Vista, on your iPhone!

01:18, Jun 12 2013

On Monday, I told you all your iPhone was about to get prettier.

Maybe I was wrong, maybe I was right.

I installed the iOS7 beta as soon as I got home on Wednesday. Using it for the past four or so hours, well, it's definitely different.

On left - Apple using transparency well for their notifications panel. On the right, not so much, with the new Control Center. (Pictures - Apple)

I'm conflicted.


Let's talk functionality first. Control Center, a new menu that pops up when you drag from the bottom of the phone, is very useful. You can turn on a flashlight (bye bye, iFlash), toggle your settings, control your music, and even open the calculator. It's stupid ugly, but we'll get to that later. It's also pretty similar to what Android offers, so there's that. Multitasking now shows previews of what the app is actually doing. The Photos app arranges photos by metadata, the camera has some nifty new live filters, and app folders can now store unlimited apps (in pages). Once again, though, they are stupid ugly.

I have more than nine essential apps Apple. (From my phone.)

Though bloggers the world over are calling this new OS "flat" - it really isn't. It suggests depth in a multitude of ways, mostly through zooming animations and ubiquitous transparency effects. The transparency works in its favour at some points: the gorgeous new Music app, the keyboard, and the much cleaner notifications pullldown especially. At other times, it creates a gaussian-blurred mess of colour beneath whatever you are doing. Just look at the Control Center - which is fine by itself, over their default homescreen. The transparency also invades App folders - which only display nine effing apps at a time now, even on the larger iPhone 5. They have pages inside the app folders, which makes no sense to me. I use App folders to avoid scrolling through pages and pages of apps in the first place! It reminds me of Windows Vista, which is probably not what Apple would like me to be thinking of.*

The default app icons are some of the worst design I have ever seen from Apple. Gradients reign over solid colours, making the simple look childish. It's weird, but Apple should perhaps take a look at Google's newish visual guidelines, which have unified and simplified Google's once-messy design. They aren't even subtle. Worst of all is the Safari icon. They are the ones creating that ugly colour splosh underneath the Control Center. Just, ugh.


Which is a shame, because the actual app - Safari, that is - looks much better, as do nearly all the default apps. Notes still resembles paper, but much more subtly. Calendar might have taken quite a page from Helvetical, but I can't really complain. Messages is much neater. Music is perhaps my favourite part of iOS7 - they've given it a pink accent I really dig and even more focus on album art. Best of all, they've finally made landscape-orientation cover flow look good, with a simple mosaic. The Compass/Levels app is a thing of simplistic beauty.

Notes — the worst of the older apps — looks much better. Also, check out the new keyboard. (From my phone.)

Many of the design choices are inspired. The lack of artificial gloss/shadowing is very welcome. The overall simplification and unification is also a great step forwards. Helvetica Neue Ultra Light dominates the typography, and it looks pretty good. I think Windows Phone makes better use of type, and I worry that such a thin typeface could be a problem for the visually impaired, but it does give the whole thing a light and simplistic feel. Speaking of light, the new design seems to suit the white iPhone - nearly all the promo pics show it on there. I have a white iPhone, and the playful nature of the OS does feel right at home with white borders.

Music looks goooooood. (Picture - Apple)

The general kineticism of the whole OS has been stepped up. It all moves much more: the zooms between screens are much more pronounced. I do worry that the new gyroscopic features - tilt the phone and look behind your apps! - might impair battery life, but they do look nifty.

It's a step forward, but, well, Vista was too. Still, as much as I despise the rampant transparency and amateur-looking app icons, it's still an acknowledgment that they couldn't just coast on the original iOS design forever. I am of course using a beta, and things could change vastly before wider release - but I feel most of the changes will be under the hood (it sure is buggy right now), rather than in the design. You can't send a crash report about how ugly an app icon is. Then again, Apple appears much more responsive to feedback and negative industry chatter post-Jobs - for better or worse. They were making jokes about themselves all through the various presentations, and Schiller, of course, blurted out "can't innovate any more my ass". In a word, they are much more insecure. They haven't changed that horrific iTunes icon, but perhaps the generally negative feedback to the Safari icon will stir them to rethink. And hey, it still doesn't say "Life Companion" anywhere.

The new typography is shown off well within the Compass app. (From my phone)

What do you think of the new iOS? Is it the Sistine Chapel of 2013 or the Windows Vista? Let me know in the comments.

* Vista's issues had more to do with it being a terrible OS than transparency, but negative associations,  man!

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