A late whinge about iOS7

An edited version of the following text appeared in MacUser magazine, Vol 30 No 4, April 2014.

So, there have been a few complaints about the iOS 7 interface, eh?

Looks like they’ve gone for Big Fun 2.0 – a new kind of fun. A fun that isn’t really based in anything useful but does look kind of, well, flashy. The dark side of chrome, and a chrome that looks suspiciously like other people’s chrome – Dull Chrome 1.0. A fun that plays with you and frustrates you while you pretend to laugh and enjoy it while actually harbouring really very uncharitable thoughts about what you’re going to do to whoever designed this and broke your favourite toy. I mean phone. Very important tool. Grownup tool that you require for work. And other important things that can’t be trifled with or made to look like My First Colouring Book. Except it cannot be “my first” because it is actually the same as everybody else’s.

Rather like Android and Windows mobile, perhaps? In comparison to iOS up to v6 anyway. I’m not denying earlier iOS versions were fun – far from it – they was great fun, but Fun 1.0 was based on something that we all understood, whether we realised it or not. It was based on experience. Perhaps not our own personal experience, but an experience cloud that we could all tap into. We may never have owned a padded leather diary (I think I was given a corporate one once, but don’t remember ever using it, just prodding the “sumptuous” suede and thinking gently “No, I don’t think so”) but, crucially, we all knew exactly what one was when we saw it.

And then, critically, there are the things that don’t look like anything on earth and are no longer easy to use for people on this earth. The selection scroller interface is broken. I certainly get the idea of fading the adjacent values out and away, but it is now done in such a clueless style. Where are the boundaries? I seem to be endlessly flicking a whole page up and down because I have just missed the edge of the control. The old version was as clear as it was possible to be. Don’t tell me that if I start the flick precisely on the current value, I didn’t have to on the old version and I don’t have to in real life. Remember the worst UX crime is the broken metaphor; if you give someone something familiar to use, make sure it works in the familiar fashion, not sort of similarish as long as you know the differences. Because we don’t intuitively know the differences. And the maths used to define the curve that the adjacent values are fitted to is either faulty or based on faulty thinking. It is not a cylinder any more, perhaps it is parabolic like the front of those idiotic buildings in Las Vegas and London that toast cars?

Who, honestly, thought that a flat rectangle of the most hideous shade of green possible was genuinely better than the rendered glass battery, filling slowly with glowing green power? Come on, who was it? Put you hand up now. Step forward and explain your thinking – I really want to know.

Those thin fonts are de rigeur these days aren’t they: everybody is using them. Absolutely everybody. You’d never be able to guess which phone you were using from the typeface. Sadly that was one of the reasons I preferred iOS to Windows Mobile: I could read the text. I have written before on the importance of being able to read instructions in less than perfect conditions (e.g. when not wearing one’s glasses) and I can no longer read the time on the lock screen when I wake up in the morning and haven’t put my glasses on. Hopeless. Yes, I have set the bold text option on, but I’m not terribly impressed with the difference.

The whole parallax movement effect is quite a fail on an iPad: the screen is so big that you can’t see all the icons and the screen edges at the same time. The illusion that the icons are static is lost because they are not apparently locked to the edges, so your brain tells you that the icons are moving over a static background which your brain “knows” is more likely. It looks like the icons have come loose – and I suspect this may be responsible for the feeling of nausea that some users are reporting. I assumed this would work on the smaller format of a phone because the eye would see that the icons were locked to the edges so it must be the background moving. However I didn’t try it for a couple of months because I was holding off upgrading. But when I did finally try it on my phone I found it pointless and usually not even visible. A lovely idea, a really lovely idea, to give the phone internal depth, but a hopeless CPU cycle sucker in practice.

Flat is trendy. Flat is very now. But think about what that means. Tomorrow may not be flat and our phones will look like last year’s model – and we’ll have to go through this all again. Last September, despite being six versions old, our phones still looked current. They looked different. Now they look the same as everyone else’s. Apple’s history as the relentless innovator has taken a spanking and we are left with an iWindroid phone that is no longer a pleasure to own but has simply become a phone. The phone in my pocket. The phone that I chose and waited for until I could afford because, although expensive, was different enough to be desirable. Now it is just another phone. Albeit vastly more expensive than it is worth.

Own goal Jony.

And so it turns out – it seems to me – that Big Fun 2.0 is actually last year’s Dull Chrome 1.0 nicked from other people’s thinking. Jony, I implore you. Go back to what you are good at. Making the insides of your hardware so good it makes us want to weep. Wearing black Ts. Speaking slowly and quietly without sounding, well, too patronising. And never try to design a customer facing piece of software again. Not ever.

In a very non-scientific survey I personally cannot find one person that I know who has used both and prefers iOS 7 over iOS 6.

I wonder: we’re not finding that we’re missing skeuomorphism after all are we?

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