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Holy Cow, iOS 7 Has Some Really Horrible Design
desktop background image of a sundrenched room at the Seifuso Villa (清風荘), Kyoto Japan -- Timeless Simple, elegant design is timeless (the Seifuso Villa (清風荘), Kyoto Japan) -- Seifuso Villa (清風荘) -- Copyright 2013 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/ -- This photo is licensed to the public under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/ (non-commercial use is freely allowed if proper attribution is given, including a link back to this page on http://regex.info/ when used online)
Nikon D4 + Nikkor 24mm f/1.4 — 1/50 sec, f/5, ISO 110 — map & image datanearby photos
Timeless
Simple, elegant design is timeless
(the Seifuso Villa (清風荘), Kyoto Japan)
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I hate it beyond words.
Worse than horrid.
I just really like the revamped UI.
This is horrible! Can I go back?
iOS 7 blows. Big time.
My friends' and family's reaction to Apple's
latest interface for its phones and tablets.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder is perhaps most true when a well-established convention undergoes a radical change. Not only is it then judged on its merits, but also by how it differs to what came before.

The user-interface (UI) design of iOS 7 seems to be of the radical variety. Not quite as radical as the initial iPhone was to the cell-phone world at the time, but also not as universally lauded. A lot of people really hate iOS 7.

desktop background image of a geiko (geisha) at the Kurodani Temple (金戒光明寺), Kyoto Japan -- Spoiling My Shot the geiko and her patron walked into what had been a clear shot of the temple at the Kurodani Temple (金戒光明寺), Kyoto Japan -- Kurodani Temple (金戒光明寺) -- Copyright 2013 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D4 + Nikkor 24mm f/1.4 — 1/800 sec, f/1.4, ISO 100 — map & image datanearby photos
Spoiling My Shot
the geiko and her patron walked into what had been a clear shot of the temple
at the Kurodani Temple (金戒光明寺), Kyoto Japan
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(Except the first, the photos on this page have nothing to do with the text; they're just random photos I've taken recently.)

Until recently I'd never actually used iOS 7, but from seeing it in news and advertisements over the last few months, I knew I didn't like the new look. The same aesthetic that I like so much about Apple hardware — a clean, ultra minimal, uncluttered look — seems to me in the software of iOS 7 to be flat, dead, lifeless.   Soulless.   It looks like Microsoft designed it. It would fit right in with the new Windows® logo.

To be clear, the look may not be my cup of tea, but that certainly doesn't mean it's a bad design, it's just one that I don't personally care for.

However, I'll go ahead and say that for reasons I'll describe below, iOS 7's design is bad.

desktop background image of a path leading to the Saginomori Shrine (鷺森神社), Kyoto Japan -- “ No Parking ” “ Vehicles pass even at night ” at the Saginomori Shrine (鷺森神社), Kyoto Japan -- Saginomori Shrine (鷺森神社) -- Copyright 2013 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/ -- This photo is licensed to the public under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/ (non-commercial use is freely allowed if proper attribution is given, including a link back to this page on http://regex.info/ when used online)
Nikon D4 + Nikkor 85mm f/1.4 — 1/200 sec, f/4.5, ISO 1000 — map & image datanearby photos
No Parking
Vehicles pass even at night
at the Saginomori Shrine (鷺森神社), Kyoto Japan
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Having had the chance to actually play with iOS 7 recently while setting up a new phone for my wife, I was shocked that Apple could introduce such gimmickry at the expense of function.

The visual change in iOS 7 that got the most press is the dropping of many of the gratuitous skeuomorphs, such as the stitched leather decoration of the calendar app. Some skeuomorphs make a lot of sense, tapping into the accumulated experience users have developed in life so that basic things don't have to be learned from scratch. That's why interactive buttons in computer applications, for example, have long looked like real-world buttons: the look instantly explains what kind of control it is and how to interact with it. Others are just cutesy design embellishments, and Apple has gotten rid of most of those now.

desktop background image of a gate to the Chion -- Waiting to enter an evening lightup event at the Chion'in Temple (知恩院), Kyoto Japan -- Chion'in Temple (知恩院) -- Copyright 2013 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/ -- This photo is licensed to the public under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/ (non-commercial use is freely allowed if proper attribution is given, including a link back to this page on http://regex.info/ when used online)
Nikon D4 + Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8 @ 42mm — 1/100 sec, f/2.8, ISO 5600 — map & image datanearby photos
Waiting
to enter an evening lightup event
at the Chion'in Temple (知恩院), Kyoto Japan
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Another iOS 7 visual change that got a lot of press was the simplifying of the look. Someone who likes the new look might describe it as clean and uncluttered. Someone who doesn't might say uninspired, monotonous, flat, and dull. (An engineer would say vectorizable, but that's just a back-end implementation optimization.)

But these design decisions are mostly a matter of taste and not of good or bad design. Personally I find the new app icons to be a bit too visually indistinct to recognize as easily as the old ones, therefore requiring more conscious brain power to recognize. This is not a good thing, but perhaps time and experience will remedy that.

desktop background image of a shadowy garden path, at the Sento Imperial Palace (仙洞御所), Kyoto Japan -- Diving into Shadow at the Sento Imperial Palace (仙洞御所), Kyoto Japan -- Sento Imperial Palace (仙洞御所) -- Copyright 2013 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/ -- This photo is licensed to the public under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/ (non-commercial use is freely allowed if proper attribution is given, including a link back to this page on http://regex.info/ when used online)
Nikon D4 + Nikkor 24mm f/1.4 — 1/200 sec, f/1.4, ISO 100 — map & image datanearby photos
Diving into Shadow
at the Sento Imperial Palace (仙洞御所), Kyoto Japan
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The quantitatively worst aspect of iOS 7's design that I've noticed is the incessant use of transparency for zero practically-useful effect. It's a visual gimmick that can be done now because the hardware has enough horsepower to support it, but because we can has never been a good design principle. There are times where transparency in one window (allowing you to see what's both in it and behind it at the same time) is useful, but I didn't notice such an instance on iOS 7's: every time transparency was used, the result was a less-clear UI.

Here's an example from Apple's own marketing:

What leaks from behind is the field of app icons and the background image behind them. There is absolutely no benefit to seeing that information at this point in the user's interaction, so at best it can be not a distraction, but at least to me the blobs of color are a horrible distraction, and the text is more difficult to read where the blobs are bright white. And this is the example they chose for product marketing... it could be much, much worse, depending on what happens to be in use for the icon-screen background.

In other areas of iOS 7, the transparency had different levels of impact, but in every case I noticed, it was a detriment. Transparency seems to be to iOS 7 as a curved screen is to a cell phone: worse than before.

desktop background image of an exterior covered hallway at the Seiryoji Temple (清涼時), Kyoto Japan -- Outside Hallway at the Seiryoji Temple (清涼時), Kyoto Japan -- Seiryoji Temple (清涼時) -- Copyright 2013 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/ -- This photo is licensed to the public under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/ (non-commercial use is freely allowed if proper attribution is given, including a link back to this page on http://regex.info/ when used online)
Nikon D4 + Nikkor 24mm f/1.4 — 1/50 sec, f/11, ISO 1800 — map & image datanearby photos
Outside Hallway
at the Seiryoji Temple (清涼時), Kyoto Japan
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Another bad design chose of iOS 7 is that in its drive to remove as many design elements as possible (more clean, less cluttered!), important visual clues that helped direct the eye were removed, such as visual clues to isolate individual items in a list. Lists of friends in the Find my Friends app used to be clear and obvious, now became jumbled masses of pixels that one must spend neurons on to decipher.

Feature wise, the theme of iOS 7 seems more features; harder to discover. Discoverability is normally a big part of interface design... great features mean nothing if users don't even notice that they're available.

Prior to iOS 7, one could access the whole-device search feature by moving to the zeroth screen of app icons, advertised by the standard search magnifying-glass icon at the left of the line of dots that represent each screen of app icons. Even if you somehow missed the search icon, in normal use of the device you'd sometimes overrun the home page while swiping around and quickly learn how to get to the search screen.

Now in iOS 7, the search screen simply seems to be gone, at least until you get frustrated enough to do a web search to learn where it went. Once you learn it, it's quite useful, but completely non-intuitive and hidden until you do.

desktop background image of two monks strolling at the Nishi Hongwanji Temple (西本願寺), Kyoto Japan -- Consultation on the Go at the Nishi Hongwanji Temple (西本願寺), Kyoto Japan -- Nishi Hongwanji Temple (西本願寺) -- Copyright 2013 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/ -- This photo is licensed to the public under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/ (non-commercial use is freely allowed if proper attribution is given, including a link back to this page on http://regex.info/ when used online)
Nikon D4 + Nikkor 85mm f/1.4 — 1/2500 sec, f/1.4, ISO 100 — map & image datanearby photos
Consultation on the Go
at the Nishi Hongwanji Temple (西本願寺), Kyoto Japan
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It used to be before iOS 7 that you could get to the notification center (list of alerts like new messages and email) by swiping from the top of the screen down. This wasn't easily discovered unless your finger happened to bump the top area of the screen, in which case a skeuomorphic set of grip ridges would show up letting you know that there was something to pull down. It's worse in iOS 7 in that what you get when you swipe down like that depends on where you start. (If you have iOS 7, give it a try: swipe down from the very top, and from some place that's not the top. Also, for a great feature, try swiping from the bottom of the screen.)

Another gimmicky bend to iOS 7 is the use of meaningless because we can animation. Many animations are actually useful, such as the disappearing genie effect in OS X when you hide a window, because it shows you where the window has gone, which in turn teaches you how to get it back. The animations in iOS 7 that I noticed are not of that variety: they add no information, merely frustration.

desktop background image of a field at the Shugakuin Imperial Villa (修学院離宮), Kyoto Japan -- Sundrenched Rice Paddies at the Shugakuin Imperial Villa (修学院離宮), Kyoto Japan -- Shugakuin Imperial Villa (修学院離宮) -- Copyright 2013 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/ -- This photo is licensed to the public under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/ (non-commercial use is freely allowed if proper attribution is given, including a link back to this page on http://regex.info/ when used online)
Nikon D4 + Nikkor 24mm f/1.4 — 1/100 sec, f/9, ISO 100 — map & image datanearby photos
Sundrenched Rice Paddies
at the Shugakuin Imperial Villa (修学院離宮), Kyoto Japan
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Change is neither necessarily good nor bad... only the result should really matter. I only suggest that if you're going to change something well established, be sure to have a good reason. It seems to me that many of the UI changes to iOS were not done for a good reason.

(I should point out that for the most part I, like the iOS 7 team, am bad at design... heck, just look at my blog's visual design. But you don't have to be an opera singer to recognize when someone else can't carry a tune.)

Pure Enjoyment my friend Kataoka-san enjoying his teeny tiny baby-cup of espresso at Restaurant La Verveine , Kyoto Japan -- Copyright 2013 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D4 + Nikkor 85mm f/1.4 — 1/200 sec, f/1.4, ISO 2200 — map & image datanearby photos
Pure Enjoyment
my friend Kataoka-san enjoying his teeny tiny baby-cup of espresso
at Restaurant La Verveine, Kyoto Japan

Comments so far....

Sigh. Sadly, I agree with you on this. I refer to it as the “cartoon” interface. I’m especially disappointed by the garish white background in the photos and music apps.

— comment by Eric S on December 25th, 2013 at 3:11pm JST (11 months, 2 days ago) comment permalink

I have mixed feelings about the redesign. The new icons and animations don’t bother me as much as I had thought that they would. In fact, I somewhat like them now. It’s all a matter of getting used to things, I guess.

What bothers me rather badly is the way that some icons and features look as if they were design mock-ups that weren’t meant to be released on the product. For example, the export/share button is a wire-frame blue box with an upward-pointing arrow. The old button (which is still used in OS X 10.9) wasn’t fancy, but it was a bit more complicated to make than those simple lines. I really thought that Apple might have messed up there. The trash can also looks like a mock-up, and its lack of animation furthers that along. (Side note: I liked the old trash can animation. It made it clear to me that the button had actually been pressed.)

The worst offender is the music app. Toggle repeat or shuffle modes and the text becomes surrounded by a pink block. It’s visually unappealing, an inefficient use of space, and somewhat confusing. Consumer electronics have established symbols for those functions. What need is there to get rid of them?

This discussion brings up an interesting point about design and consumerism. I occasionally browse Apple web forums, and I noticed in the year or two leading up to iOS 7 that many users were complaining that iOS was growing “stale.” Most users couldn’t name a feature that they wanted, but many said that they wanted a visual overhaul. I thought it somewhat silly; these were devices to accomplish tasks and get work done, not articles of clothing to match current trends and styles. Yet as would be expected with such a large and diverse user base, people have different expectations. Was Apple forced to create a new design in order to retain and attract new users, and to fend off criticism that its design appeared “dated”? Will Apple have to go through this exercise again in 5-10 years’ time?

— comment by David K. on December 25th, 2013 at 11:51pm JST (11 months, 2 days ago) comment permalink

Thanks for the discussion about IOS7. I’ve been waiting a bit to change from the previous version (I’m the classic late adopter). I think I’ll wait for a while longer. BTW, I really like the composition in the photo of the two monks walking. Regards, Tom.

— comment by Tom in SF on December 26th, 2013 at 2:35am JST (11 months, 2 days ago) comment permalink

Thanks for your thoughts on iOS 7. It voices many of the issues I’ve thought about since upgrading. I especially share your perception that visually it’s taking me more time to do things now that visually (read subconsciously) I did before the upgrade. I’m trying to embrace the changes made to the functionality of the system, but I’m frustrated by the concentration I now have to give the process that wasn’t required before. (I could accept that Steve knew what I needed, but I don’t have the same confidence in Jony, yet) At worse, maybe it’s only time I need to become re-familiar with the changes, in order to act without thinking. I like breathing without thinking about every breath.

— comment by DaveB on December 26th, 2013 at 10:31pm JST (11 months ago) comment permalink

I thought the new look and animations were pretty neat at first, but now I feel like the animations slow me down. It seems like I am waiting on them to complete 1/2 the time, when I’m already ready to tap the next button.

It turns out that if you have 7.0.3 or later, you can disable the animations and parallex effect. See this page. It seems to help a bit. —Jeffrey

— comment by Scott W on December 27th, 2013 at 12:35am JST (11 months ago) comment permalink

Hi Jeffrey,

I find it rather curious that after a lengthy rant about the flaws of iOS 7 design that you run a photo that is completely out of focus. Shallow depth of field is one thing, but to be so completely out of focus escapes me.

Yeah, I don’t doubt that it escapes some folks. Just every so often, it’s about the actual subject and not the technical aspects of the photo. If the infectious nature of his smile is lost on you, the whole point of the shot (that it comes through despite the complete lack of focus) is lost. Not everyone’s cup of tea. —Jeffrey

— comment by Forrest on January 1st, 2014 at 4:16am JST (10 months, 27 days ago) comment permalink

Yeah, the new look is pretty funky. Worse however is the reduced functionality. No ability to save email attachments, the hidng of URLs in Safari (making it difficult to copy and paste), and the complete absense of any way to capture images from websites. Calling iOS7 an improvement is a farce.

— comment by Mike on February 22nd, 2014 at 1:28pm JST (9 months, 5 days ago) comment permalink
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