There’s a new Apple in town. If there was one thing that came across between the lines at its 2013 WWDC keynote, it was its newly found ability to listen. The Post-Steve-Jobs Era is in full flex, and iOS 7 is the most obvious sign for Apple’s strategic reorientation.
How Innovative Is iOS 7 In Mobile?
Of course, Apple won’t stop slapping an ‘innovation’ badge on everything it makes, and there has been a lot of debate about wether that is the case with iOS 7, so let us walk through some the new features and test them for their innovative factors.
Safari has been granted unlimited tabs and ‘chrome-free’ surfing, as well as a unified search/address box. Sounds familiar? Right, those have all been a part of Google Chrome for iOS for quite some time.
Multitasking now displays the active screen of each app you were last using. True multitasking, have been with us ever since Nokia and BlackBerry, and even visual multitasking has already been a part of webOS (RIP).
Facetime has gotten an audio-only feature. Yes, we already know this from a plethora of apps such as Facebook Messenger, Google Hangouts, of course Skype, and a heap of lesser-known applications.
AirDrop is perhaps one of the contestants more likely to deserve its ‘innovation’ badge. Samsung’s ShareShot slaps it right back off, though.
Control Center, Photo Moments/Shared Photostreams, Notification Sync, automatic app updates – you’ll hardly find any feature that you wouldn’t have been able to find prior to iOS 7.
What About The Design?
Here’s where it gets interesting. The UI re-design of iOS7 is definitely the major contribution to the new user experience, not its features. Apple’s Jony Ive has outdone himself, by bravely ditching the old ‘skeuomorphic’ aesthetic for a new, flat one.
Wait – did I say ‘new’? Windows Phone brought Flat Design to mobile, you might say. Google’s Android has been flat for quite a while now, too, you might say. That’s true, and an argument raised against Apple a lot since the unveiling of iOS7: this time, they weren’t the first to the party. This is a hard one for Apple, since innovation in design is at the core of their strategy and their brand. So, why would Apple risk walking in the shadow of the other players rather than stepping into uncharted territory, thus risking to get beaten up by the press for not innovating ‘enough’? Lets look at the decision for Flat Design itself:
The simplistic aesthetic of Flat Design is pleasing to the eye, and promotes ease-of-use. Skeuomorphic Design emerged in a time when we were for the first time able to replicate physical structures in UI design, with rich textures and seemingly ‘haptical’ visual effects. This design approach, favored by both Steve Jobs and his then-lead software designer Scott Forstall, emerged because it was thought to help us to better connect to our software emotionally. Its downside was lots of clutter, which made the use of software much harder than thought, the unnecessary use of a lot of valuable system resources such as processing power and battery life, and the subjective benefit of beauty at the cost of contrast and therefore focus (think especially of situations like outdoor use).
Flat Design has taken over not because it is the aesthetic trend of the hour, but because it is preferable to Skeuomorphic Design in terms of usability and user experience (UX). The neurological benefits of Flat Design outweigh the (questionable) psychological ones of Skeuomorphic Design, and that is the main reason why it has been adapted that well.
I believe that Apple has made the design decision for iOS7 based on scientific research rather than design preference (although Jony Ive is said to have been an enemy of Scott Forstall’s approach) – and from a strategic perspective, that decision seems absolutely correct to me. Of course, Apple being a design-driven company, it has manufactured an especially vivid and pleasing version of it. And Apple’s take on Flat Design is a warmly welcome one: Apple mixes a basis of white with lots of colorful geometry and typography. Translucent design layers make sure you don’t lose track of the content underneath your keyboard, and 3D effects ‘deepen’ the experience.
“New Types of Depth”
Jony Ive showcased iOS7s 3D and layer effects and talked a lot about them. They have been widely debated as well, giving rise to the notion that ‘this can’t be flat design’. To me, this is a rather philosophical debate. On a macro level, this technological gimmickery might (and most likely will) contribute to a different user experience than on Android or Windows Phone. The added depth and translucency give the OS a more ‘live’ feeling – the new parallax effect on the home screen even much more so than Android’s moving or live wallpapers. On a micro level, however, the design stays a Flat one, albeit quite a unique version of it. This is just as far as I am going to involve myself into this philosophical debate. Back to the design decision and it’s strategical implications.
Apple’s Slow But Evident Transition
While Apple is keeping its walled-garden restrictions for now (AirDrop for instance only works with other iOS devices), on the design side of things it has definitely impressed me. Yes, iOS7 is not an innovation, but it’s truly noteworthy, and will sure please its 600 million users.
But Apple has shown something far more important with its WWDC keynote, and with the unveiling of iOS7 in particular: that it won’t let its pride reign over its humility anymore. It won’t make a wrong decision just to be the first one to make that decision or to spitefully keep its path. Apple has done what many thought impossible: it has started to become more open, and I am looking forward to see what they are going to ‘Cook’ up along the road.