1. We’ve had the iOS 7 design for a year now. It was about time someone decided that it needs to go. And because I can’t resist such debates, I’ll engage.

    Jon Mitchell on his site, Everything is ablaze! has had enough of icon grids, be they shiny and reflective or flat and simplified. But more so than the look of the icons, he’s had it with what they do.


    The problem is that these icons do not neatly correspond with the actions I want to take from my phone, and since they’re so indistinct, I end up staring, studying my home screen when I should be doing something and then putting my phone away. That’s frustrating.

    I agree that this situation is frustrating, but what Mitchell assumes here, and throughout his article is that users want an action-based interface. The brilliance of the iPhone interface was—and is—in the simple genius of “Tap to open an app, home button to close.” If a user taps Mail, they get email. If they tap Calculator, they get calculator, Weather for weather, Calendar for calendar, and so on.

    In a truly action-based interface, the Text action could possibly take me to any of these as well as Notes, Reminders, and countless others. What used to take me one tap in a familiar app now takes at least two taps, one of which includes a leap of faith that the action I’ve chosen corresponds to the secondary actions that might follow. So instead of finding the app that does my task I’m stuck trying to choose the type of content I want to create and what to do with it before I’m even in the area of the interface that lets me make the choice.

    Let’s say I want to send an email. Instead of tapping Mail, I go to Text which could be used for anything text-related. Now, for me that isn’t a stretch, and it might even be nice if I want to send the text into or through various channels before it gets to the final destination of email. However, for someone less tech-savvy and geeky, this is a significantly worse situation. If I’m an ordinary user, I now in fact cannot find email or accomplish the task at all because Text does not necessarily connote email to me.

    Mitchell’s article uses Launch Center Pro as the closest example available on iOS today. Not to go fully into the argument uneducated, I downloaded Launch Center Pro and used it as he suggests.

    The first issue I encountered in working with Launch Center Pro is that it’s just plain complicated to convert the ideas of where you go to do something into what you want to do. Let’s say I want to search Twitter for a person whose handle I don’t know so I can follow them (virtually the only thing I ever want to search on Twitter). Step one is to make sure that my Twitter client is supported (and since I use Tweetbot, I’m lucky on that front). Now I need to assign an action that somehow does what I want. There’s one to search for a user, but then I need to add a prompt to the action so I can type in my query. If you’re able to figure all of that out, Launch Center Pro sends you out to Tweetbot which then gives an error that the user could not be found (I tested using a person who is in fact on Twitter, so there’s a problem somewhere). In addition, the app isn’t even in the right navigational area (according to my mental map) to search users, which in turn means that I can’t even search manually once I’m in the app.

    Not a good experience, especially when I would argue that the ordinary user would never have gone past the “What action corresponds to my place-based mental model?” question.

    Now, I know Mitchell has his reasons for such a post—not the least of which being that it’s fun to speculate and talk about design details—but I think it brings to light one of Apple biggest current challenges. Power users want a better way to work with iOS, whether work means tasks that are more commonly associated with the mouse and keyboard paradigm or simply just a way to do the things that iOS can already do in a faster and more efficient manner. On the other side are the folks who (though the likely don’t realize it) have gravitated toward iOS because it lacks these additional complexities, even if they were to be hidden.

    Take a look at the recent apps tray from iOS 6 and the similar interface from iOS 7. Both are meant to help out power-users of iOS by giving the user access to information about the apps they have been running or that might possibly still be doing some kind of multitasking in the background. Both are fairly well hidden from the average user, requiring either a double home button tap or a multitasking gesture. The effect of this feature has generally been one of increased negativity. Power-users find it too limiting (which will be true until they have full control of every detail that is available on a desktop system) while ordinary users find that it only adds stress.

    Think about it. How many stories (and real-life examples) do you know of in which a non tech-savvy person has made a ritual of opening the recent apps view and killing all of the apps within it? And then, on top of that, they usually describe it as a remedy for system slowdown or a way to keep their iPhone from filling up, meanwhile they can’t install the latest updates because every picture they’ve ever taken is on the device which only further strengthens their belief that quitting the apps will help them as their phone is constantly reporting that it is out of storage space.

    It’s a design nightmare. How is that person going to navigate an action-based system? The answer is that they’re not. Perhaps with some future version if iOS made for a Pro caliber device, we’ll see actions and quick menus ala Launch Center Pro. I just hope that in that future very app is able to support the actions because in my time as an action-based iOS user that was not the case. My favorite apps didn’t support actions, and if they did, they didn’t behave how I expected them to. And that’s the name of the “computers for the rest of us” game.

    When I interact with my device, does it intuitively do what I expect? If yes, we’re at least on the right track. If no, well, at least we nerds will have a new design feature to complain about.


  2. campaignoutsider:

    What’s Up with the New Apple Ads?

    Well the Doc opened the old mailbag today and here’s what poured out.

    Dear Dr. Ads,

    Apple has…

    View Post

    Interesting that the obvious comparison to “Think Different” is left out. This, and other stories of its kind make me think the authors are simply serving up softballs to themselves so that the next time Apple releases a product, and goes back to the product focused style, they (the authors) can say they were right about the “Designed in” campaign.

    For months pundits and consumers alike have been down on Apple for myriad reasons. It’s not innovating, or it’s not releasing, or it’s lost its cool. “Designed in” is Apple’s response to them. It says “Who are you? We design things with a thoughtful, specific process.” Reminds me of a Steve Jobs quote in which he asked a particular web writer just what it was he produced, what he added to the world.

    "It’s done when it’s done. We do not design by market pressure, perceived competitive ‘innovations,’ or the whining of bored journalists."


  3. Layered Glass, The Nothing UI

    First, consider these three (of many) iOS perspectives.

    Shawn Blanc:

    I see iOS 7 as a blank canvas — an ‘un-design’ if you will.

    Peter Alguacil:

    One could argue that by making the user interface behave as if it is backlit, Apple is treating iOS 7 as a more integral part of the device itself.

    Marco Arment:

    This big of an opportunity doesn’t come often — we’re lucky to see one every 3–5 years.

    iOS 7 is a UI built around lightness. At the most, at its heaviest, it’s a UI of plate glass moving and sliding, zooming and panning. At its lightest, it’s a UI of nothing, invisible, recognizable to us now only because it’s so different from what came before it. I’ve heard it called “opinionated.” I’d agree. That opinion is that the stock UI should be a not-UI. The discussion shouldn’t be about how it looks, because when iOS is doing its job, it doesn’t look. The discussion should be about how it works.

    The best developers will see iOS as an operational model, not a visual one. Imagine a Tapbots app that, instead of removing the cute “I’m a twitter robot in your phone!” aesthetic, doubles down on it. Zooming metal plates, ratcheting gears not shadowed from without but appearing from within the device, only now it isn’t a robot-esque layer over the stock controls, the UI becomes the character that the developer envisions—even more so than it has ever done before.

    Ive’s new design doesn’t necessarily exile skeuomorphism, it forces its proponents to go all in. Picture a compass app like the old one, only now when you tap the icon, you zoom down onto an object within the device. iOS merely serves it up to you. What is banished from the new UI is half-assed skeuomorphism: tinfoil-thin, wood paneled wrappers over menus and buttons that slide just the way a default list would.

    iOS 7 is not so much a blank canvas as it is an empty space waiting to be filled. The only thing the new design language says you can’t do is make UI’s the way developers have been making them for the last six years.


  4. A fascinating perspective on the lack of shadows in iOS 7.

    I can’t wait to see how all of this comes together. But the most intriguing thing might be where all of this design language goes on the desktop. Imagine 13-27 inches of iOS 7. Talk about transformative.


  5. Wow. Leave it to Matt Gemmell to illustrate the difference this clearly. See what I mean about looking back at the old design only to find it is ancient?