iOS 7 – First Thoughts

iOS 7 launcher

When iOS 7 was first introduced at WWDC I was not all that thrilled with the operating system's skin. The icons and chrome seemed overly bright, like the type of reflective glare which tends to give me a headache. On the other hand, new features such as command center did impress me and I guardedly optimistic. Several weeks after WWDC my father-in-law showed me his iPad running an iOS 7 developer build and a lot of my apprehension at the color scheme evaporated. Don't get me wrong, the pallet is still too bright for my liking. In person, however, the icons and colors weren't quite as obnoxious as they were in screen shots. I began to look forward to the iOS 7 release.

This week I updated both my iPhone and iPad to the new OS and have had a chance to play around with it. Below are some early reflections.

Fonts

I like the switch to Helvetica Nueue for the system font. It's insane amount of font-weights makes it effective in the different tasks for which it's been drafted. The font is classy without being obnoxious.

On the other hand, this update also make me realize how my iPad 2’s screen is behind the times. The ultra-light font weight for certain elements isn't as smooth as on a retina display. This is the first time I could say, “Wow, this screen isn't really up to scratch.” I hope this year's iPad mini will a retina display, because the UI of iOS 7 really needs one if it's going to shine properly.

Apple has also added accessibility settings for bold text which, as a friend put it, “Makes it more usable without losing any class.” The adaptive font settings are nice as well. This could, however, be a bit easier to locate. A person who simply wants darker fonts, for example, might not think to look in “accessibility” options – to a person such as this, they are merely wanting to customize the look of the OS.

Keyboard

This is the one bit I really don't like about iOS 7. The over-bright pallet makes typing on the new keyboard rather tedious. It gives me a headache and I find I'm more likely to hit the wrong keys. The new keyboard may grow on me, but The keyboard in general should have gotten more attention than it did, it's not as fun to use as it once was and Android's keyboard options are generally more powerful.

Multitasking

I always drooled over the multitasking of webOS, now I have it in iOS 7. The multitasking in iOS 7 makes multitasking in my Nexus 7 look clunky by comparison.

This isn't to say it's perfect, the app previews aren't oriented correctly if you activate multitasking from an orientation different than from an app's last saved state. So if you open an app in portrait orientation, switch to using an app in landscape orientation, and then activate multitasking the app preview will be displayed sideways. A minor annoyance, but it needs to be corrected.

Apps

Using apps in iOS 7 feels much like the early days of OS X and it's “cocoa/carbon/classic” paradigm. Certain apps have been fully switched over to iOS 7 and take advantage of the new color pallet and system tools. Other apps have been partially switched over. These, such as Google+, have generally flattened their interface to fit into the iOS 7 feel, but under the hood they are still really apps that could run nicely on iOS 6. These are easily spotted when the system bar on the top of the screen goes black. The dead giveaway come when one needs to type some text and is greeted with the iOS 6 keyboard. I'm not complaining about having to use the older keyboard, I like it better, but the break in aesthetic is a bit jarring. Other apps simply haven't been updated at all for the new OS. They are hit and miss if they will run in iOS 7, but even if they do they look out of place. My favorite Markdown editor, WriteUp, is in this boat. It's works fine, but it looks out of place. Other older apps, such as Beejive have been rendered completely useless by the update. Much as with the OS X switch, developers are going to take some time to catch up, and many may opt to charge for their full iOS 7 versions when they come out. Given the nature of the App Store economy, this will be interesting to watch.

Thoughts

Watching iOS 7 emerge is fascinating for me. The operating system is a bit buggy and needs some refinements in terms of color and animations. It would be easy to say, “Apple is losing their edge in quality.” This would be wrong. Most iOS users, after all, are used to interacting with iOS only after several major iterations and dozens of minor refinements. It might be fair to think of iOS 7 as “iOS” in name only. In actuality, it's an entirely new entity and need to be treated as such.

The paradigm shift between classic MacOS and OS X is probably the closest parallel we have in Apple's ecosystem. When OS X came out there were familiar elements like the finder bar, but everything looked different. These surface differences, however, were nothing in comparison to the underlying changes in OS X. The switch to a Unix based OS wasn't a change change of Apple's skin, it was a change in the way the OS worked. This change was refined over several iterations, and developers gradually came on board with the new paradigm.

This seems to be where we are with iOS 7, only the initial experience seems to be more pleasant than the shift from MacOS classic seemed to be. It's going to take time to refine, but as the system is tweaked and improved I believe it will return to the consistent stability iOS users are used to. This is just the start of the iOS 7 journey, and we've only caught a glimpse of what Apple has in store with the shift to 64-bit computing in the 5s. It's going to be an interesting trip.

 

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