Technologizer

Why iOS 7 Looks Unfinished (Spoiler: It’s Because It’s Unfinished)

We aren't used to seeing Apple products that are still evolving. But the next version of its mobile software may be one.

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Kim White / Getty Images

Developers congregate underneath a giant iOS 7 banner at Apple's WWDC at San Francisco's Moscone Center on June 10, 2013

Among the many things that everybody knows about Apple which aren’t actually true is the notion that it only tells the world about products once they’re fully baked. In the case of operating systems–for Macs, iPhones and iPads–it always shows off new versions months before consumers can get their hands on them, when they’re still works in progress.

That’s more by necessity than choice: The company needs to give third-party developers early access to upcoming upgrades so they can begin to get their apps ready. Usually, however, what Apple shows involves incremental change that’s easy to get your head around. It’s more of the same, only better, which is rarely a controversial proposition.

Then there’s iOS 7, which Apple announced at last week’s WWDC keynote in San Francisco and plans to ship this fall. The seventh version of its mobile operating system is the first to depart–radically–from the general look and feel established by the first iPhone in 2007. It’s the most dramatic change to a piece of an Apple platform since OS X showed up to replace the Mac’s original operating system in 2000.

With a stripped-down, layered interface spearheaded by Apple design god Jonathan Ive, iOS 7 practically demands that people form gut reactions about it, often before getting hands-on time. (The only people Apple is providing with a preview version are those who have signed up as iOS developers; they must sign a non-disclosure agreement that forbids them from publicly sharing their experiences with it.)

And form gut reactions people have been doing–remarkably diverse ones. Here are a few sound bites from blog posts published within hours of the keynote’s end:

John Gruber of Daring Fireball says iOS 7 is more impressive, in certain respects, than Steve Jobs-era iOS:

This is the first product of the post-Jobs Apple. The result shows that in some ways Apple’s software design has gotten better, because it was Jobs (and Forstall) who had a penchant for exuberant textures and gimmickry.

Frank Chimero thinks it looks like a rush job:

Part of being a good designer is having a hatred for inconsistencies, so I take the interface’s unevenness to mean a hurried timeline, rather than an unawareness of the inconsistencies.

The Verge’s Joshua Topolsky finds it confusing and inconsistent:

The icons are striking to see, and they’re the first sign that there are points of confusion and even missteps in Apple’s new approach. For starters, the icon styles vary wildly from app to app.

Pete Pachal of Mashable says that iOS 7 borrows from everywhere, but it all sticks together:

When iOS 7 arrives in the fall, I predict the world’s 600 million iOS users will forgive Apple for being late to the game with many features. No matter what those other phones offer, to them, the iPhone is still the only phone that will make them happy.

CNN Money’s Adrian Covert thinks “Apple has its mojo back“:

With iOS 7, Apple has positioned itself a half-step ahead of the pack in the design arena. That’s a major achievement given how archaic iOS was starting to look.

(If you don’t have iOS 7 opinions of your own yet, you can form them by watching Apple’s keynote video and checking out its gallery of images.)

The thing is, as eclectic as initial reactions to iOS 7 have been, the vast majority, whether giddy or stinging, are reconcilable. It’s possible for iOS 7, in its current beta state, to be a design breakthrough and to feel rushed and inconsistent. In fact, from what I’ve seen of it, that’s what it seems to be: exciting, but scruffy in certain areas.

Which isn’t that startling. We knew that Jony Ive is an exceptional designer. But Apple only announced the promotion that put him in charge of the iOS user experience a little over seven months before iOS 7 debuted at WWDC. Given that the redesign is so sweeping, that’s just not enough time to make every major decision and nail down every little detail. That’s why this peek at the next version of iOS feels more raw than previous ones that focused on new features and left the interface alone.

Like Josh Topolsky and numerous others, I was confounded, at least initially, by elements that haven’t been polished to a fare-thee-well, such as some of the new icons, in the way that new Apple stuff usually is before we see it. But if what we’ve seen of the new look is a new kind of Apple preview–one of a product that Apple knows still needs additional refinement–there’s no reason to panic.

As far as I can tell, iOS 7 has multiple major things right, like the addition of the Control Center and the improved multitasking. Apple still has time to futz with icons, exact layouts and other details before it freezes its code and ships its operating system.

I’m not officially predicting that the company will address every issue that gives anyone pause about iOS 7. Even an additional two or three months of development time feels tight to finish something as ambitious as this, and we know from iOS 6′s Maps that it’s capable of shipping products before they’re anywhere near ready. Still, I’m guardedly optimistic that when iOS 7 is done, it’ll turn out that this first preview looked unfinished because it was…well, unfinished.

11 comments
JustinBerkovi
JustinBerkovi

After immediately downloading iOS7 beta today I've done something I never have ever done in all the years of beta testing iOS rollouts. I went back to the previous OS. A few points -

As a designer and after discussion with many graphic designers we all came to the conclusion that the basics of good design have been ignored with iOS7. Steve Jobs 'got' design. He understood how a pixel here or there would make or break design, design 'rules' and how his products and dreams would be perceived. This is why iOS7 fails so dramatically. It simply pays no respect to the fundamentals of design and space.


As such you immediately have an entire experience that is inherently flawed. Yes it's a BETA, yes it will change before launch but it will have to be radical to be accepted by the purists and so far I'm worried. I sincerely doubt that Steve Jobs would have allowed such an early version to be made public, it's just too messed up. 


There are other things. The animations are terrible. They don't work. They slow the entire UX down.

I don't mind moving away from leather bound notes and calendars but if I'm going to have minimalism then at least do something spectacular and get a professional to do it. The icons, the buttons, everything looks terrible in iOS7. 

This is Apple's demise.

petilon
petilon

I love the shredding animation in Passbook app. I love the page turn animation in iBooks. I love the page curl in Maps. I love the shiny buttons. Skeuomorphism is fun. Everything I love about iPhone is going away.

The idea that skeuomorphism won't stand the test of time is absurd. Things on the screen have to look like something. Things that are hard to imagine as a physical entity are hard to relate to and are hard to figure out. It can look like something from the past (reel to reel in the old Podcasts app), something from the future (Time Machine on OS X) or even something imaginary -- it just has to look physical as opposed to abstract.

This is the beginning of the decline of Apple. The question of can Apple still be Apple without Steve Jobs has been answered. And the answer, sadly, is a resounding No.

Paul Ailincai
Paul Ailincai

this is because it is unfinished, it is a B and the world is not finished so that you have to be in a hurry to get it all done in one version... Why you have to bother writing these articles? It is a phone and it is smart thus...a smartphone. What else??

SirWired
SirWired

I'll bet Ive was salivating wanting the software UI design job... I wouldn't be surprised if it practically hurt his eyes to have all those silly non-functional "skeumorphic" (who came up with that word?) stuff strewn everywhere.

chidio360
chidio360

@JustinBerkovi

Hey Justin, being a designer has nothing whatsoever to do with the sheer insanity of expecting the iOS7 beta to be issue free.

You do sound like those thousands of people who rush out and put and early builds of iOS on their phones in order to show off and then start gnashing their teeth in public because it doesn't behave as expected.  Have you actually taken the time to go through any of the notes, documents etc. in the Dev Center? There's a lot of great stuff there (under NDA of course) and I suggest you start reading up and digging around the SDK. Alternatively, you can have some patience and wait until iOS7 is ready for non-developers.

Good luck.

macrobaye
macrobaye

"The question of can Apple still be Apple without Steve Jobs has been answered. And the answer, sadly, is a resounding No."

@petilon tone down the hyperbole there chief. The entire point of the article is firstly to suggest that iOS 7 is a beta and there's many more changes to come, probably most of which will be to provide a consistency in design that's not currently there.

Also, who cares that Steve liked skeuomorphism? It's actually the one inconsistency in his legacy of revolutionizing the ways we interact with technology and the world.  If anything, moving away from notepads that look like notepads and calendars with leather binding and torn pages does in fact push the technology forward, frees the inherent shackles of skeuomorphism and allows for user experiences built from the ground up without any unnecessary restraints. iOS 7 screams Steve Jobs to me because it doesn't rest on its laurels -- in some ways it meets the competition and in a few other ways it completely stretches the imagination as to what's possible on a smartphone.

When I saw the parallax feature, with the background shifting with the angle of the phone, I gasped like a child in pure wonder.  That's what Steve always provided, and I'd say while it's not yet perfect, iOS 7 tells me that Apple will be just fine.

petilon
petilon

@macrobaye The parallax feature is indeed cool. And so is the rain and snow in the weather app that looks like real rain and snow. But this is realism. So they removed the old realism such as leather and torn pages and then added it back in spades in the weather app. No restraint whatsoever. Apple designers have lost their way without Steve Jobs.

It is skeuomorphism that made the iPhone a darling of consumers around the world. Skeuomorphism frees the technology from the shackles of inscrutable "computer interfaces" and makes it accessible to ordinary everyday users. Human brains like both the comfort/pleasure of tactile feedback and the predictability of behaviors implied by familiar appearances (affordance and metaphor). Steve Jobs leveraged these brain responses to the approval of Apple's customers.

AdamChew1
AdamChew1

It is the future sans Jobs Apple is looking at. Designs of apps are one thing but it is the whole experience is what the iPhone is all about. But then for those who said Apple is doomed, I can recommend a big phone with all the designs they yearned for.