Apple announced the new iOS7 at its developer conference this week. As usual, any announcement by Apple gets a lot of feedback in the developer community. I’ve read quite a number of these and thought it might be useful to summarize some of the more interesting observations here before I render my opinion.
Kevin C. Tofel at gigaom.com spent several paragraphs poo-poohing the new OS because it borrows heavily from competitive systems, but then sort of weaseled out with this comment: “Regardless of where the best ideas come from, Apple can put them all together like nobody else.”
Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster is quoted on CNET.com as finding the revamped UI to be a great move. “”The new iOS design appears flatter and cleaner than the prior version,” the analyst said in an investors note released late Monday. “We believe iOS 7 is a reason for users to get excited about their iPhones again by giving it a new feel, which is something that we believe has been lacking in the past iOS updates….”
CNET’s editorial team summed up its views succinctly: “Overwhelmingly cosmetic.”
Over at ArsTechnica, Megan Geuss focuses most of her pre-release review comments on the new look and feel, particularly the new default system font and the flatness of icons and bubbles and other UI elements. Her summary comment: “we knew that the next version of iOS would look different. Now we know that ‘different’ means ‘really, really flat.'”
It seems that most designers who bothered to comment don’t care for the new thin-line flat icon look. Typical was Tom Coates of Product Club, quoted at Tuaw.com: “At least in part because it looks so much like wireframes with placeholders for things. Bit like a webpage with Times New Roman….It’s cramped in places, childish and garish in others, icons blend in with the background. And some of the design fetishes it has are as egregious if not worse than ios6 – frosted glass, fake depth, sliders with shadows. There are many good things about it too. Don’t get me wrong. App switcher is nice, etc. Interaction wise it looks and feels solid.”
My take is that the new UI is going to take some getting used to. To one like me who is not a particularly aesthetic thinker, it feels like a step backward but most of the designers I talked to in my circle of acquaintance used words like “clean” and “elegant” and “modern”. So maybe it’s a real improvement I’m just not going to appreciate as quickly as others.
As for the other features, Tofel nailed it. Apple “borrowed” lots of lessons from competitors but put them together in a nicely integrated package. It seems to me that approach cedes its position as a design leader, but Microsoft has made a ton of money ripping off…er…borrowing…ideas from competitors, so at least it’s a proven business model.
But I do wonder if this doesn’t signal the beginning of the end of Apple’s image as the consummate product design company that cracks open new niches for others to try to catch up in.