Thursday, September 19, 2013

Getting flattened under the iOS7 bus

Unless you're living under a rock in the middle of Mongolia, you've probably heard that the iPhone has a new look. Oh, of course, it comes in a rainbow of colors and probably has the NSA drooling with the spying possibilities.

But I'm not talking about the new hardware, I'm talking about the software. iOS7 is famously flat. Very FLAT. I've been using it for a week and I've become accustomed to many of the new visual elements. Moreover, I've come to really like many of the features and user-experience changes.

Many people has said that iOS7 is just a visual change and it's really just about copying Windows Phone. Or that it's just putting lipstick on a pig and that iOS needs more fundamental changes to keep up with the flexibility and additional features that Android provides. Well, some of that may well be true, but after using iOS7 for a week, I can say that the OS level changes and the changes to the default Apple apps like Mail, Calendar, Safari, & Weather are really well thought out. There were flaws in the old Calendar app that I didn't even realize until I started using the new version and then it's like "WOW, I can't believe I lived that old version!"

Updates to apps certainly don't require a revamped OS, but I must say that the changes are really aligned well so that the way you use the OS is similar to the way you use apps. Gestures has become more important and more useful. And since visually, many of these apps have been cleaned up quite a bit, it becomes all the more important to provide the right cues so that these new gestures or features are easy to use and make sense. Overall, I think Apple has done a good job with that and it becomes more clear that the job they did wasn't just about changing the look of apps or the OS, they worked on usability and making it easier and better to use things throughout the phone.

The question now comes about the other apps. The ones that people may spend a heck of a lot more time in. Facebook, Twitter, Whatsapp, Instagram. What will those apps look like once they update for iOS7? Well, for Facebook and Twitter, we already know since they released new versions yesterday. Facebook has changed the layout of its screen to include a bottom button bar and the ability to swipe between screens. In some ways it feels more confusing to me, but I've only used it a couple of times since the refresh, so I can't lay judgement until I've tapped around more. Twitter's app is mainly a visual refresh, but there are a number of OS level changes and connections to Twitter elsewhere which are interesting such as the ability to search Twitter via Siri and the link list available via Safari. A number of other apps updated yesterday to ensure they work with iOS7, but they don't all have usability changes or even visual changes. The bus is clearly picking up steam and it's going to be an interesting few months as more apps are updated.

TechCrunch has a rundown of some of the first movers in the iOS7 space.
Before & After iOS 7: How Your Favorite Apps Are Changing
It's going to be really interesting to see where apps go from here. I agree wholeheartedly that new icons and flatter design isn't the most important thing. But the usability changes that Apple is heading towards are what app designers need to keep in mind as they develop new versions of their apps. It's not to say these designers need to follow the same mindset that Apple may have. But it's clear that the simplification of on-screen elements is important and well-thought-out integration of gestures, menus, and navigation are at the heart of the changes we should expect. As the TechCruch article points out, some app designers started from the ground-up and others have made simpler changes.

As we see more of these changes, it's quite clear that it's not just time for a re-vamp of the mobile OS, but of the mobile app as well. This is not just about becoming flatter or more colorful, it's about re-imaging how users should interact with a mobile app. And while developers for Android or Windows Phone could certainly take up the same challenges, it seems that the real momentum for these changes is due to the release of iOS7. I'd love to hear your first impressions of iOS7 as well as your favorite apps. What do you think so far? What do you think is still needed?

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