iOS 7: An Overview of Concerns
P r e s e n t a t e
An Overview of Concerns
Read time: 3 minutes
A lot has been said and blogged about the new iOS 7 beta released last week. While many people wrongly gripe about the brand-new visual aesthetic (
wrong, wrong, wrong, and—sorry Mike— wrong), there are legitimate criticisms about the iOS 7. This online talk aggregates at a number of them and explores where the iOS 7 beta is going wrong.
Note: all of these critiques acknowledge that iOS 7 is a very early beta release, and will significantly change before release (presumably this fall). That said, some of these issues are worrisome as they are counter to the typical Apple convention of designing for how it works before thinking about how it looks.
Legibility concern #1
There’s text here. But can you read it?
Reported by Michael Heilemann in White on White.
This is the new lock screen in iOS 7, when you use a photo with mostly white as your background. iOS 6 and before alleviated such major legibility concerns by using heavier type and a black translucent bar behind the top and bottom sections, ensuring that no matter what your background was set to, the interface elements would remain clearly legible and usable.
One of the most fundamental rules in interface design and accessibility is that if you let the user change features such as backgrounds or color schemes in their own interface, you ensure the user does not shoot herself in the foot and breaks their own experience.
iOS 7 features beautiful but thin type, all throughout, which exacerbates this kind of usability problem. Which brings me to concern #2…
Discussed by Khoi Vinh in iOS 7 Thins Out.
The thin type found throughout iOS 7 is beautiful and elegant—but does not work as well when used for smaller text labels. Their character hinting has been optimized for display uses—large text sizes—and often suffers in legibility when used as body copy. You can see this in these three screenshots from the iOS 7 gallery, where some of the labels do not work as well (note: it’s important to keep in mind that screenshots are poor substitutes for the actual experience in your hand with a real device. That said, these issues persist in actual real-world use.)
While Apple handily provides new settings in iOS 7 for controlling text size and thickness to suit one’s individual needs better, there is a valid case
made by Oliver Reichenstein about badly chosen defaults. Research has indicated that 95% of users don’t change defaults, which makes good defaults all the more important.
Reported by Michael Heilemann in How It Looks And Feels Is Supposed To Tell You How It Works .
There was a certain amount of magic in the original iPhone’s lock screen design. The “Slide to unlock” gesture—which Apple patented—was intuitive and brilliant in the ways the handle on the original iMac was: it made the device instantly touchable, inviting you to feel and experience it with your own hands. And it was so simple and
clear that even a 6-month old child could figure it out.
iOS 7 breaks stride in this regard, with a lock screen that has two arrows, neither of which unlock the screen. The “slide to unlock” text now just sits blankly in the middle without any clear affordances as to where and in what direction you should swipe. In making both the Notification Center and Control Center views accessible from the lock screen, Apple has gone with two “Yes”es that they previously said “No” to, and while that in itself is not a problem, the ways they’ve done so have sacrificed the screen’s
clarity in a significant way—and clarity was one of the points Jony Ive emphasized in the iOS 7 introduction video.
Another of iOS’s original feats of excellence was its Back button design—subtle, beautiful, and incredibly functional. The Back button, as Khoi Vinh sums up in
Requiem for a Back Button, packed great usability into a seemingly innocuous design element, and with the new iOS 7 some of that clarity and usability was lost in Apple’s pursuit of dropping borders. While not a great deal itself, this is usability lost in one of the most common interactions we have in the OS.
Craig Hockenberry points out, “testing for color blindness is hugely important in a world without borders.” 1 in 12 men suffers from some form of color blindness, for whom some of the “on” states in iOS 7 are indistinguishable from their “off” state.
Apple got rid of a lot of visual realism (
not skeuomorphism) in iOS 7, but borders have their uses and, as Control Center shows, can be used just fine without falling prey to realism.
While many people complained about gradients and icons in iOS 7, the aforementioned concerns all address actual, fundamental interface design flaws. These are issues about how it works and how the user is made to understand how the interface works. Perhaps Apple is banking too heavily on users’ previous familiarity with iOS, but either way I expect them to address these by the time iOS 7 is finalized.
The fresh new look advances design on iOS and encourages many more distinct design directions for third-party developers—and web designers—to explore. This is a good thing, and it seems Apple themselves is heavily in the middle of this kind of exploration. The new icons are fresh and distinguished, while still harmonious. The more obviously layered UI enables new explorations in depth, rather than being mere gimmick.
The concerns expressed in this talk and by the people whose work I referenced is primarily one of Apple’s releasing a beta with such UI features that contradict their own emphasis on function before form. They will likely all be addressed before final release, but to see them in iOS at all is surprising. Many people learn by looking at Apple’s interface design, so it is important to our field to discuss these issues openly.
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Jun 18, 2013,
Last updated: Oct 10, 2014
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