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iOS 7 was made with younger customers in mind

By Owen Williams / October 17, 2013

Historically, Apple’s announcements have been controversial. A sweep of the media coverage of the company’s past product announcements reveals a strong mix of awe and yawn. It’s a repeating cycle, so it’s no surprise that iOS 7 has been met with a similar response from the public and media.

Shortly after it was unveiled, the Internet exploded into a frenzy of reactions. Designers on Twitter cried out that the icons were hideous. “iOS 7 is far worse than I thought. I’d call it a failed visual experiment, and that’s being generous” tweeted one designer. The infamous pod2g (who is well-known for jailbreaking iOS) tweeted, “Sorry to say, but iOS 7 design is the ugliest ever,” while The Verge wrote off the design as “simply confusing.”

Others were in love with the design. Digital Trends wrote that “iOS 7 is modern, colorful and gorgeous,” and Cult of Mac called the design a masterpiece. Wherever you look, you’ll be able to find someone who either hates iOS 7 or someone who really loves it. The simple fact that it’s new and different from anything else out there means that people are taking time to warm to the design. It’s young, bright and different, just like the audience Apple appears to be aiming for.

It’s not designed for you or I

iOS 7 wasn’t created for any of us, though. It was created for the next billion users who have grown up in a world where the iPhone has always existed. Those next billion customers that were just 10 and 11 years old when the original iPhone was released in 2007 are now 16 and 17, and they’re looking for something that is fresh and doesn’t feel dated. The colors, vibrancy and transparency are a shock at first, but it makes sense when you realize Apple’s iOS matches the new hardware—like the colorful 5c. It completes the “fun” image the company is trying to portray.

Much of the controversy surrounding iOS 7 concerns the lack of context to help users recognize something that can be interacted with from static elements such as labels and icons. Again, this is more of a concern for those of us used to the old way of thinking. Young consumers have never used a floppy disk or sent a piece of mail, so the old visual metaphors of saving and email are quickly becoming less relevant. The same goes for the idea of making app icons look tactile, a relic of the time when touchscreens were new and people wanted to be fooled into thinking they were pressing a button.

Despite the divided opinion, iOS 7 was taken up faster than any other mobile platform. Mixpanel’s trends dashboard shows 67% of all phones have already upgraded from iOS 6. There were also record sales of 9 million iPhone 5s/5c handsets in just their first weekend on shelves.

Back to square 1.0

Still, there’s room for improvement on Apple’s end. iOS 7 is the company’s attempt to start all over again with their design. In essence, it’s version 1.0 of a “new” OS, and it affords them the opportunity to build something different. Apple is traditionally meticulous about ensuring their OS is well polished, but there is evidence that the company was pressed for time to get iOS 7 ready for launch.

The new product is glitchy, with some of the major concerns including controls that no longer work and bugs in the web browser that could break the Internet. Changes made to the way Safari displays pages and supports the web are creating big problems. Websites are no longer able to receive browser resize events using Javascript or media queries.

On top of this, many websites use “non-natural” scrolling to have their own toolbars kept in a singular position. In iOS 7, there is no way to make them stay in place once a user scrolls and the browser goes into full screen mode. This is already affecting real websites, especially those that used to go into full screen mode in the browser.

Richard Davey of the BBC wrote on the Apple forums, “This is actually a real issue for us. It has broken the display of all of our games on the BBC site… There is no way to have a truly full screen experience on your website. This was one of the wonderful aspects of iOS 6, and losing it is a major step backwards.”

Another issue concerns the UIPicker, which powers the ability to select values in the iOS rotating wheel table, included in date/time applications. A recent post on a developer blog pointed out that the AM/PM options can’t be tap selected like in iOS 6, even though the day/date items can be.

Even worse, the UIPicker element is no longer available in Safari. It’s completely gone, which means that any website that tries to show a date/time picker will fall back to a text field input rather than actually showing something useful. Mobilexweb has a comprehensive list of the bugs, and it’s definitely worth reading.

Missed Apple-tunities

Along with some of the bugs and features that are considered a step back from iOS 6, Apple missed a number of opportunities to continue innovating their operating system and truly take iOS 7 in a new direction.

Swipe gesture tutorial: There are many new gestures available, but most users aren’t aware of them or know how to use them correctly. A simple tutorial from Apple could help teach users the new ways to go back and forward that are usable in most system apps.

Apps that can enhance the basics: Apple also missed opportunities for new app areas that can enhance many of the system’s default settings. For example, the ability to replace the standard keyboard with a more intuitive app such as the gesture-based Swype would be a great feature. It could tempt many Android users over to Apple, and it wouldn’t taint the already fantastic keyboard Apple has.

Customizable “today” screen: Another area that developers would love to get their hands on is the new today screen in the notification center. If Apple had provided an API to add widgets here or the ability to interact/replace the today text without needing the default calendar and weather applications, it could have opened up new possibilities. For example, Foursquare could push interesting places near you into the today text.

It doesn’t make any sense to iOS expert Eric Celedonia. “If you’ve been in the mobile realm long enough, you’ve seen quite a few talented designers come up with some great ideas surrounding widgets,” he said. Apple blocking access to the today page prevents user customization, something iPhone users are calling out for.

Celedonia is also disappointed that Apple still hasn’t offered developers full camera API access. Third party apps still aren’t able to take advantage of the aperture or shutter speed on a hardware level. The gap is widening now that Apple has 120 fps high-speed camera support.

The time is ripe for improvements

Apple’s already convinced most of us to install iOS 7, so it’s only fair we provide a little constructive criticism. First and foremost, they need to loosen up their restrictions on their APIs. Collaboration is the key to innovation, and all the flat designs and vibrant colors in the world won’t make them feel fresh if Android keeps outpacing them on the development front.

Next, bring back the intuitiveness we’ve grown accustomed to. There are plenty of ways to make iOS 7 more user friendly without scraping your new interface. Maybe an underline or color variation to let us know what can and can’t be interacted with?

Lastly, be friendly to the rest of the Internet. The “that’s their problem” approach is not the way to handle incompatible websites and apps. Sure, Apple could bully the rest of the web around when iPhones cornered the smartphone market, but that luxury is rapidly disappearing with the rise of Android’s popularity. If they keep turning their back on the rest of the mobile space, their fanbase may not be there when they decide to turn back around.

The good news is, all of these issues can be addressed by a series of maintenance updates. The question is, will Apple heed the complaints and requests scattered across message boards all over the web, or will they risk alienating the user base that got them where they are today? We’ll just have to wait and see how much power the Tween demographic truly holds.