback about post-Galaxy S3 android, and it does look like the time may be right to cross over to the other side. Thanks again for a fun discussion!

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  9. Is this the future? Or this is a mixture of the 60’s and 80’s splattering over the I-screen?

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  10. So true!!

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  11. Reblogged this on Ron Ruzal's Blog.

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  12. I like the new look, even if it is a bit much. But I think Apple is setting itself up for the next decade. Jony Ive did a great job with bring iOS a new fresh look. I was really starting to hate iOS 6. I love the iOS 7 beta even if its glitchy, even better iOS 7 is going to give developers a chances to really change how app should be used.

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    • Thanks for commenting! While I’m still not quite sold on iOS7; it was great to hear a different perspective :)! I agree that Apple’s most likely trying to set itself up for the next decade, and there may be an incremental advantage for developers in iOS7. But as a consumer, I do find myself looking for more: more control over my device, and some Apple-esque industry-redefining stuff; both of which I tend to believe iOS7 doesn’t quite offer yet.

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  13. Great post! Thank you.

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  14. What I think it does it help IOS sell better in Asian markets. Just go to softbank’s website, a Japanese phone company. They tout phones with “25” different colors. By making things more colorful and fun Apple is trying to cement their foothold outside of the United States, where they have a firm one already. People aren’t going to jump ship because of IOS7, but they’re going to get more customers overseas jumping from ultra-customizable Android, and metro-sleek Windows Phone.

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    • Thanks for commenting! I really enjoyed reading your perspective on the reasoning behind the Apple’s new design philosophy. I checked Softbank’s website per your recommendation and you’re right – the array of colors is quite something!! I think you make a great point here on how iOS7 may actually be a move to help Apple do better in Asia. But given how accustomed most Asian smartphone buyers are to customizing their phones – not sure if Apple’s sand-box will continue to hold appeal there. It’ll sure be interesting to see how it all plays out around the time the final version is pushed out in October.

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  15. Dear Gayatri,

    This is a great post. Recently I’ve been looking at my iPad screen and thinking what should I do about it. And truly I feel like it is a very first time I am afraid of change. I truly do not understanding the reasoning for changing the package but leaving the content exactly the same. It was actually one icon that drove me nuts all over this thing. It was the “newsstand” one, suddenly it seems I will leave my virtual bookcase and move straight to kindergarten literature (judging from colours). I guess that we will all just have to deal with it, and get used to it.
    Nonetheless, great post and great links!

    All the best,
    OD

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  16. Reblogged this on Manu's Tech Takes and commented:
    My sentiments exactly…

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  17. Great Post! Keep up the good work!

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  18. Reblogged this on Unknown Purpose and commented:
    Interesting.

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  19. Reblogged this on Khiz Ki Kahani and commented:
    I want iOS7 now !!!

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  20. Reblogged this on Doubts of a Wild Mind~! and commented:
    Author gets it spot on.
    It is mostly why I dislike iOS.

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  21. interesting… is this the future? it doesnt user friendly to me now…

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  22. Great Work…..Thanks

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  23. Well written post! And congrats on being Freshly Pressed!

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  24. Congratulations!

    And thanks for the update on iEverything.

    Ghost.

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  25. Wonderful post. iOS 7 is still great but there are good things going on elsewhere in the industry. I totally agree with your point that iOS is still not very controllable compared to the competition (that can be a good thing considering there are no viruses, but I would sacrifice a little security for the ability to customize my iDevice). Think of Android users (I’m not a fan of Android either), they don’t need to jailbreak before you can truly customize their phone/tablet/phablet/whatever (NOTE: I am not endorsing jailbreaking, I haven’t jailbroken my iPad. I am merely mentioning that jailbreaking does give iOS users a wider range of customization options.)
    In short, as Android overtakes iOS Apple has to rethink the “locked-down-ness” of iOS.

    Like

    • Thanks for commenting! I totally agree. I don’t intend to endorse any particular brand either; but a sandboxed approach isn’t very long-term sustainable and for a company that prides itself on its intuitive interfaces – it’s quite a counter-intuitive decision to stand by!

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  26. You did your homework on this one. I agree, I am not impressed with the iOS7. Congrats on being Freshly Pressed.

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  27. Really enjoyed this post seeing as I completely agree with everything you stated. My mom works for apple and her and some coworkers even agree the new icons are child-like. Very professional and well-put opinions!

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    • Yes, one of the things I love about iDevices is how intuitive their interface is – even to a child. I’m not sure they needed to go one step further and make the devices look like toys too, though :). Thanks a bunch for the kind words, btw! Much appreciated! 🙂

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  28. Reblogged this on Tech Blog.

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  29. I don;t know if I think it is back to the future, I’ve spent a week with iOS 7 and I’m already bored. I don’t know if the new look is It’s a bold enough for me. Anyone else?

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  30. Sharanyan Sharma

    Excellent Post 🙂

    Like

  31. Thanks for re-blogging, Ezekiel Ogboko! 🙂

    Like

  32. Thanks for the re-blog!

    Like

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