Today was the much-anticipated unveiling of the next iteration of Apple’s iPhone and of iOS7, which Apple CEO Tim Cook has called “the biggest change to iOS since the launch of the original iPhone.”
Here come the new iPhones
But change doesn’t come easily, or quietly. For months up until now, analyses, criticisms, rumors, and yes, even #fontgate have swirled about, as is the case with any Apple release.
While there has been much discussion of fingerprint sensors, gold finishes, a better camera, and lower-cost plastic phones, there hasn’t been much written on the significant implications of a few iOS7 features.
Less intuitive, more modern
As we’ve seen, the new iOS7 will be simple. Much more simple than anything Apple has ever produced in an interface. Bevels, borders, bars have been stripped away and ornamentation has become a thing of the past in iOS7. Apple has even retired buttons — that mainstay of “user interface design” — in favor of controls that are more akin to hyperlinked text.
Apple is known for creating intuitive devices (“even babies can use iPads!”). With this new interface, however, there may be a steep learning curve for new users, particularly the older generation who grew up with the real-life objects and textures that are alluded to in the previous iOS interface designs — elements such as wooden bookcases or pages of a yellow legal pad.
Stripping the interface of these antiquated artifacts clears the way for Apple’s embrace of a truly modern design. By opting for better, more modern design instead of a more intuitive interface, Apple has raised the bar for its users. Still, many have lambasted the new design as being too trendy and much too minimalistic; some have even gone as far to say that Apple simply copied Windows 8.
With the simplification and flattening of its new design, Apple chooses to be more modern than intuitive. But the lack of intuitiveness does not mean there is a lack of innovation. Small enhancements to the new system have made it infinitely more useful. With iOS6, actions such as gaining access to a flashlight on your phone required many complicated steps; with iOS7, it’s only a matter of sliding the screen.
Motion in iOS7 is another subtle yet significant innovation. Much attention has been paid to the details in movement: the animations and transitional motions in the new operating system are much more elegant, creating a smoother and seamless experience. For instance, when the phone is unlocked, the app icons no longer simply slide in. They float in and fall into place, gracefully. With experiential enhancements like these, Apple has raised the bar on what good design should be: simple and useful, with little distractions.
One feature not many have talked about but could very well become a game changer for Apple is FaceTime Audio. While it might seem obvious, it may be necessary to explain what FaceTime Audio does, since the feature has been poorly branded and named. FaceTime Audio functions exactly like FaceTime but without the video (i.e., without the “Face”).
Underwhelming? Think again. With iMessages, Apple completely changed the landscape of text messaging. Imagine how much money phone service providers lost in the past years because of revenue iMessages snatched from their offered data plans (read: possibly in the billions). With FaceTime Audio, a similar change could occur with phone calls. While FaceTime has not quite caught on with the general population (unless you are calling your grandparents, children, or significant other), FaceTime Audio has the potential to become a huge advantage for Apple, competing with VoIP service providers such as Skype.
Implications for devs & designers
The overhaul of iOS7 into a more modern, experience-oriented interface will have great implications for those of us in the mobile design and development industry. At Fueled, we spend time and effort building sophisticated motion graphics and modern design into our apps, yet it has never been a part of the native experience until now with iOS7. The extra time and effort we spend polishing the animations and look of the apps is now a part of the global iPhone experience. The standard has now been set by Apple for a more polished product, and mobile designers and developers will have to answer the call.
Teams must have designers who understand the modern aesthetic, and they must rebuild apps that focus on the content and experience. Good mobile design will no longer be about who can create the prettiest buttons or other UI elements, but who can provide the best, holistic experience that allows their (or the user’s) content to shine.
Apple is famous for its hardware and the beauty of its devices. While we used to commission the world’s best artists to paint our chapels and ceremonial halls, we now commission the world’s best digital artists to create software. Expect iOS7 to set a major precedent that will impact the entire world of web design.
Mr. Rameet Chawla is the founder of Fueled, an award winning design and development company based in New York and London, and the founder of the Fueled Collective, a co-working space comprised of over 25 startups in downtown Manhattan. Chawla is passionate about building and being involved in disruptive technology ventures and can be found on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.