Originally authored by Miao Wang
On June 10, 2013 Apple announced its new mobile operating system – iOS 7. It gained a lot of attention with its new visual style but was also controversial. Many people felt uncomfortable with the big shift from Apple’s legacy skeuomorphic design and its 3D effects, to the new “flat design.” Some criticized Apple for taking advantage of the existing features from rival operating systems.
Features Lag Behind
I have to admit that iOS 7 is not a completely innovative design, at least from the aspect of the new features that Apple released at the Worldwide Developer Conference.
One example is Control Center (see Figure 1). With a single swipe-up, it provides quick access to the most common settings along with the iTunes controls. Apple didn’t invent it. It’s an existing feature in both Android and Blackberry operating systems. Obviously, Apple realized its deep drill-downs for all the settings are not as efficient as its competitors’ swipe, toggle and tap solution, to quickly access controls without interrupting the current task.
Figure 1. iOS 7 enables the user to quickly access controls without interrupting the current task.
Multitasking in iOS 7 applies the same pattern as it in WebOS. It’s also similar to the multitasking feature in Android and WinPhone. It allows the user to switch between running apps by swiping the "cards" horizontally and quit an app by swiping upwards (see Figure 2). Android's multitasking does the same thing in different orientations – swiping vertically to browse apps and left or right to close.
Figure 2. The Multitasking in iOS 7 is very similar to the feature in Android and WinPhone.
Wireless sharing is another feature that Apple added in iOS 7 to catch up with their competitors. Many people got upset with Apple when the iPhone 5 was released without Near Field Communication (NFC). Back then, smartphone-to-smartphone sharing through the NFC standard was applied across Android, Blackberry and WinPhone. Apple’s answer to NFC is AirDrop. It leverages the core strength of Apple's design philosophy – music, pictures and more can now be effortlessly shared across most supported iDevices and Mac computers.
Humanity Stands Out
Some say that Apple is lagging behind its rivals from the perspective of features. I think that iOS 7 still stacks up with its magnificent visual style and user-centered experience, the legacy of inherited simplicity, efficiency, consistency and visual appeal.
The new iOS 7 retains its simple locked screen – only presenting time, date, translucent camera icon and “Slide to unlock” features (see Figure 3). Unlike the highly personalized widget options on Android and multi-layer info on Blackberry and WinPhone, Apple prioritized all this content and displays it in the order of visual hierarchy. Actions like unlocking the phone and taking photos are standard, quickly learned and shown as translucent objects in order to guide novel users, while remaining subtle for proficient users.
Figure 3. iOS 7 displays all this content on the locked screen in the order of visual hierarchy.
Regarding the lag in releasing the wireless sharing (AirDrop) feature, Apple liberates users from physically 'bumping' their smart phones, which differentiates it from rivals’ technology-driven solutions. AirDrop expedites the user sharing behavior – Tap the "Share" icon. Target the available users nearby. Tap their avatar and the file is sent. Neither extra instructions (texts/figures) nor uncomfortable gestures are needed (see Figure 4). Instead, the straightforward information flow and effective visual language empowers the user to accept and control this feature so easily that it helps to encourage usage.
Figure 4. AirDrop expedites user sharing behavior via straightforward information flow and effective visual language.
Since iOS 7 introduced its new feature, Control Center, users in the future can quickly access the most common controls and toggle to set them up. As expected, Apple applied the same interaction model (swiping to open) and visual style (translucent canvas with collapsing indicator) to the Notification Center (see Figure 1 & 5) in iOS 7 to eliminate the learning curve and memory load. Similarly, Android also applied consistent design patterns to both notifications and control center. However, the similarity of the gesture (one finger swipe-down to open notifications vs. two fingers swipe-down to trigger control center) and color (identical black background) treatment makes it more difficult for users to distinguish between these two features.
Figure 5. iOS 7 applies a consistent UI pattern throughout to eliminate the learning curve and memory load
Without a doubt, iOS 7 perfectly proves Apple’s experience-oriented design strategy. The clean Helvetica typeface, polished iconic labels, fluorescent colors and translucent over-layer are married harmoniously to convey Apple’s own interpretation of the flat aesthetic.
New User Experience Competition
Despite the incremental battles among major operating systems, iOS 7 possesses the ability to spur new user experience in smart phones – and, potentially, a new design standard that could change the whole competition.
As we all witnessed, Apple blew everyone’s mind by deploying the first iPhone with its multi-touch technology. It was the first time users could focus more on content consumption than hardware manipulation. Now it appears to be a second revolution – iOS 7 rewards its users with maximal user experience. Smart phones have never been this smart – able to seamlessly support user expectations and improve satisfaction. As multi-touch, big screen, or whatever emerging technologies are incrementally developed, user experience still plays the dominant role in retaining customer loyalty and increasing market performance.