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iOS 7 motion effects will impact developers as much as users

By Brian S Hall / September 17, 2013


While iOS 7’s Wednesday release is likely to shock and delight millions of Apple users in equal measure, it’s also going to have another outcome: putting thousands of mobile developers on notice. Apps that fail to embrace iOS 7’s extensive motion and animation effects will be quickly rejected by users. Given the stakes, Apple’s upgrade will affect how development shops plan, budget, hire, train and work. Not just now, but for years to come.

Apple wants apps with motion

Apple has made it clear to iOS developers that motion will be critical to the mobile experience going forward. Apple Insider created an extensive catalog that identifies and describes many of iOS 7’s motion effects. Motions such as jiggle and bounce-back are now regularly used to convey navigational cues. The redesigned slide to unlock animation went from moving a single bar to lifting an entire layer. The new Control and Notification Centers also slide from the top and bottom of the screen, rather than opening like a separate app.

On the homescreen, apps and folders now zoom to open. They similarly zoom out when the user performs a different action, like making a purchase or accessing the developer’s website on mobile Safari. Motions, along with new iconography, are critical to web navigation in iOS 7.

Thanks to the new emphasis on motion, apps in iOS 7 now appear to “fall into place” on the screen. Users will also notice new animation effects as they scroll through apps in multitasking mode, delete photos and skim through text messages. Motion matters to iOS, and will no doubt become expected by Apple’s millions of users. In Apple’s human interface guidelines (available to developers), the company notes that “beautiful, subtle animation pervades the iOS UI and makes the app experience more engaging and dynamic.”

For developers, it starts with Apple’s UIKit, which enables animation for apps. “UIKit allows you to incorporate realistic motion and transitions with new APIs that enable your user interface to respond to every touch and swipe by following the behaviors and physical constraints you define,” according to Apple.

Motion means change

Designer Patrick Prine notes that motion and animation effects are becoming more prominent across all platforms, and none more so than iOS 7. “Motion is obviously important to Apple,” Prine says. “From the WWDC to the official launch of iOS 7, Apple has spoken fairly aggressively to developers on the importance of animations and contextual interactions, and how to facilitate them.”

According to Prine, Apple’s goal appears to be pushing app developers toward offering a high-quality software experience through apps, one that aligns with Apple’s own vaunted user experience. By cleverly incorporating motion, animation and spatial relationships, the best apps will no doubt foster a deeper level of engagement between app and user. But this comes at the price of new tools, new skill sets and possibly longer development times.

The business impact on mobile app dev shops

iOS architect Conrad Stoll told me that designing for motion will have a “major impact both on apps and the people who build them,” but he’s not alone in these predictions. I had the opportunity to speak to several experienced mobile designers who are already working with iOS 7, and they all agree that motion and animation will change the way apps are designed and developed. Stoll named three areas in particular: “Workflow, hiring, and tools and training.”

Workflow

“Processes and schedules will need to accommodate motion design,” Stoll says. “Development and design of apps will almost certainly become more iterative. Creating an app is like making an animated film. Producing a single still image in isolation is a lot simpler than producing a complete scene. Timing, flow, interaction and feel all become important.”

Eric Celedonia also had some input from a designer’s perspective: “The hardest part about animation planning, especially in the agile process, is that it’s sometimes impossible to foresee how complex the execution is. It’s going to be a learning process for all of us who work in agile.”

Hiring and budget

“Incorporating motion is a special skill set that requires a high degree of attention to detail and a willingness to learn the latest tools and technologies,” Kyle Dixon, another experienced mobile designer, says. “Even design deliverables may change. Wireframes and mock-ups, for example, may no longer be the best way to explain a concept to the client. Will the costs of merely presenting the ideas to the client go up at each stage? Managing expectations and requirements should not be undervalued.”

“Candidates with motion experience will become more attractive as potential hires,” agrees Stoll. “Hiring managers should also be aware that a focus on motion will mean a lot more collaboration between developers and designers, who’ll work even closer together and pair up for longer durations in the process. It’s not just about hiring designers with new or special skills. Dev shops will need people on staff who can educate clients on the extra time and cost required by iOS 7 and motion effects.”

“What will be most important is to staff [your company] with individuals that give you the ability to spread animation resources across all of your products, and enhance the animation skills of your other employees,” Celedonia adds.

Tools and training

“Design teams capable of working with After Effects, Motion and Quartz Composer, for example, will become much more important,” Dixon says. “This means not only hiring people with such skills, but also training current staff on these tools.”

“To show basic animation examples to clients and developers, it’s imperative to have experience using Motion or After Effects,” confirms Celedonia. “Keynote is a great place to start getting interested in animating, but it’s extremely limited when compared to other animating engines.”

“Photoshop and Illustrator are no longer enough,” adds Stoll. “It may be that the very best tools for motion design do not yet exist. As designers and developers work more closely together and for longer periods, new and improved tools will likely get built.”

The expected ROI

Apps with motion effects will require a significant investment in both time and money. Developers — and the companies and brands they build for — will need to understand the importance of motion in iOS 7 apps, and how this shift impacts an app’s cost and time to launch. Incorporating motion will require a mastery of new skills, a greater attention to detail and a willingness to learn the latest tools and technologies. The payoff, however, will be more engaging user experiences, likely resulting in higher levels of app adoption.