21 September, 2013

iOS 7 review: Goodbye skeuomorphic design, hello skeuomorphic animations

After updating my (as of December 2012) iPhone 4S (thanks to AT&T's lack of Nexus carriage) to iOS 7 on Wednesday, I couldn't find it more useful. The update brings some awesome changes to iOS that should have been there from the get-go, and despite what people say about the flat icons, it's the new features and, most importantly, new animations that make the OS worth updating to.

When you check for the update, you'll find that the over-the-air download weighs in at a whopping 728MB (on the iPhone 4S; some others on Instagram that I've noticed have reported 1.1GB, but that's probably for users with iPhone 5's or [more likely] 5th-gen iPod Touches), so prepare to wait a while for the download. Even over dual-band 802.11n Wi-Fi courtesy of an AirPort Extreme connected to AT&T's U-verse fiber-optic broadband, the update still took a good 40 minutes to download -- and thanks to an error in the processing stage, I had to download it twice. When it was done, however, it was an awesome -- if not long overdue -- update.

One of the first things you'll notice when the device is booted -- and I found this out myself -- is that, obviously thanks to Jony Ive's leaadership, there's no more skeuomorphism -- at least in the design sense. Animations, however, are a whole other topic. And in iOS 7, we see animations that really seem to counteract the flat design, not to mention blurred transparent UI elements that help highlight those animations and essentially make the wallpaper the new UI theme. One animation in particular, because there isn't any true 3D parallax barrier on the device screen itself, is clearly a skeuomorph: the accelerometer-driven parallax effect in the lock and home screens. Since no still image can accurately describe this effect, I decided to take to GifBoom to demonstrate (browser needs HTML5 support to view):

This is of course viewing the effect from the task switcher, which is one of two long-overdue changes. With apps open, it looks even better, even if it's also a webOS ripoff:

What makes this interface even more amazing is how it's more consistent with the Mac than any multitasking on iOS in the past: Remember, iOS 7 apps, thanks to the fact that the status bar is part of the app, are technically all full-screen apps. What happens when you take a Mission Control app on the Mac full screen? It becomes its own workspace. In that sense, if you count iOS 7 apps and "spaces" as one and the same, not to mention the home screen (similar to the desktop shortcut in Mission Control on the Mac) as its own space, guess what? You find that the new task switcher IS an iOS version of Mission Control in every which way. And if Apple adds an iOS version of Dashboard in iOS 8 to provide at-a-glance information to take on Android, well, I think we all know just where it might go:

That's pretty awesome if you ask me. However, it's not the only welcome change that iOS 7 has in store. Another long-overdue feature that should have been there from square 1: Control Center.

Of course, we all know what makes Control Center useful: It was previously impossible to do things like enable Airplane Mode and disable Wi-Fi without first going into the rather convoluted Settings app, and in some cases dive deep into multiple sub-menus. iOS 7 fixes that. Of course, this feature has definitely been in proprietary Android forks like TouchWiz since the pre-ICS days (and in stock Android, via swiping to the right in the notification shade, since 4.2, which came out in October 2012), but now iOS users can also experience it, which is great, because now the smartphone market is actually the competitive one that it should have been from the get-go.

As for the negative, one has to look no further than the minority of apps that haven't been updated to obtain the flatter look, including the app I'm typing in right now, Blogger:

And Instagram:

Notice how, in these apps that haven't yet been updated, the old iOS 6 keyboard still shows it's ugly head? For comparison, here's how the iOS 7 keyboard is supposed to look, shown here in the Messages app:

Exactly. This inconsistency simply isn't supposed to happen, period. Third-party developers had a good three months to get their apps working on iOS 7 from the get-go since unlike us end users, they actually had access to beta releases; yet as this insanity explains, they simply were too lazy to take advantage of that time. At least, some of them. Others, like Twitter and Facebook, actually look great on the new OS:

Of course, developer readiness is key to preventing this inconsistency here. In many ways, however, this inconsistency certainly isn't Apple's fault. It's that of the third-party developers that didn't heed Apple's warnings and take advantage of the extra time that the beta releases offered to them. So, really, from a first-party Apple standpoint, the update is definitely an amazing change. It's definitely an improvement over the previous OS iteration by far, and the redesigned, open-feeling user interface along with its awesome changes allow Apple users to finally join in on the awesome design that the competition has been taking advantage of for years on end.